User testing at Summerlee Museum

Time for Tea and Some User Testing

Our challenge when we started the project was to create a website for a wide range of different people; from casual browsers, curious to find out what’s locked away in our stores, to local history enthusiasts and researchers with specific interests, who know exactly what they’re looking for.

How did we go about this? Well, myself and our Project Officer, Sheila Asante carried out user evaluation and testing at different stages of the project to establish who exactly would use the site, what would interest and entertain them.

We really do hope we have achieved our goal of creating a site that meets all your needs – only time will tell!

Your Museums Service Needs You!

The first stage was to establish our user profile. To do this Sheila met with community groups, museum staff, volunteers and members of the public. They had lots of interesting chats and discussions and copious amounts of tea! The Friends of Colzium, Summerlee’s Knitting & Sewing Group, as well as members of Motherwell Historical Society and the Woolpack in North Heritage Centre all gave up their time to tell her exactly what they wanted out of the site.

From this Sheila discovered lots of really useful information, including what kind of tools people like to use for searching, what areas of local history interests them most, the type of things they look for online and the websites they currently use.

Using all this information Sheila produced a prototype of the site which allowed us to decide on a provisional structure; detailing the main sections of the site and functionality. And then, for the next 12 months the Museums’ Curatorial team and volunteers pulled all the content together. From writing captions and stories, selecting objects to digitise, to sourcing audio and film clips, photography and scanning.

Keep Calm and Continue Testing

Following a year of development the next step was to test the website further, to see what it was like for people to use. I set up sessions in our museums with staff, volunteers and members of the public. A range of devices were used to test the site on different platforms.

An appeal for participants through social media got lots of interest.  I was inundated with people wanting to take part but had to limit it to six people; anymore it would have been impossible to capture all the feedback. A good range of people participated, including local history enthusiasts, a student of museum studies and a local artist.

In all the sessions, from the outset I explained to everyone it was the site we were testing and not them. It was crucial for them to know this as we needed to find out what worked and what didn’t. We wanted them to be brutally honest – and they were, but in a nice way!

I asked them to perform a range of typical tasks which covered the main sections of the site and asked general questions around overall accessibility and enjoyment.

What did we learn? Quite a lot. Thankfully, everyone enjoyed using the site; the stories and images were by far the most popular aspects. The navigation, design and general accessibility were are positively commented on.

But as suspected there was room for improvement, we could do better! There were issues around how searches results were displayed, accessibility of the map, carrying out advanced searches, the choice of collection themes and missing images. All this information was fed back to the web developers, analysed and used to make a new improved version of the site.

There was a final question was on what’s missing, if anything from the site. Comments included allowing the public to contribute by posting comments and stories, resources for schools, what’s on information and online exhibitions. All of this will be incorporated in phase two of the website, as this is just the beginning. User testing will continue also. With all the good contacts made I plan to set up a group to meet up on a regular basis.

I’d never done website user testing before so i’ve learned something new. I wasn’t sure what to do when I first got started but with some help from Shelley at Surface Impression it was a doddle once I got the hang of it!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the user evaluation and testing sessions; you have helped us enormously to create a site we are proud of and hope you enjoy using!

About the Author

Clare Weir is Collections & Exhibitions Manager with CultureNL. She has been working with North Lanarkshire’s Museums’ collections since 2003.