It’s been a few months since we launched the new ESS website in September 2020. We hope that our regular and new users are finding the design easy to view and navigate – from learning more about what we do, booking workshops and downloading our resources.
We embarked on planning and developing the new website during lockdown, which was no easy feat! While it was challenging to do everything via Zoom with our website developers, we knew it was important to push for improving our website design and functionality, especially at a time when we and our service users have started working from home.
The design changes we’ve made were aimed at making the website design more accessible in terms of design and content, as well as improving navigation. We knew we didn’t want a massive overhaul in terms of menus and content, but we also knew we had to refresh the overall design to make it easier for users to book events and find the information and resources they are looking for. In other words, we wanted to keep the same general elements of our website, but we wanted to make them better in terms of design and navigation.
To help us make design decisions along the way, we used what our organisation is quite good at: evaluation!
Throughout each year our communications team takes note of feedback about how people use our website and resources: through verbal feedback, written feedback (via email or Twitter), as well as statistics from Google Analytics, Twitter and MailChimp. We turned to these communications self-evaluation reports to guide us as we reviewed which elements of the old website we wanted to keep, what we could remove, or what needed some improvement. For instance, our Google Analytics reports show that most users access our website through desktop, so we prioritised our desktop interface while also making sure this translated well to mobile. We also knew from our comms reports that users primarily use our website to book events and download resources – so we knew we wanted to focus our efforts on making these sections more usable.
In addition to our self-evaluation reports, we also conducted two rounds of remote usability testing (via Google Forms) by recruiting ten volunteers to explore our website while it was still in development. We asked specific questions about the design of specific pages. For example, we drew from tester feedback to design a new banner for our resources page, where we added guidelines on how to navigate our resources. Tester feedback guided our wording for our ‘Resource tips’ questions, e.g. ‘Are the resources free?’ or ‘What is in ESS resources?’. We added a block for users who have never visited the resources page before: ‘Not sure where to start with evaluation?’
For testing we also asked users to perform specific tasks like signing up to our newsletter and booking a workshop. These usability tests helped us make decisions about what elements worked and what didn’t in the new design. For instance, the testing helped us ensure that the ‘Reset’ button is highly visible on the Resources page. It also helped guide our wording: we changed our ‘Workshops and events’ menu header to ‘Book a workshop/event’.
Besides function and aesthetics, the key guiding principle behind our whole website redesign is accessibility. We worked with our web developers (DoGood) to ensure our new website design meets accessibility standards, drawing from guidelines legislated for public sector websites. Our accessibility page contains information on ways to use the website and how we strive to hit Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 to ‘AA Success criteria’ (with A being the lowest, and AAA being the highest level of accessibility conformance). This means that the font sizes, colour combinations and other visual website design elements are accessible and usable to as many users as possible with a range of abilities and disabilities.
Beyond colours and font sizes, accessibility also pertains to other website elements such as content. Throughout the ESS website we strive to write content in plain English that is easy to comprehend. Accessibility also applies to site categories, page layouts, navigational menus – listed in our ‘Accessible content aims’ on our accessibility page. We are striving to revise our content as we go to ensure we meet our accessibility goals.
Even though we’ve officially launched our new website design, that doesn’t mean our website work is finished! Websites, after all, are always a work in progress – and we hope to keep on learning and improving. We have, for instance, added star system rating panels at the bottom of specific pages – we would appreciate it if you rate our pages if you come across them!
At ESS we aim to embed evaluation in all that we do, our communications work included. If you have any feedback about our website and resources, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!