Saturday, April 06, 2002

the story behind the National Cancer Institute's usability web site
A few short months ago, I remember being pointed in the direction of If you design web sites, and haven't seen this site from the National Cancer Institute, you owe yourself a visit to their pages. It's an excellent resource on making web sites more usable for their visitors.

How does such a web site fall into the mandate of an organization that is geared towards fighting cancer?

Some of the explanation for that question lies in looking more fully at their mandate, and origin. Part of their mission is making certain that communication between government and private medical facilities happens.
Given these questions, we began testing the site, an experience that furthered the need to develop a formal way to collect and share our knowledge for future reference. We conducted user tests with doctors, medical librarians, cancer patients, researchers, and others who we expected would be regular visitors. What we learned from testing was as surprising as what we learned from our questionnaire and interviews: some icons were not clearly clickable, many links were confusing, our terminology did not match our users’, and core information appeared to be buried or lost within the site. These were not mere glitches, but conceptual and foundational challenges that needed to be addressed.
Sharing the information that they learned by testing and research helped other web sites which focus on fighting cancer.

Their site received such positive responses that it was made accessible to the public.

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