Interviews Yield W3C Spec. Problem Areas

After identifying the target demography of W3C specifications, we explored the issues from the perspective of the people who care most — W3C users. To identify the complications of using a W3C specification, we listened to the users’ experiences with it. Why do they find it difficult to use? Are there important features lacking that impact usability? We wanted to identify their pain points.


We composed a survey for primary inquiries (addressed in a prior blog post), which was announced on the W3C website. In the survey, we asked people to provide us with their email ID if they were willing to be a part of our research process through short interviews. From initial responses, we conducted 13 interviews. The interviewees belong to renowned institutions all over world that use W3C specifications. Interviewees comprised different user categories that we had identified through the survey.

Cephas Samuel, Ishita Ferdousi and Pratik Joglekar (from left to right) conduct an interview with a W3C user.


A general set of questions were structured that formed a common ground for the interview sessions, but we geared them to be of open-ended, casual conversations so our participants would feel comfortable enough to reveal anything important. All the interviews were online video sessions that lasted 45–60 minutes.


Participants talked about the nature of their affiliation with the W3C, usage patterns, media, purpose, frequency, search patterns, opinion on the current layout, usability, readability and also walked us through their use of specifications.

Ishita Ferdousi (foreground), Shailee Sheth and Pratik Joglekar (furthest from camera) conduct the affinity exercise based on the interview findings.

We analyzed each interview, pulling out key findings, and used an affinity exercise to find the common problem areas. The most typical pain points were:


Current navigation system is confusing and non linear. Participants had trouble navigating within a single specification as well as between specifications. This problem is further complicated by the W3C tendency to include hyperlinks. Participants were inevitably unsure whether a hyperlink would lead them to an anchor tag, a new URL or launch their email client. As participants increased their reliance on the W3C, this problem became more pronounced.

Version Control

As we know, W3C specifications are constantly being revised. We found that it’s not always clear to our participants which version they are looking at. Though they’ve seen those notifications that the version they are looking at is out of date, they’re not sure what to do about it. This leads to confusion and redundancy for users.


Specifications consist of a lot of great content — text, code snippets, images, both internal and external references, acknowledgements, etc. Though there were plenty of comments about the content itself, we’re interested in the impacts to usability. This bounty of content can, at times, create clutter that distracts the user from their end goal: finding the answer to a question and getting back to writing their code.

While revealing the key problem areas above, the affinity exercise lead us to begin modeling personas and journey maps. We’ll post on those in the coming week. The interview sessions helped us connect with our target audience and empathize with their problems. Our research is a valuable resource that our team can refer to throughout the design process.

We are grateful to all the people who contributed their valuable time. Thank you!