User experience (UX) design makes websites and services accessible and understandable. The holy grail of UX is creating useful and delightful experiences while removing all roadblocks that might get in the way.
For businesses, the benefits of this approach can be substantial. Changes to commercial websites – even small tweaks – can result in better engagement with sites, lower abandonment rates and more customers completing their purchases or tasks. Sarah Cancilla (content strategist at Facebook) tells of her first weeks on the job, where she suggested tiny changes to a small group of links in a neglected lower corner of the homepage. The outcome was an increase of 56% in net traffic in that area and six million more people found friends – all because of what appeared to be inconsequential adjustments.
But can experience design enhance society in more civic–minded issues? Can it strengthen how we record and share stories, particularly in a society which is still reflecting the tensions of the past? We are based in Northern Ireland, serving clients in Ireland, the UK and beyond. Northern Ireland is a place which is notable for many reasons – the landscape is beautiful, the people are friendly and our high level of education means we are the destination of choice for many multinational companies wishing to expand their businesses. But, sadly, we are still coming to terms with the past. We are now in not just a post–Troubles era; we are in a time when increasing numbers of our young adults have no experience – and sometimes no knowledge – of our recent past in Northern Ireland.
The importance of understanding our shared past to create and enhance a shared future cannot be underestimated. Access to stories, not just from our own community, but also stories and viewpoints from communities other than our own, is vital. It’s clear, though, that these stories and records have to be available in ways that resonate with citizens – in a digital format, accessible to those of all abilities and designed in a way to capture and retain the attention of all readers.
We are fortunate in Northern Ireland to have resources such as The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and the Linen Hall Library. The Public Records Office holds a wide range of documents spanning family, civic and governmental resources, but has a specific section covering conflict–related material.
The Linen Hall library is a unique institution, providing resources on the Northern Ireland peace talks, the Downing Street Agreement, ceasefires, all–party talks, and negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement, and subsequent referendum. They publish the full text of hundreds of journals published by government, political parties, community groups, pressure groups, charities, and paramilitary organisations. Thousands of documents are digitised and searchable, along with posters illustrating the key themes of the period.
Both bodies are committed to providing digital access to the stories they hold, and have websites which not only showcase impressive visual designs, but with an information architecture which prioritises findability and discoverability. These organisations have always been important but will become increasingly more relevant as we put clear water between ourselves and ‘the Troubles’.
These aren’t the only places where our stories are recorded and shared. Fathom has been working with a leading broadcaster on a digital archiving project which aims to publish a significant amount of previously broadcasted content to an online platform. Our research has helped to put real people at the heart of this important project by probing and discovering what stories people find useful, how easy it is for them to find the information they want and the most effective way to structure and present the resources. User experience design will enhance the ability of readers to understand our shared history – and hopefully help to create a shared future.