Case Study: Reviewing the Cancer Survivor’s Network

January 28, 2008 at 1:49 am 1 comment

Jeff Johnson told me about his experiences doing a usability review of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivor Network. I was interested in his process and the impact of his findings because design and usability are arguably more important in a health site than any other type of site because of health literacy. Most interestingly to me is that cancer survivors were not involved in the design or evaluation process by the design firm even after Jeff’s recommendation. Jeff wrote a description of the process and the impact of his findings:

In mid-2002, a web-design firm (NewSof Group) contacted my usability consulting firm (UI Wizards). They developed and maintain the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivor Network (CSN), a website supporting cancer survivors, cancer patients, and their caretakers. In preparation for a planned site revision, NewSof Group wanted an independent usability review of the site.
Before beginning the review, I requested and received the following information from NewSof:
– The overall purpose or mission of the site,
– Important end-to-end tasks the site is intended to support,
– The parts of the site to be included in the review, and parts to be excluded,
– Known problems and concerns pertaining to the site’s usability.
The mission statement of the site was given as: “To be a vibrant community of real people supporting one another and sharing our personal experiences with cancer in our own way, with our own words. None of us need to make the cancer journey alone. We wish to help people find and connect with others like themselves and learn from the experience of others like themselves.”
Obviously, CSN users are not assumed to be technically skilled, so the site has to avoid using technical jargon and exposing technical concepts.
The parts of the site to be reviewed included all of its main sections, e.g., About, Calendar & Announcements, Expressions Gallery, CSN Email, Member Web Pages, Resource Library, Sign-In & Register, Comments, Help. The primary tasks to cover in the review were those supported by the included sections. Accessing all important areas of the site required me to register as a site-member. Aspects of the site excluded from the review were links to the American Cancer Society’s main site, the Spanish or Chinese pages, and details of member-posted content.
Previously known usability issues in the site included:
– Search
– Chat
– CSN email
– Clarifying data-sharing restrictions mandated by ACS policy and medical privacy laws.
As I was reviewing the site, I found I had questions and needed clarification concerning its function, the designers’ intent, and implementation constraints. I emailed batches of questions to my contact at NewSof by email, who either answered them immediately or forwarded them to developers who answered them.
To provide quick feedback so the developers could begin work revising the site, I compiled a preliminary list of usability problems and recommendations and sent it to NewSof as a simple email message. I then refined the preliminary report to provide a more comprehensive, categorized and prioritized list of problems and more complete recommendations. The 36-page report documented 181 potential usability problems, some supported by screen images, and most with recommended remedies. Many reported problems concerned overly wordy and unclear instructions, for which my recommended improvements were rewritten and shortened text. Other problems concerned insufficient navigation cues, inconsistent placement of Search boxes, difficult-to-learn functions, overly tedious operation of some common functions, unclear link labels, and wasted page-space.
I submitted the report to NewSof, and after a few days they pronounced it “just what we needed” and declared the consulting engagement concluded. As a follow-up, I recommended that NewSof consider hiring a usability consultant who actually is a cancer patient or survivor. I knew two who were willing to have me refer NewSof to them. I don’t know if NewSof ever contacted them.
Since I was still a registered CSN member (and still am), I occasionally have checked to see which of my recommendations they implemented. The short answer is: some, but not all. They reduced the volume of verbiage significantly, in some cases using my recommended rewording and in others devising their own. They ignored other recommendations such as conserving page- space.

Entry filed under: health, online health communities, usability. Tags: , , .

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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu

@lisagualtieri


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