The previous designs for the FTC Consumer Product Division decreased user trust in the site, and often left them confused. Through user interviews and user testing, we were able to design a new layout that fixed both of these problems, while also improving the user experience as a whole.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government agency that provides information to Americans on the topic of trade and consumer safety. Within the Consumer Product Division, the site primarily focuses on scams, credit reporting, and identity theft. I was fortunate enough to provide UX input for the FTC through a group capstone project within the University of Michigan’s School of Information.
When the client came to us, their focus was on improving the mobile bounce rate, which was as high as 75%. The desktop bounce rate was also high, hovering at around 50%. As we began evaluating the current site, we kept a focus on the mobile experience and soon discovered key issues that likely led to these high bounce rates. The primary issue with the site was that it did not inspire user trust. A government site should always appear honest and trust-worthy, but users found that elements of the page like the “scam alerts” button (fig 1) made them feel like they would be scammed through the site! The site also often redirected the user to other sites, each of which had a different look and feel, which also decreased user trust. Other elements of the page, like the logo placement and use of watermarks, also decreased trust within users, to the point where several said during interviews that they would not consider the site trustworthy, and would not disclose personal information to the site.
The second key problem that we determined with the FTC site was a lack of clear navigation and site structure. Users were easily disoriented within the site due to large blocks of text and other style elements. Additionally, the navigation menu within the site had no secondary menu and very unclear menu items (fig 1) that frustrated users. The navigation menu also switches orientation from horizontal to vertical throughout the site (fig 3), with multiple versions of the site header as well.
The mobile version of the site was also confusing to users, as page elements were not where common conventions dictates that they should be. For example, the search bar was not at the top right of the site, but rather at the very bottom of each page. The hamburger menu was at the top right of the page rather than the left, and valuable screen real estate was being filled with blog content that users did not display interest in (fig 4).
The primary objectives of the site redesign were to increase user trust, and to facilitate easier site navigation. To increase user trust, we established a design scheme that would be implemented across all pages, reassuring users that they were on the same site for their entire web experience (fig 5). We also removed and redesigned elements that decreased user trust, like the “scam alerts” button and the page watermarks (fig 6). Additionally, the new design featured a much cleaner, flatter look, as opposed to the previous version that employed gradients, something that also dated the site.
To facilitate navigation, we developed a secondary navigation menu, and used card sorting to implement more clear names within the primary navigation bar (fig 7). The layout of pages was redesigned so that text was broken up into an information hierarchy that made page content less overwhelming to users, and made inner-page navigation easier as well (fig 8). The home page was reorganized so that pages that users utilized the most often were easily accessible, and links that were not as popular were moved to below the fold.
Within the mobile site, we focused our redesign on conforming to consistency standards, so that users did not have to waste extra time thinking and searching for items that were not where they expected (fig 9). We also attempted to remove as much “clutter” from the mobile site, making the experience as clean and easy to use as possible.
Through user testing before and after the proposed redesigns, we determined that with our changes the System Usability Score for the desktop site went from 57% to 82.5%, and the mobile site increased from 55% to 78%. Ultimately, users found article pages seven times quicker in user testing, and were able to accomplish user tasks with an average of 4 less clicks than the previous design.
While the results were encouraging in testing, it is uncertain whether the FTC will implement our proposed design changes to the site. Our contacts within the Consumer Trade Division were impressed and thrilled with our work, but it is ultimately up to the federal government to determine whether or not to institute our changes.