April 1, 2015
By Alison Merifield
Analysis of User Experience on Political Party Web Sites
Quirk London reveals the results of its analysis of the User Experience (UX) of five of the political party web sites contesting the election on May 7th. With 36 days to go until the public goes to the polls, how are the parties doing online?
• Labour leads rankings as the only party to hit over 80%
• Lib Dems a close second, followed by substantial drop to the Conservatives
• Good first impressions don’t always lead to a good user experience
• Parties prioritise calls to action, but don’t always call out their value proposition
• Lowest single score awarded to UKIP for the writing and content of web site
Quirk London conducted a heuristic review of the sites in March 2015, assessing the key components that make a website user friendly. A series of questions were asked pertaining to the homepage, task orientation, navigation and information architecture (IA), writing and content quality, page layout, and visual design.
“Regardless of how nice a website looks, if it doesn’t answer the needs of its audience, it retains little value for anyone,” said Richard Palmer, Director and User Experience lead at Quirk London. “There is a distinct difference in what is important for a party and what is important for the voter. While a political party wants names, numbers and donations, a voter wants quick, concise information, and guidance on how to answer their own questions.”
The results highlight how each party’s focus is on capturing the interest of visitors upon entering their website, but while first impressions are important, few are able to provide any continuity on deeper pages.
“The challenge with designing a website for a political party is the vast audience – plus the disparity in levels of digital literacy,” continued Palmer. “Most brands have a specific target consumer, however, everyone is a voter – whether a signed up party member, first time or undecided voter. This last, crucial, audience needs headline information quickly and easily with a site that is inviting and accessible – but is largely ignored. While each party tries to portray their individual policies to some degree, they are often not immediately obvious in the navigation, or are limited to a single page, the worst offender being UKIP.
Some key guidelines on how to improve User Experience on a web site:
• Simplicity is key, particularly with a very diverse audience – in both design and messaging
• Too much information means people’s eyes can’t keep up – instead structured content with visual distinction between hierarchy is vital
• Brand is important, but should not supersede content and ease of use
• Colour is a useful tool for users to identify similar topics, content etc.
• All content should be followed by a call to action, allowing users to act on what has been read
• Navigation should be consistent throughout a site to avoid confusion and provide immediate access to the most important content
• Think about what is important for the user, not the brand (or party)
How the results broke down by party
The Conservative Party suffered from information overkill on the homepage, while forcing visitors to sign in, share or provide contact details when viewing anything of real value, detracts from what should be a simple process.
Where it scored lowest was writing and content and task orientation. While allowing access to important topics, the overuse of blue leaves little visual distinction between site features, indicating no obvious hierarchy to content and no prominence to action buttons.
“You can’t help but think that someone has said: Great, now make it more blue!”, explains Richard. “However, colour variation plays an important role in easing the navigation process and quickly consuming content.”
The Labour Party scored very highly for its approach to usability, and is the most visually appealing site. Content is easy to digest, clearly prioritised and segmented, and relatively easy to find, although the homepage does not offer a clear value proposition to vote Labour and policy detail is slim. The Error 404 page, however, does at least offer some humour: ‘Well, this is rotten. But, a 404 Error is still better than five more years of Tory government.’
“While perhaps a deliberate ploy, preventing expedient access to specific policies is not conducive to good user experience. In addition, the content is often thin with vague statements without the ability to find out more, or how policies will be achieved.”
The Liberal Democrat website came in a close second to Labour, let down by its homepage, and overall page layout and visual design. Its ease of navigation scored highly, as well as task orientation and the ease of finding the “next step”.
“The website is a little ‘busy’ at times, with too much content to make it easily digestible, but despite a poor visual design, the site performs well overall from a usability perspective taking a more user-centric design in its approach to content.”
The Green Party achieved the lowest score alongside UKIP, suffering from poor page layout and visual design in particular. On a page level, the use of tabs is entirely unnecessary and cumbersome given the limited depth of content available on the site. The lack of streamlined navigation also leads to some missed opportunities to take donors back to the site or limiting “Take Action” to volunteering, which involves a long, complex form.
“The Green Party is incredibly focused on its people, which is crucial for a party with a limited face. Nomenclature is strong, but the use of capitilisation to accentuate content simply makes it more challenging to read and detracts from its purpose.”
UKIP’s website has focused on its homepage, with all other elements of the UX scoring far lower, bringing down the overall experience. Navigation makes it challenging to find the party’s policies, and once found, they are limited to a single page of plan text that makes scanning for headline issues challenging.
“A huge focus is on news content, and, as with most other sites reviewed, focuses on the weaknesses of other parties and negativity. The fact that the home page calls out that the web site is “published and promoted by Steve Crowther” rather than the party itself could lead to mistrust amongst voters who do not know he is party chairman.”
Quirk undertook the research using a standard questionnaire covering the following categories: homepage; task orientation; navigation and information architecture (IA); writing and content quality; page layout and visual design; search, help and feedback. There was no weighting for any particular section and overall scores were calculated as an average of the total of all sections.
Explanation of category reviews:
Homepage: The homepage is crucial in presenting your offering and inviting users in. However, as a result of changes in searching and browsing behavior, many users will enter our web site by deeper pages, so an effective homepage should not be at the expense of the rest of your site.
Task Orientation: Task-oriented design is a powerful approach for sites looking to achieve particular goals, which, in the case of a political party during a campaign, would be to volunteer, join and donate.
Navigation and Information Architecture: IA and navigation may be a means to an end, and user expectations will vary tremendously, but how sites aggregate, categorise and label items and guide users to the right content can impact a user’s experience hugely.
Writing and content quality: This scores how the parties create and maintain content that users care about. As well as what it says, we need to look at when it lives and why.
Page layout and visual design: This reviews the fonts, icons and colours used on a page to help a user complete tasks and find relevant information. Aesthetics also play a part in making a user more relaxed and comfortable with a site.
Help, feedback and error tolerance: This looks at how the site helps to prevent users from making errors, helps them through difficult tasks and ensures that the experience is comfortable, with opportunities to leave feedback.
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