Written by Tom Glennan
The late Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court Potter Stewart was famously quoted, while trying to decide a case before the Court, that while he could not precisely define pornography, “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964). I have often felt the same way when it comes to understanding what makes for good website design, in all its aspects (not that it’s necessarily pornographic, but rather that I know it better than I can define it). So I really enjoyed and appreciated the topic of the November 14th World Usability Day in Detroit presentation, “The real usability of Healthcare.gov.” Co-organized by STC/SM, along with Michigan CHI and the User Experience Professionals Association, this session really went a long way in helping me understand the features and factors that help make a website good by making it more usable.
The speaker for the morning session, Dave Mitropoulos-Rundus, currently wears many hats as the president of Michigan CHI, the user experience architect at Quicken Loans, the principal member of Clear Usability, LLC, and director of the annual Internet User Experience conference. He has a vast amount of experience and expertise in the field of usability and in making the onsite experience more user friendly. And he made it clear that the focus of his presentation was not to berate the government for the list of problems and frustrations people are experiencing with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) website (that, apparently, is the news media’s job). Rather, his intent was to discuss the elements of good website design, and then use the ACA website as an example of how these elements were or were not implemented, and how they could be improved upon. To that end, Dave did a great job of making the concept of usability and great Web design come alive for me.
After identifying the overall elements of website usability, and its four primary contributors (usability requirements, best practices, reviews, and testing), Dave discussed the importance of understanding the audience who will be using the website (in the example, the users are health care providers, patients and caregivers), with respect to their needs and expectations. Dave then showed how the principles of good design and usability could have been better applied to the creation and rollout of the ACA site, and how the proper incorporation of email and Web links are all part of the online user experience. These practical applications and examples were what I really enjoyed most, because I always appreciate seeing real, pragmatic uses of the concepts and ideas discussed. The presentation concluded with Dave’s list of lessons learned, including the need to provide an obvious path and progression (navigation), to be consistent in the presentation of information and material, and to make the appearance of the website simple and clean while providing only the necessary information.
I thoroughly enjoyed not only the material presented, but Dave’s insight, energy and passion for the principles and application of good usability. His passion was infectious and I came away with a better appreciation of the need for good website design. And it didn’t take a Supreme Court ruling to make it happen!