I was hired at Oral Health America (a small non-profit in Chicago) as their first web professional on staff—a team of one under their Marketing & Communications arm. At the time of hire, there had already been ongoing complaints that the marketing website, oralhealthamerica.org, was difficult to use, and many staff were unwilling to promote website because most information was either missing or hard to find.
After I gave it an initial review, the website seemed as if it would benefit from an improved content model and architecture, which would make sure that the right information was in the right places. With that in mind, I created a Web Strategy / UX Team that borrowed colleagues from all different departments of the organization to help with the planning process of a website redesign.
Before I could begin the work of reorganizing content or layout, I needed to know exactly what we were working with. That meant [dun dun DUN!] a Content Audit.
In addition to collecting the standard data points of a content audit (page depth, title, pageviews, last updated, etc.), I also identified which pages were used as part of fundraising efforts and whether they reflected the most-recent fiscal year—a critical piece information for non-profit viability.
In Content Strategy terms, many would call this step “assembling a group of stakeholders.” My team represented individuals from communications, fundraising, program, advocacy, and even finance—all departments whose work was in some way impacted by the usability of the website.
However, my team needed to be different, to go above and beyond that of a normal stakeholder: I needed people who would do the UX work with me.
Throughout my career, I’ve regularly worked in small or one-person teams, but I've also learned that having a range of perspectives in the room is invaluable when your goal is to build the best project possible. For this project, it meant that I also focused some of my efforts on teaching the principles of web design, user experience, and content strategy to my team, giving them a more informed voice.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your 15-20 minutes of time to participate in an online card-sorting study. Non-profit organizations often need to be creative about new projects that normally require funding when there is none to be had. This meant that, in lieu the ability to advertise for and compensate research participants, I tasked the Web Strategy / UX Team with asking friends, family, and social media circles to participate in our online card-sorting study.
For this task, I lead a workshop on how to build personas for our target web audience and had each team member build a persona based on known roles affiliated with the organization (e.g. "corporate sponsorship manager" or "program partner seeking resources").
After everyone had built their persona, I requested the team order them by whose needs must be met first when visiting oralhealthamerica.org.
Many on the team were uncomfortable with this part of the exercise: as a non-profit organization, our goal is to help all people—especially vulnerable populations—and ranking one person against another felt wrong somehow.
I used this moment of discomfort to talk about how web users can be (and for NGOs, often are) different from the people that we serve through our work. This perspective allowed me to bring the team into alignment and helped us identify the website’s intended purpose and target audience.
After we had completed the Personas exercise, I presented the team with the results from the online card sorting study and my own competitor analysis on how other non-profits were organizing/labeling their websites.
The results spoke for themselves: we saw obvious trends in how people grouped the content on our website and which labels they preferred to use for certain concepts. It's times like this when I’m most passionate about I do: seeing others have that moment of clarity that comes when you follow the lead of your users.
With our primary audience in mind and a clear understanding of how our users group the content on our site, my Web Strategy / UX team formed recommendations on how we should re-structure the website. When I launched the redesign, it was a snap because my team had already done the heavy lifting of building a well-structured information architecture.
Building my own Web Strategy / UX Team within the office had several benefits beyond ensuring we delivered an excellent product: I had buy-in from most of the organization about the importance of user research, and my colleagues indicated they now felt confident sending out our website to donors, prospects, and partners.
After the project launch, we began to receive comments from other organizations and individuals about our website:
"I like the look and feel of [oralhealthamerica.org]. Simple design but colorful and powerful."
- 2016 Health Blog linking to oral health resources
“The [Jane Doe Organization] is in the process of changing its website and we really like the OHA website. We would like to know if OHA used a third-party vendor for the development of the website.” - 2017 Program Partner
Our analytics data also indicated that users were finding the things they were looking for more easily than before, and that the mobile experience had also improved. As of one year after launch:
I recognize that building an in-house UX / Web Strategy Team is not always practical given time and other constraints. For this project, it was an excellent way to create a better end product while educating others about the importance of user-centered design and building mutual confidence about our web offerings.