By now, everyone is familiar with the Healthcare.gov website debacle - the multiple glitches and technical defects that stymied the efforts of individuals to sign up for health insurance via the new federal online health insurance marketplace that launched on October 1, 2013, under the Affordable Care Act.
But what use is failure if we can't learn from it? To that end, the usability experts at Nielsen Norman Group have penned an article, entitled "HealthCare.gov’s Account Setup: 10 Broken Usability Guidelines," that walks through ten key usability guidelines that the Healthcare.gov website violated, and that should be avoided by other organizations launching new websites and other web applications.
One important takeaway is that the initial experience of visitors when they come to a website plays a key role in shaping their overall impression of the organization behind the website. For Healthcare.gov, the confusing and broken account setup process impacted how people felt about subsequent interactions with the site, the health insurance plan concept in general and the Affordable Care Act as a whole. For law firms, this means that if the homepage of your website is daunting and confusing, visitors may start to form negative impressions of the firm itself. More specifically, if you leave visitors feeling confused, you may generate thoughts like: "Can I really do business with these folks?"
One key design takeaway is to position key calls to action (CTAs) and persuasive, meaningful content above the fold when the homepage is viewed on a screen with a resolution of 1366x768 (the most popular at the moment). In the case of Healthcare.gov, the top of the screen was initially populated by a meaningless "hero" image that did not contain useful information about the account setup process.
Another important lesson is if you are going to use icons to walk folks through a process, make sure the icons are not cryptic, but instead convey useful information about the process.
Finally, if you are going to ask visitors to fill out and submit an online form, providing some information in advance as to what result visitors can expect after the form is submitted increases the likelihood of a positive response. For example, if it's a contact form, then indicate that the information will be used to allow someone at the firm to follow up with the user (and perhaps send them a copy of the firm brochure via email).
The NNG article contains many other helpful nuggets of usability advice. Click here to read the full article.