After three successful years, the Orchard Growers usability testing program is ending. It helped inform decisions for the Orchard Design System, Bloom design theme refresh, and GovHub-powered websites. The learnings continue to guide us toward better user experiences as we develop digital government products. The spirit of user-centric improvement that the program embodied thrives in our ongoing initiatives.
Orchard Growers recruited volunteers to participate in usability tests and to provide feedback to our designers and developers. Structured like a loyalty program, volunteers were incentivized to “grow their digital trees,” where completion of tests earned rewards ranging from digital swag to agency-branded apparel. The real-world insights from our volunteers helped inform priorities and initiate ideas for improvements to our digital products.
Usability testing is a critical component in the development and refinement of a product. In terms of digital services, it’s an approach to testing a website by observing real users as they interact with it.
The primary aim is to ensure that a website is user-friendly, efficient, and serves its intended purpose intuitively. Usability tests help identify areas of friction, pain points, and areas where users might encounter difficulties or confusion.
This allows product teams to see any issues from the user’s perspective and make the necessary adjustments. It’s a critical step in creating digital platforms that are not only functional and reliable but also intuitive and gratifying to use. In essence, usability testing is not just about finding issues — it’s about understanding the user and creating a better product for them.
Purpose and Impact
The Orchard Growers Program was centered on the fundamental objective of enhancing the visitor experience through unbiased feedback and insights. The voluntary nature of the program ensured that the usability tests we received were genuine and representative of our diverse user base.
Right from the start in August 2020, the program demonstrated significant impact. Feedback from our devoted “growers” led to tangible improvements in website design, functionality, and navigation.
Here are a few examples of some things we learned:
- Changing the color of map pins upon selection resulted in quicker task completion, improving overall user efficiency.
- Testing showed that people expected link text of “Read More” or “Learn More” to lead to more information about a topic, but “More” or “> More” to lead them to additional links.
- Alerts placed above the header and outlined in a color (instead of filled in with a color) tested with the most success.
Agency content managers, who are most involved with the inner workings of GovHub, helped our team know what questions to ask the Orchard Growers volunteers. “We've taken our own ideas for great design and combined them with suggestions from site managers,” said former UX/UI Design Lead Rachel Hart. “Some are things we're curious about ourselves, and others come from the people managing our sites."
The map pin test resulted from a conversation with a GovHub subscriber. “It was a request that came from an agency, and we thought it would be a good idea to test it alongside other design changes related to locations,“ said UX Analyst Julie Fay. Testing helps us see how much these changes really matter to users.”
Ongoing User Engagement
Although we’ve concluded the program, our engagement with users continues through regular one-minute surveys to our GovHub users. These surveys serve as a direct line of communication with our users, allowing us to gather valuable feedback and insights into their experiences. This ongoing interaction also ensures that we keep adapting and improving our digital services in line with user feedback and evolving needs.
A recent survey looked at users’ knowledge of the Alert feature and found that only half of the respondents could correctly identify where to find it. This insight not only highlighted a significant knowledge gap among content managers but also underscored the need for targeted training, especially for managing emergency situations.
Incorporating such surveys into our regular operations enables us to stay attuned to our users and ensures that our ongoing enhancements, training initiatives and larger studies are aligned with actual user requirements. As we move forward, these surveys will continue to play a crucial role in guiding the evolution of our digital platforms, with the goal of making sure they are as user-friendly, efficient, and effective as possible.