Last week I had the chance to go down to the Homes and Communities Agency and take part in a focus group about their new website.
The questions were about intuitive navigation (whether things were where I thought they'd be), the overall content and the design of the pages.
What surprised me was how much of the original website I hadn't noticed or had forgotten - bearing in mind this is a website I use at least once a week and sometimes every day. For example, I said it was good that the new website had a link to the HCA's Twitter feed, and then they showed me the original website - and that had a link to it too.
It made me think about web design and how I read web pages. Unlike books or magazines, web pages aren't meant to be read left-right. A website like the HCA's is largely about sharing information, so the most important consideration has to be can people find what they're looking for. (Here's a cool article about how people read web pages.)
Thinking about it, the majority of my visits to their website are as a result of an e-zine I receive which has links to news stories or updates to the website. Generally I give it a quick scan and see if there's anything relevant to my area of work and then click-through, so I don't struggle to find things.
Since then, I've tried closing my eyes before I visit a site (don't try this in the office), try to remember it and then see if it was how I thought it would be. It amuses me how frequently I am wrong.
It made me realise that what people remember about websites is the content, not the nitty gritty of the design. Sure they'll remember if the design is particularly outstanding like this one (it's a work of art) or if it's a nightmare to navigate, but generally it's the information that people are after.
Why not try closing your eyes before you next visit a website?