How easy do you think it should be to make a charitable donation? Getting a charity to accept your money might not be quite as easy as you'd think — if the charity's website is designed to meet its own needs, that is, rather than the needs of the people who visit and use the site.
Here's an example:
When an acquaintance passed away this week, I decided to pay my respects with a memorial donation to a major national charity. In a few spare minutes at lunch hour, I wrote out a cheque and sealed it in a stamped envelope, all ready to mail — all that was needed was a quick Internet look-up of the charity's mailing address.
It was easy enough to google for the charity's website, to be sure. And the site was easy to read. It was quick to load. And the "donations" link was exactly where I'd expect to find it on the web page.
But there I hit a roadblock.
"On the Internet, it's survival of the easiest," web usability expert Jakob Nielsen
told us, back in 2000, and that's a trend unlikely to reverse as
technology trains us to ever-shorter attention spans and an expectation
of instant results.
"Studies of user behavior on the Web find a low tolerance for
difficult designs or slow sites. People don't want to wait. And they
don't want to learn how to use a home page. There's no such thing as a
training class or a manual for a Web site. People have to be able to
grasp the functioning of the site immediately after scanning the home
page — for a few seconds at most."
I wanted to make a donation, so I clicked to the Donations page, easy and intuitive. But that's where the user-centred experience began to break down.
Only two choices
were offered: to pay online by credit card, or to
telephone a toll-free number. No accomodation was made for any other payment methods. No mailing address was given anywhere on
the donations page; nor was it on the front page of the site, nor on
the main contact page. Yes, I did eventually find the mailing address needed to send a cheque — it was several links further along, well buried in the site. Not intuitive, not quick, and not easy.
The message seemed clear: donations by mail are not welcome here.
True, cheques and money orders do require more staff time for handling and processing; they can get lost in the mail from time to time; and if a donation "falls through" due to insufficient funds in a donor's chequing account, the charity can incur a hefty additional bank fee. So perhaps it was a very conscious decision to design the website to nudge users in a particular direction.
From the charity's point of view, it would seem to make good sense to design the site to make it easy to donate online — and not easy to donate by less-preferred payment methods.
That's fair enough. Every organization has to make trade-offs between what we'd like to do and what we can reasonably manage...
But how does that work out from the prospective donor's point of view? Is your organization's website really working for its users, or is it needlessly
challenging them? How easy is it for users to complete the tasks they come to your website to do?
Usability.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, offers real-world examples
of government websites that have been re-designed with the focus
on the website user. Each of these sites has its own particular
challenges and targets a different audience, but many of the "usability
lessons" do apply to a broad range of websites. A look at these case
studies can lead to a better understanding of what really works on the Web. If you're not sure where your site stands, here are a few good
resources to get started with a website usability assessment — and perhaps a makeover:
Usability.gov: Focusing on Top Tasks.
NetMechanic: Design Usability Checklist and Test Early, Test Often.
PCMag.com: Make It Usable — Scroll down to the section called Quick Ways To Improve Your Site's Usability for tips on how to assess your website's usability with next-to-no budget for formal testing.