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Understand the Relationship Between DEI and Website Usability

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March 31, 2022

Nearly everything we do is online these days, from taking part in professional education to researching medication to finding a recipe for dinner.

The person who can’t successfully navigate the online space is at a distinct disadvantage, noted Aline Lin, founder, CEO, and creative director of Astriata, in her presentation at the 2022 Nonprofit Technology Conference.

That’s why website usability and ensuring inclusivity in user testing are so important. “We want to make sure we’re providing equity for all. I believe it benefits everyone when we do that,” said Lin.

Why does diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) matter in usability testing? And how can you leave your assumptions at the door and be open to hearing different voices? These are some of the issues Lin explored in her session. She also shared Astriata’s proven methodology in usability testing that she has developed over 20-plus years.

Hierarchy of needs for your website

Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 is likely familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Illustrated by a pyramid, this theory claims that people must first have their basic needs met—food, water, air, and rest—in order to feel safe and secure. Only then can they focus on meeting needs higher up in the hierarchy, such as love, esteem, and, finally, self-fulfillment.

This same structure applies to your website, according to Lin. “Content is the core of your website,” she explained. “You have to have great content, but if people can’t find it, then it doesn’t matter.” That’s why having intuitive labeling and structure is important, to ensure that people can find the information they’re seeking. Then they can reach the higher levels of user experience and obtaining knowledge. Your website users become engaged and empowered to do what they need to do.

What does inclusion look like on websites?

Within your target audience(s), consider who and what are important. Are you targeting a range of ages, races, and cultures? A 90-year-old and a 19-year-old will navigate a website very differently. And symbolism and color can have very different meanings in different cultures, Lin pointed out.

Also consider the various roles your target audiences might hold—for instance, are they a member, donor, or internal staff member? Do they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of comfort with technology that may change the way you design your site? Access to high-speed internet matters, given that a website with video or large images can be slow to load.

Also consider accessibility—and not only issues with sight or hearing. Fine motor skills, for instance, can affect how someone navigates a website, e.g., with the keyboard instead of a mouse.

How do we ensure that different voices are heard?

Inclusion largely comes down to doing the right user research. “We want to make sure we’re getting feedback from a diverse population that’s representative of your audiences,” said Lin. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups each have their purpose and strengths. Surveys are a great way to get quantitative results from a large group of people, whereas focus groups allow you to dive deeper into respondents’ answers.

It’s also important to consider inclusivity with the usability testing tools we use to get qualitative results, including:

It’s important to include a lot of different people in your testing for a number of reasons. First, we all come to the table with inherent unconscious biases. To counter that, we need to be talking to a variety of people to make sure that their voices are heard.

Also, we want to make sure our design is user-centric, because we want it to be meaningful and engaging to the target audience. You’re going to get increased engagement and a higher conversion rate because of the improved experience, and overall, you’re going to build trust for your brand, noted Lin.

She added that inclusivity in usability testing also brings practical outcomes that can affect your bottom line: “You reduce the risks in terms of costs and development because the earlier you test, the earlier you can address issues.” It’s far more costly to launch a site and then have to go back and fix issues later.

Guidelines and outcomes

Lin shared tips on how to conduct usability tests properly to get useful results. For starters, follow guidelines and best practices, such as obtaining permission to record people, and explain that you’re not testing them, you’re testing the interface; there are no wrong or right answers.

In terms of measuring outcomes, Lin said, baseline testing compared to after a redesign has shown that task completion rate can increase from 60 to 100 percent, with the time to complete tasks going down, and users’ satisfaction going up.

To find participants for your user testing, Lin suggested posting on Craigslist and reaching out to influencers and organizations that may help recruit people. In one case, she and her team went to an unemployment center with laptops and interviewed people in the waiting room.

Inclusion may take some extra effort, but it’s worth it, Lin concluded. “We don’t want people to be at a disadvantage by not being able to access the information they need to make an informed decision.”

To learn more about inclusion and usability, read “How DEI Can Strengthen the User Experience.”


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