We tested some designs with a sample of users the other week. This is what we found. 

Seventeen participants used the pages for a range of test tasks between 13 and 15 September 2011. During the test sessions, they were also asked a series of questions relating to their perceptions of the page mock-ups. The testing was conducted at the Australian Museum and respondents included teachers, parents, staff, tourists and adults generally interested in nature and culture.

Overall, test participants felt the page mock-ups were easy to use and with the exception of one participant and one task, all the participants were able to complete all the test tasks successfully.

Many participants offered (unsolicited) positive comments about including contact details and information about the costs on the Home page. Also several participants offer the unsolicited view that the mock-up was better than the current site Home page. This is also good as we really want to change the way to do the Home page to include more rich media, less links and better visuals. Even though only 5% visit the Home page (as discussed here) it is still an important part of how we project ourselves – our Director described it a serving the same purpose as a book dust jacket, giving the viewer a snapshot of who we are and what we do.

Responses to the 'What’s On' page were particularly positive. This is especially pleasing as our current What’s on pages are a mess that we’re working hard to fix in the interim of the redesign. There were differing opinions about the inclusion of the whole (rich) footer on this page as well as the Home page however. The What’s on page mock-up contains an image of a video player with a frame from a video displayed. All of the participants identified video element on the mock-up and most appeared to believe that including video material was a good idea, but some participants forcefully held the contrary view. On the second day of testing we added a line of text to explain what the video was and we found that helped some and not others. I guess the lesson here is to design for many modes of browsing behaviour.

We struggled with how to present the calendar and feel that our current site gives too many options and is too confusing. We decided on a monthly view only. All of the participants appeared enthusiastic about the ‘Pick a date’ calendar although some said they would review the ‘Coming soon’ content before using the calendar when asked how they would find out what was on in October (next month). I think we need more data about when people make the decision to visit the Museum’s physical site and we’re going to add a question on this to our upcoming surveys.

We’ve also been thinking hard about how to place “ads” (for want of a better term) on the site to promote exhibitions, products and other programs. We tested a general page (Wombat) with a small section promoting the Beauty from Nature exhibition with a link to where visitors could find out how to get a 20% discount. One of the aims of testing this page was to determine whether or not participants would notice this announcement. About half appeared to have some difficulty finding the special offer announcement. Also, some questioned how appropriate or relevant it was to have an announcement of this sort on the Wombat page. The lesson for us here is that ads need to be relevant to the page – for example a promo for our DangerOz app would fit well here.

If you want to have a look at the page mock-ups as they stand now check them out here and let us know what you think. For more behind the redesign check out these blog posts:

Thanks to Roger Hudson of webusability who conducted this research, and who's report I have shamelessly plagiarised! We'll keep you posted as we undertake our site redesign over the next few months.