Developing effective information architecture is an essential step in the development of all web sites.
Effective information architectures enable people to quickly, easily and intuitively find content. This avoids frustration and increases the chance that the user will return to the system the next time they require similar information.
The importance of good User Interface Design can be the difference between product acceptance and rejection in the marketplace. If end-users feel it is not easy to learn, not easy to use, or too cumbersome, an otherwise excellent product could fail.
The most reliable method for creating a “usable” site is through usability testing. In a usability test, users of the system attempt tasks while being observed. The observers don’t tell the usability test participant how to use the system and don’t answer questions – it is as if the participant were doing the tasks alone.
The usability test identifies the key usability problems with a system (which enables them to be fixed); and/or collects quantitative measures of efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction before release.
The key aspects of effective usability testing are:
Participants involved are existing or future users of the system.
It is important to involve the right people in a usability test. For example, for a business system the day-to-day users should be involved, not their managers.
Participants attempt tasks that they would normally perform on the system.
It is crucial that the tasks that are included in the test be realistic. They must also describe the entire task and be written to remove bias.
The usability test is set up in a way that is as close to the normal context as possible.
Through usability tests, the goal should always be to make it easier for your users — not harder. If using a tool requires users to jump through a lot of hoops without delivering immediate, visible benefits, most busy users won’t take advantage of the tools.
Using Single sign-on features can be very helpful in this regard.
Before you announce a new portal site or piece of functionality to your users, make sure that it works and contains a critical mass of useful content.
Picture yourself being notified about a great new knowledge base in your organization, a source of information that will greatly help you in your daily work. However, when you login to the portal and excitedly check out the new tool, you find that nobody has yet contributed any information. What do you do? Most users, faced with this situation, will leave and never come back.
You must therefore ensure that before any tool or database is announced to your user base at large, it provides enough information or features to be useful to the users.
The best way to ensure a critical mass of content is to migrate a heavily-used or valuable but inaccessible legacy content source. In some cases third party content can be obtained and repurposed
If the initial content does not come from an existing source, you will need to create seed content before announcing the tool. This often involves putting together a set of frequently needed pieces of information within the domain covered by the tool and driving an effort to create them.
Once the tool or database contains sufficient content that your users need, you should pilot this content with a small set of users to ensure that it is useful prior to rolling it out for general availability.
It’s wonderful to deliver good, solid information and great tools on the day you launch. However, if you don’t ensure that content and tools are kept up to date and even enhanced to meet the changing needs of your users, they will eventually become useless.
The best way to make sure that useful information is updated is to make it very easy for the most important and prolific sources or authors to contribute data or content.
Make it easy for site administrators and even users to contribute useful information organized in a useful way Then, provide mechanisms to notify contributors when content expires or seems to be outdated, and let them update it, retire it, mark it as unreliable or re-submit it.
Finally, include feedback forms and other mechanisms that let end users comment on the usefulness or obsolescence of information contained in the system.
A small team can accomplish a lot when creating a new portal site, but the ongoing maintenance of large amounts of content and large numbers of integrations can only be done well by organizations that divvy up the work load. I good way to approach this is by implementing a robust CMS that allows for multiple party submissions (ideally with an approval process before live posting). Any non-delegated approach risks creating a bottleneck at the webmaster/web team level.
The portal site is best implemented in a series of rapid phases, each of one delivering value to the end users. You don’t need to do everything in the first phase.
Despite the appeal of a “ta-da, here it is” moment, studies show that most large scale web portal projects tend to fail when they take that approach. They suffer from long time-lines, scope creep, budget cuts, staff turnover, lack of attention and unrealistic ambitions.
Instead, you should implement your project in a series of short, focused phases, each of which is designed to deliver value to the organization.
Work with all clients to create a solution that delivers quickly; scales easily and provides long-term flexibility.
Your project should be viewed as a long-term, ongoing investment that evolves and grows with the changing needs of your organization. Don’t take a short-sighted view of the solution and thereby missing out on your portal’s potential to add value over time.
It is vital when the portal is rolled out, that current needs and expectations are met, while keeping an eye on where the solution can provide more value to your organization in the future. This will help you to keep the solution relevant to your organization and maintain its status as valuable technology that is central to the organization’s knowledge management efforts.