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A quote from the user testing we did on the site at the end of last year:

People aren’t here to enjoy themselves; they’re here to find information.

User research on

Since we’re a beta site, we’re continuing to talk to users to help prioritise our development effort. We’ve already published a few things we learned and the assumptions we’d made that turned out to be false.

Our research objectives

We explored 3 main areas:

  1. Was the content on the beta site using the language people were using? Had we managed to write simple content that got rid of all the ‘govspeak’ and gobbledygook that just confuses users?
  2. Would the simple design of the site help users? Or would it create problems since we’re only providing very ‘thin’ content at the moment, and linking users to other government websites?
  3. Could users find what they needed on the site? There’s no left or top nav — would this stop people completing tasks?

Users gave us both good and bad feedback

As always happens with this kind of research you can expect to get mixed results.

We recorded what people said, watched what they did, and measured how long it took each user to complete each of the tasks. Sometimes what they said and did didn’t correlate. Our test facilitator spotted this and prodded, queried and questioned participants to tease out more detail.

Quotes from users tell a powerful story

Here are a few of the things our users had to say:

I would use this site frequently — it’s much simpler. It’s like a little government Google, without having to look at all those horrible busy government websites.

It doesn’t look very exciting and the colour combo is not exciting, but it looks like it has what I want.

It originally looked boring but as we started using it it surprised me.

Student loan — noooo, why would I end up with a page that is anything to do with when somebody dies?

Replacement of driving licence. I don’t want a replacement, I just want to change the name…

I’d probably think I’ve come to the wrong area. Because it’s asking me to renew my licence.

Huh — ok, I feel like I’ve been following the wrong pathway. I need contacts.

Measuring a user’s emotional response

In this last round of research we wanted to have a way of measuring users’ emotional response to the beta site compared to what they thought about other government sites they had used. Each participant was given a pile of cards at the start of the session and asked to group them into 2 piles:

  • Government sites are...
  • Government sites are not...

At the end of the test session they were asked to use the same cards and create 2 new groups:

  • is...
  • is not...

What users said about

The stand-out differences in what users thought? Compared to other government sites participants more frequently said the beta site was:

  • comprehensive, usable and straightforward
  • trustworthy, secure and convenient — none of the users we tested chose ‘secure’ to describe other government sites
  • a bit dull and boring, but also simplistic.

Iterate, test, and iterate again

The big take away for me — having worked on the redevelopment project since it’s inception — was that our approach is right.

  1. We’ve had users involved regularly.
  2. We launched the site before it was finished, and that was ok.
  3. Using agile has meant we could change priorities as user needs were uncovered.
  4. There’s a fine line between simple, usable and beautiful. Content design is just as important as visual design — you won’t get it ‘right’ without experimenting and making mistakes along the way.

What’s next for

We’ve already made some changes to fix issues identified in the research, including a new homepage and some changes to our fonts.

We’re still working on some updates to fix other things discovered in the user research. The project team is making changes in a small, iterative way. We’re releasing code and design changes at least once every 2 weeks. We’re also gearing up to open source some of our code. More of that in later blogposts.

There’s more research coming, and this time we hit the road taking the testing sessions out to different places across the country. In the next few months we’ll be testing in:

  • Auckland
  • Manukau
  • Porirua
  • Nelson
  • Christchurch, and
  • Dunedin.

I think it’s possible for us to create a site that helps people find information and is an enjoyable experience — well, as enjoyable as a government experience can be. What are you doing to bring enjoyment or (dare I say) delight to your users?

Do you have research you can share? Leave us a comment below, or email the team at

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