Starting Your Research Efforts

The starting point for any web redesign effort should be finding out what your users think about your existing site, and where they want improvements. You may be thinking of adding a bunch of tools to integrate with delicious/flickr/youtube etc, and that could be great for your site, but is that what people really want?

Instead of starting with ideas for potential features, follow Jesse James Garrett‘s advice and ask yourself “What do people want to accomplish? How does this activity fit into their lives? How can I deliver on those desires?”

But if you’re here you probably know all about that. So how do you actually start finding out what your users think?

We just finished doing our first phase of research on the user base of, the flagship site of the National Crime Prevention Council, and here’s how we did it:

Fortunately for us, our Research department has a Quask server that we used to create an online survey we could link to or send out via email. If you don’t have access to such a tool, there are online substitutes like Survey Monkey.

A survey can tell us about our users’ age/gender/profession, how often they visit the site and for how long, what topics they’re interested in, and what they use the site for. What it can’t tell us is how they think our content should be organized.

To do that we need to create a card sort exercise. In a card sort, you take a list of items (in this case, pieces of content from your website) and have users put them into groups and name them. This gives us a great deal of insight into how our information hierarchy should be designed. There are a few different web-based card sorting tools, for our project we tried Optimal Sort and were pleased with the results. For more info on card sorting, see this Boxes and Arrows guide.

We linked the card sort to the end of the survey and sent it to our site’s registered users (the ones who’ve agreed to be contacted by us) and wrote a blog post on the home page soliciting participation.

Has your non-profit tried this type of research before? Have you done something completely different?

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