How Earthworks did 2 weeks user research before designing their new website

This blog is about Kate Mackay’s experience of doing user research and running usability testing sessions for Earthworks’ new website.

Two white men from Earthworks, wearing green tshirts and leaning over a sign that says ‘Earthworks’ with sunflowers painted on it. One man is wearing a green cap. They are surrounded by lots of green plants.

Kate is Fundraising Development Manager. Earthworks is a small charity offering social and therapeutic horticultural-based support to people with learning disabilities. They call the people who use their services ‘Earthworkers’.

Kate is a white woman, with glasses and straight blonde hair tied in a pony tail. She is wearing a grey turtleneck jumper and smiling at the camera.

Earthworks needed a new website. Deloitte offered to give them pro-bono support through their 5 Million Futures programme.

The project isn’t finished but Kate has already shared 3 revelations and Aha! Moments that give you an insight into what goes on in a well-run and swift website redevelopment project. This blog will share them.

How the website project worked ⚙️

“Our website was a few years old, not accessible and didn’t cater to the needs of all our users.” — Kate Mackay

Earthworks’ website wasn’t working well for its users. And behind the scenes Earthworks were having technical difficulties. They developed a brief for what needed doing but would have needed a large budget to do the work well.

A 6 week project

Until they joined DDC. Then Deloitte offered them 6 weeks of support to go through a full research and design process.

  • 2 weeks of user research
  • 2 weeks of design and testing
  • 2 weeks of build

The project team

Kate is a member of the project team. Different professionals with various skills have dropped into and out of the team at each stage. They have included a UX designer, a visual designer, a user researcher, a content writer, developers, and a client lead. Every morning those working on the project that day run a ‘standup’ meeting looking back at the day before and at the day ahead.

At the end of each week they have a longer meeting where they present findings and plans for the next week.

“They are working very intensely. It’s a very interesting way to work. I’m really enjoying being part of their team, co-designing the website.” — Kate

Managing the project

They also use Figma to manage the project in an open way. Everything about the project can be found in one place: from objectives to an event calendar, a user research plan, research results, rough designs. Kate has full edit access to this so she can participate fully in the process. “It’s incredible to see it all in one place and so useful.” says Kate.

How Kate’s team generated insights through user research 🕵🏾‍♀️

When we talked to Kate the team had just finished the user research phase. They engaged with 4 Earthworkers and 4 other stakeholders, representing staff, volunteers, supporters and trustees.

They engaged the other stakeholders first over 75 minute 1–1 sessions, made up of 3 parts:

1. User interviews

They talked 1–1 to people about their relationship with Earthworks and how they engage with the organisation and its services

2. Card sorting exercise

The team wrote out different types of website menu items and information headings on cards. Then they asked people in 1–1 sessions to sort them according to their expectations of where they would find each type of information on the website.

3. Usability test

The team gave users a task on the existing Earthworks website then watched what happened when they did it. They wanted to see where people found the website easy to use and where it was difficult for them. They recorded this for playback later.

Repeated with Earthworkers 🔂

Next they engaged 4 Earthworkers. They did this slightly differently, skipping the card sorting exercise and working in shorter, 30 minute sessions so that Earthworkers could participate fully. They also didn’t record the sessions with them, again to make it easier for them to engage. Instead they took lots of notes.

Kate had 3 insights 💡

This is what Kate learned. We can learn through her experience:

1. Users behave differently on a website to how you expect

Usability testing the old Earthworks website revealed some unexpected results. Users behaved differently to how Kate expected them to. Often they struggled to navigate to places she thought were obvious. It illustrated to her how important user research is.

“The big Aha! moment was seeing people not doing what I expected them to do, then realising I think in a different way to them and that things on the site aren’t as visible as we thought they were.” — Kate

2. Adapt testing techniques to take account of neurodiversity

The team reduced the duration of each testing session to ensure Earthworkers were comfortable. At first, some Earthworkers found it a little more difficult to engage with the website navigation tasks when asked to remember how they felt as prospective Earthworkers, but with more time, and by adapting the way the task was introduced, this challenge was overcome.

3. Two big insights into the website

The sessions revealed lots of insights. Kate’s two biggest ones were:

  1. The text on the website needed to be reduced and made accessible for people of all abilities.
  2. Earthworkers loved seeing the photos of themselves being an Earthworker on the site. It meant a lot to them.

Next steps👣

Kate and team are now deep into the design and build process. We’ll write here again about their experiences.

“It’s so important to do that user research and let it inform your choices about the design.” — Kate

Kate also told us that during the process she found herself thinking a lot about the Catalyst design thinking course really useful. “Letting all the ideas emerge, rather than coming with your own assumptions”

Learn more about usability testing.



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Joe Roberson

Joe Roberson

Tech for gooder. Bid writer. Content strategist. Helps charities/startups raise funds, build tech products, then sustain them. Writes useful stuff. More poetry.