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Valuable Usability Testing: A Case Study of the Qatari Government Portal

Hukoomi has come a long way! As Qatar's primary government portal, it is the single place businesses can visit to complete transactions like applying for work visas, exit permits, residence permits, and much more. Now Qatari citizens and residents can pay traffic violations, renew passports, and renew health cards. Since Hukoomi continues to add more transactions and services every year, it is increasingly important that their audiences can effectively use their site. Enter usability testing.

Usability Testing - Round 1

Hukoomi home page 2009

Hukoomi's homepage in 2009

Forum One conducted the first round of usability testing in 2009 in Doha. The Hukoomi site looked very different then. The center of the page was filled with a decorative navigation for different audiences that might visit the site and the left column contained additional, commonly used links. But while the site was backed with some powerful services, users struggled to find and use those services.

facilitator and participant during usability testing

Facilitator and participant during usability testing

During usability testing, we brought in business people, citizens, residents, and visitors –  the primary audiences for Hukoomi. These participants attempted to complete ten of the most common tasks on the site and gave us their overall impressions of the site. The results were powerful. Few participants could complete the tasks. Some participants had strong opinions about the difficulty they faced using the site, although others were just grateful they didn't have to stand in line all day to complete a transaction in person. In the end, we learned a lot about user perception and areas that needed improvement.
After completing this usability testing, we provided recommendations for improvement. The list was long, but we learned that users struggled with five main areas:
  1. Access and Site Performance
    Example: It was difficult to access the site in some browsers and outside of Qatar.
  2. Content and Naming
    Example: Instructions were often too technical for users to understand.
  3. Navigation
    Example: To access content, users had to know about and navigate via a single path to get to content. It was difficult for users to understand where they were in the site and how to get to another section.
  4. Visual Design
    Example: Links did not use a consistent style throughout the site.
  5. Translation
    Example: The translations in English and Arabic were sometimes different.
Generally, participants loved the idea of Hukoomi. Completing transactions online often saved them time since they did not have to travel to a government building and wait in line. However, when using the website, it was difficult to find services or complete a transaction. With room for improvement, the Hukoomi team took our report and recommendations and revamped the site.


Usability Testing - Round 2

Hukoomi home page 2011

Hokoomi's homepage 2011

 Two years later, in 2011, we conducted a second round of usability testing. The results were once again powerful, but for a very different reason! This time, the issues users faced were minor and largely related to fine-tuning the existing interactions. For example, in the 2011 testing, we found that when a participant completed an exit visa form, he/she could not easily start another exit visa transaction. Without a link to start a new transaction, a user had to either click the back button six times or restart the whole process by going back to the homepage and navigating to the exit visa page again. To think one link could make such a huge difference! In this case, business people (a primary audience) may complete 400 transactions on Hukoomi every day. That link could save a significant amount of time, and it's possible that we would not have discovered this without talking to these audiences and completing usability testing. This highlights the very real opportunity Hukoomi has to make transactions even more current.

Striking Results

Table of Improvements after usability testing

Table of Improvements after usability testing

Since 2009, Hukoomi has made huge strides in the right direction, improving usability and the average user perception of the Hukoomi experience. In the 2011 testing, users were able to complete more tasks in less time. Nearly all participants who have contacted the call center commended Hukoomi for providing excellent customer service and follow-up. The team behind Hukoomi should be commended for engaging in this usability testing – it underscores the importance placed on user needs in evaluating the effectiveness and reach of government services.

Usability Testing and ROI

By regularly doing usability testing and reaching out to users, Hukoomi can maintain a user-centric approach and prioritize its organizational objectives for the site, give thought to which content and services are of the highest value to users in support of those objectives, and refine the quality of the information and the online experience provided. In the end, the difference is striking. Understanding your audience's needs, opinions, and interactions on your website is powerful, not only when trying to improve experiences and change perceptions, but also in saving time and money.