Radio New Zealand embraces digital democracy for site redesign

Radio New Zealand is taking the unusual step of going to its audience for suggestions for the redesign of its new website, something it says it’s never done before. 

Radio New Zealand added a post to its website recently urging its page visitors/listeners to ‘Go on – stick your beak in!’

As the post says, most websites re-design every few years and it’s a process that rarely involves the public, and if it does that input is minimal.

“We aren’t like that. We’d like you to be involved,” RNZ website re-design team’s Richard Hulse says on RNZ’s website. “We’d like you to be involved. The process takes months and before we get started we’d like to hear from you … “

To get people ‘in the mood’ to share their opinions it also posted snapshots of its websites over the years, with the oldest dating back to 1995. RNZ even resurrected one of the old sites for people to enjoy “and laugh at”.

Hulse says RNZ has had a lot of feedback about the site over the past ten years and knows that its listeners and site viewers have strong feelings about public broadcasting, the website and the content produced.

“Please let us know what you like and don’t about the current site. What could be improved? What can’t you do without? What do you want to see?”

Gladeye founder and creative director Tarver Graham says the approach is quite unusual. “It’s really broad-ranging research. Normally you’d take your research in-house and have a group of people,” he says.

“The danger is that you tend to get the fringe elements. People who have an opinion, not necessarily people who are always on the site. They might self-select people who have a strong opinion and not necessarily the average person who uses the website,” he says.

He says he thinks the approach is probably okay, unless RNZ takes the feedback too literally. “You’ll find if they were to list the requested features and do as many as they could, then it would probably turn out to be an absolute nightmare. But I doubt that that’s what they’ll do. It’s interesting to know how practical they are going to take it. How much actually gets through to the finished website or is it as much a PR exercise as it is a design exercise,” he says.

“But I do sort of admire the spirit of it, the egalitarian approach,” he says. “It’s very New Zealand. But that said, the best design isn’t really done in a democracy and I don’t think it really could be because too many competing voices is going to create something that’s not a whole consistent piece of work,” he says. “They will probably take the feedback, try and make sense of it [though].”

He says maybe RNZ is looking for little gems of creative ideas that might take the site to the next level. “I don’t envy the job of the person who has to go all through that. There will be a lot of repetition, and probably some funny, probably crazy but maybe some insightful, interesting ideas. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do I think it is potentially constructive, it really just depends how literally they take it and how literally they take it to the site. I think they’ll still have a design team and unpack that and take what they want from it and make sure the site is still consistent and works.”

We contacted RNZ’s head of digital Glen Scanlon who is away at the moment but will respond next week. We will update the story accordingly.

Te Papa museum also went to its audience to ask for advice before it launches its new website and posted surveys on social media with the message: “Will our new design help you answer your questions? We’re redeveloping our website and we’d love to hear from you.”

One survey was in the form of a fake Te Papa website, with messages popping up on the screen asking where to find things, like visitor information, tour information, where to download art prints, etc in order to test out its usability.

Another was for tone and voice testing.

Why take this approach?

“It’s the national museum so it’s really important to understand our audience and making an excellent user experience. Our users are quite diverse and they can come from anywhere in New Zealand and overseas and a wide range of demographics, so understanding their diverse needs helps us make a really good website for them,” Te Papa online advisor Ruth Hendry says.

Te Papa can only reach its audience and make good contact if it knows how to deliver it to them. “Pragmatically improving user experience makes good business sense. So if we know up front what they want we don’t have to make expensive changes to the website once it goes live.”

When we spoke 800 people had participated the online and follow up research and the research was ongoing.

“Being in a museum you can get quite jargony and it’s easy to organise things that make sense to you but don’t make sense to ordinary people. We also looked at what tone of voice Te Papa should be using online. So personality and usability and our approach to bilingual content [is important].”

She says she finds the research incredibly interesting. “I found it phenomenally helpful actually. I really like undertaking user research. Sometimes your assumptions are validated and sometimes they are challenged but without doing the user research we wouldn’t be able to make those changes so we are definitely going to include [this kind of research]with our ongoing projects and our ongoing digital projects.”

There were approximately 790,000 visits to Te Papa’s main website over the past financial year (July 1 2014 – June 30 2015).

There were 2,900,000 visits to all of Te Papa’s websites over the past financial year (July 1 2014 – June 30 2015).

“As you can see we get a sizeable amount of traffic. Our ambition is to increase visitation to, and engagement with, Te Papa’s digital content to enable us to share more of Aotearoa New Zealand’s stories,” she says.

  • See our story on other crowd-sourced initiatives here.

Graham says usually on a project like that you’d look at the users and talk to business and government stakeholders about what it needs to accomplish.

“Not just functionally but also in a business or spiritual sense. What do you want people to feel when they come to it and from that would spill out the functional design choices and ideally you’d test that as well. So anything that was new. Then you would go back to that user group and test.”

Another way to do it is to optimise by launching the site and then continuing to optimise as opposed to doing surveys. “A lot of people say one thing then act in another way … So the way we would run analytics and optimisation tests on different set ups, content, different messaging, different landing pages etcetera, and select from the ones that result in what we are trying to achieve with the site which in the commercial world is usually a sale of some kind,” he says.

He says designers can test the site against something else to prove whether the changes resulted in positive or negative results and then improve it based on user feedback in a subtle way. “You’re not asking what people think you’re observing behaviour and I think that’s a more effective way to make sure you’ve got a good site.”

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