IT & Technology

Designing websites for someone who’s never been online

03 January 2017

Charities often provide services to individuals with below average digital literacy. Bea Karol Burks explains how they can ensure their web presence caters to these users. 

Good Things Foundation (formerly Tinder Foundation) is a social and digital inclusion charity, and it’s our job to make good things happen in the world through digital technology.

Now that’s quite a mission and it needs a bit of unpacking for our different audiences.

What is digital inclusion? What is social inclusion? How are they related? What do we actually do? Who cares? Oh, and are we related to that famous dating app? (No).

As with all charities, our websites are often the front door to our work and with such a complex remit user experience is absolutely key to helping visitors get the most from their interaction with us.

The way we approached the design of our websites was to start with each user, and think very hard about their journey. Who are they? What information do they need? And how can we help them get it as quickly as possible?

We have three websites for our three main audiences.

Stakeholders and funders are served by www.goodthingsfoundation.org, which introduces our organisation and outlines our work.

Our delivery partners - the 5,000 strong Online Centres Network - use www.onlinecentresnetwork.org. This site has network news and resources, plus personalised Management Information for each organisation logging into it.

Our most challenging audience, however, and the one which I think has taught us most about good user experience, is our learners. The www.learnmyway.com learning platform includes short courses in how to do anything from using a keyboard and mouse through to filling in online forms, email and internet searching, online shopping and banking, internet safety, and social media.

The first two are fairly straightforward and when thinking about their user experiences, we just needed some good analytics, user research and disciplined content design to help us identify where improvements could and should be made.

But the third audience was harder and begged the question: how do you design a website for someone who’s never been online? The answer is by starting from the very beginning. And it’s where I’d suggest every organisation should start, whoever their audience.

In our recent re-design of Learn My Way, we used analytics to look at the most popular content and visitor routes through the site. We created personas to understand the motivations of our learners for using the site and which pages or what content they needed.

We also involved our centres and learners at every stage of our work, from content to navigation, taking things back to real people in real situations again and again. We deleted a lot. We edited a lot. We re-designed a lot. And ultimately we simplified the whole experience.

Think back to the first time you went online. How did you know to scroll down a page, to click a link, or that certain objects were buttons, adverts, or boxes to be typed into?

The very language we use can be littered with jargon we only know through being online. What most of us think of as ‘good’ design can be quite the opposite for an offline audience. So we had to endeavour to forget everything we thought we already knew.

We learned a lot through this process, but mostly not to make assumptions about our users. Because when we started to question what they really wanted, and what intuitive digital design really is, it helped us understand how to make all our websites better for ALL users.

The good news is that Learn My Way does work, and that it is possible to teach offline people how to get online, by being online. At the time of writing, we’ve now helped nearly two million people improve their digital skills.

The Crystal Mark for plain English was introduced in 1990. It’s forward-thinking premise was no matter how complicated your message or how sophisticated your audience, your communications are basically always enhanced by keeping it simple, stupid. And that’s what designing Learn My Way has re-iterated for us about good user experience.

It’s a particularly important lesson for charities to learn. When money for web design and maintenance is often limited, and when so much good work is being done, it is tempting to try and fit everything in at once. Stripping back can feel counter intuitive. But we must think about what our audiences want, and ultimately what we want them to DO.

By keeping it simple, by starting and finishing with the user, we can communicate our vision and goals more clearly.

I can’t claim that we always get this right ourselves. But now we do always take it back to our audience, across all of our websites and other communications. And I believe that’s 90% of the battle.

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Bea Karol Burks

Director of Delivery, Good Things Foundation - Good Things Foundation makes good things happen with technology, focusing on digital inclusion and tackling social problems with digital solutions.

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