Client liaison, interaction designer, project manager
Needs assessment & usability evaluation class project
Shu Wang, Joyce Sakata, Samantha Jones
HIMSS, a cause-based non-profit organization focused on improving healthcare through information technology, tasked my team with improving the usability of their 20,000+ page website, himss.org. HIMSS serves a diverse audience including IT professionals, clinicians, physicians, executives, students, and others who are interested in healthcare IT.
As the himss.org website is content-heavy, our client was concerned about the navigability and usability of the site. For the scope of the project, our team focused on the dense Resource Library in order to improve its search and navigation.
My team used a structured process of user research and design techniques in order to evaluate the site. With these techniques, we generated numerous findings and recommendations that we presented to the client in the form of large reports and prototypes every few weeks (as requested). The techniques included:
We concluded with one final overall report and video (seen below) for the client. For a full overview of the project with video, you may want to check out the video! If not, see below for more detail about our process, findings, and recommendations.
The website is large, as mentioned, and it may be difficult for the users to find exactly what they are looking for quickly. Their site map alone contained 80 pages of links to other pages on the site, and the search function was inefficient.
Many pages are lengthy and require a great deal of scrolling. This may lead to frustration, but future research will tell us how and what information users look for on the site and if this is actually an issue.
There are multiple navigation links that appear to lead to different pages, but actually lead to the same pages. Links within pages take users in loops as well. This may lead to confusion for users.
Our team did the following in order to further our understanding of the site and its users:
Many users access only a limited portion of himss.org. Knowing this, we aimed to find out about these limited use “pathways” so that we could leverage them to improve navigation and facilitate user discovery of related materials.
Search results are subpar. Certain users find the himss.org search results to be lacking. One example of this was a user would be searching for an exact title of a known published whitepaper, and the himss.org search results would not yield this paper.
There is a need to better understand browsing behavior. A number of the interviewed users indicated that they frequently browse the website with only a very general idea of what they are looking for. A better understanding of browsing behavior could help pinpoint specific adjustments to enable users to locate information intuitively before using the search function or as a backup if the search function does not produce ideal results.
We conducted a survey with the goal of better understanding how himss.org users find information on the website, what type of information users are looking for on the website, and the challenges that users face with the website’s search function. We also gathered information about frequency of visits to himss.org, usage intensity on various sections of the website and demographic information about website users for comparisons and cross tabulations.
Goals and usage intensity of different sections of the website differed between professional groups. To address this, we recommended creating a customized browsing experience for each professional group.
Search results are adequate, but could be improved by adding sorting and filtering features. To address these concerns, we recommended introducing filtering and sorting capabilities so that users can better control search results.
Users prefer to search, so search improvements and investigation into sub-par menu navigation should be prioritized. It seemed that sub-par menu and link navigation may have been driving users to the search function, which should be further investigated.
Search function usage may decline with more frequent use of the website, suggesting a need for further research on the learned navigation behaviors among high intensity users.
We conducted a competitive analysis of the himss.org website against six other websites which were either direct, indirect, partial, or analogous comparators to himss.org. We hoped to shed light on both the strengths and weaknesses of himss.org in order to provide suggestions to the client on how himss.org’s usability can be improved. We believed that by evaluating comparative websites, we could provide ideas about how to improve navigation and search on himss.org.
Several comparator sites offer user-based navigation, and have fewer, more clearly labeled global links.
Search functions of many comparator sites exhibit best practices.
Reactive sidebars on comparator sites facilitate content discovery.
We evaluated the himss.org Resource Library according to Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.
Design aesthetics, minimalism could be improved. The site did not employ the use of whitespace for better readability.
Colors and styling of website elements are inconsistent. Standardization could facilitate user recognition and comprehension.
Left-hand sidebar disorients users. The left-hand sidebar in the Resource Library, which expands vertically as a user moves between sections, was disorienting to users and could be simplified or eliminated.
Resource Library homepage does not facilitate browsing. The "Browse By Topic" section has a lengthy left-hand sidebar, prominent “Search Resource Library” button, and vague list of links, all of which we recommended eliminating.
For the final stage in our evaluation process, we created a usability test that included eight tasks focused on finding information in the Resource Library and Events section of himss.org. We conducted this test on six himss.org users: four low-intensity users and two high-intensity users.
Poor results reduce confidence in search. During many of the usability tests, users were unable to find their target document after a single search query and thus continued to make amended search queries, gradually losing confidence in the search results.
Resource library category terminology does not match natural language. The disconnect between the terminology of the categories in the Resource Library and user’s natural language emerged as a challenge during our user testing, both in user navigation behavior and through their verbal comments.
Webinar designation as a type of event does not match users’ mental models.
Many page clicks are required to find documents. Many tasks in the Resource Library led users through a large series of webpages before they could get to the final document.
Page loading speeds are noticeably slow.
Throughout this process, the clients received our 4000 word reports after each stage of the evaluation. In addition to this, we created a final video presentation for our client that compiled what we felt were the most important findings and recommendations along with wireframes illustrating our recommendations (see below). We also conducted a live presentation for them.
Survey respondents indicated a preference for using search versus browsing. This suggests that improvements to the heavily used search function should be prioritized. During many usability tests, users were unable to find their target document after typing in a search query and had to make amended search queries.
In our mock-up, we show HIMSS employing a more robust third-party search engine. Search results display bolded keywords in the document and the url information to help users find the most relevant documents. We introduced advanced sorting and filtering options including: filtering by document type and by date. These improvements will help users find specific documents like whitepapers, reduce the need for users to change search terms, and increase user confidence in the accuracy and relevancy of the results.
Heuristic evaluation and user testing revealed a number of challenges in the navigability and readability of the Resource Library. For example, the category terms in the Resource Library’s drop-down menu does not match users’ natural language. During several of our tasks, users hovered over the Resource Library for several seconds considering the categories before deciding to use the search function. Users vocalized specific confusion with the terms “Sponsored Resources” and “Featured Collections.”
We made multiple wireframes. In the 1st example above, we revise the terminology of the drop-down menu for better comprehension by users. In the 2nd mock-up, we show consolidated topic categories and improved visibility of in-demand documents. We feature a standard search bar for the resource library search. Users are able to filter by document type and see recent publications. These changes will improve content readability and browsing of in-demand documents.
The user browsing experience could be further customized with another strategy employed by comparator sites: reactive sidebars. On himss.org the sidebar remains static for both articles and search results pages. Usability research has demonstrated that sidebars get significant reader attention. We believe that if the sidebars introduce sidebar content that reacts to the keywords of a user search or the topic of an article, this display will facilitate content discovery and provide a better browsing experience for users.
In this mockup, we show how himss.org could use reactive sidebars to facilitate browsing. In this example, we expanded the content area and introduced a reactive sidebar that includes documents located in this particular HIE section, related documents, and related news. These changes can help users navigate through the topic page to find relevant and related documents and news. In another wireframe, we created a sidebar with three buttons changed to read “IT Professionals,” “Clinical Professionals,” and “Management” - these buttons can be clicked to customize the browsing experience for members within these categories, if they so desire.
Improving the design aesthetics of himss.org would improve readability and reduce the cognitive load on users. We recommended devoting more space to content; decreasing the amount of text and number of links on a page to facilitate scanning, and leaving more whitespace and decreasing visual clutter to minimize the cognitive load on users. Furthermore, we recommend standardizing inconsistent colors and styling of links, buttons, and headers to facilitate user recognition of these page elements. This final example can be seen below.