Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course, iloveny.com
"You can't get there from here."
Imagine traveling to a small town where you don't know the language, heading to a B&B, only to find yourself back where you started.
Some websites feel like that, too.
iloveny.com is a site devoted to travel and tourism in New York State. I was asked to assess the desktop version, specifically its structure, content labels, and overall usability.
UX Researcher, UX Designer, Information Architect
Heuristic Evaluation, Open Card Sort, Closed Card Sort, Sitemapping, Task Flow, User Flow
NOT A HOUSE OF CARDS
Heuristics, taxonomies, ontology. Heady terms for engaging, defining, and organizing stuff on a website. In other words, a site may look lovely, but if you don't know where you're going, well, you might not get there. Labels matter.
I needed to assess the structure and usability of iloveny.com for a pre-determined target audience: young, physically active urban professionals. I would then recommend site revisions to help them realize the goal of finding a weekend getaway.
First step: heuristic analysis of 4 pages Sam might use to plan a getaway. This would help me detect usability problems in the existing site.
From the homepage, Sam goes to Weekend Getaways, then 48 Hours in Beacon, ending up at the site blog.
Things started out fine from the visually delightful homepage, on which “Weekend Getaways” displays over a beautiful full-size photo. Digging deeper, questions arose.
CHALLENGE: A CONFUSING MAZE
PROCESS: SITEMAPS, CARD SORTS, USER FLOW
A visual sitemap of the existing website revealed more displacement. Duplicate labels were applied to similar, but slightly different pages: Nature, Arts & Culture, History, Food & Drink. Other pages had similar, but different labels and content. That friendly homepage could lead to who knows where.
I conducted 10 in-person card sorts, 5 open and 5 closed, to learn their understanding of the site's categories and labels. Ten men and women ages early 20s to early 60s participated. Participants spent varying amounts of time. Open sorting typically took longer, up to 20 minutes. Closed card sorts went much faster, some only a few minutes, no questions asked.
Open Card Sort
Closed Card Sort
Observations: Participants easily sorted cards with regional names, but not all names were familiar. One tester thought Catskills was a Broadway musical. No one knew a Dude Ranch was a Place to Stay. Things to Do and Plan Your Trip categories had much overlap, with sorters putting many cards in these categories, but not consistently. One sorter noted that labels like Senior Travel, Family Vacations, and ILoveNY LGBTQ could be grouped together in several categories. Events overlapped with Things to Do.
Insights: Several existing category labels were too vague to be useful. Other labels assumed a knowledge of the area that not everyone has. Some terms may be outdated.
An archivist of many years, I’ve organized a lot of information, including websites. Information isn’t always where users expect it to be. Links die, images disappear, labels no longer convey their original meaning. Working now from a user-centric rather than document-centric focus, I see those discrepancies even more. We all have unique ways of thinking, and we understand information, labels, structures differently. As UX designers (and archivists), we want users to feel at home wherever they go.