Evaluating LawHelp for Low Income Users

VOLUME 1 ISSUE 1March 2003
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Evaluating LawHelp for Low Income Users
by Allison McDermott

Sometimes it is difficult for us to describe how we feel about the tremendous power of our community, working on a common web platform and engaging in what we call “shared technology investments.” Here is a great example that we think makes this concept easier to appreciate.

Last year Pro Bono Net (PBN), in partnership with Minnesota Legal Services Coalition (MLSC), undertook usability evaluation testing of our client-oriented LawHelp.org web site. This testing was done to ensure that Minnesota’s web site could be easily used by low-income clients. So, working with low-income clients at social services organizations in Minnesota as well as professional usability consultants, we conducted a multiple-phase usability project over the course of seven months. This included designing and organizing a test of the LawHelp site, testing that site’s navigation with low-income users, evaluating the feedback from those users, revising the design of the site based on that feedback, retesting new draft graphic designs again with low-income users, and then, based on this second round of testing, implementing these new designs throughout the live LawHelp web site.

In early February 2003, we were very excited to roll out the following changes to the site:

  • A clearer and more engaging design of the tab navigation scheme that distinguishes the different “channels” of information. Compare the tab navigation before and then after.
  • New treatment for multiple formats of resources
  • Ability to order resources within the site so that important resources can be promoted and given prominence
  • New treatment of breadcrumb navigation bar
  • Improved conventions to indicate visited and active page links
  • Layout/spacing adjustments that make resource lists easier to scan and encourages people to scroll
  • New placement/treatment of the “printer friendly” control button
  • Rewording of the subheading indicating the number of resources/profiles available within each channel

Happily, our testing shows that these changes will greatly improve the usability of LawHelp for low-income users.

These improvements required a significant investment of PBN and MLSC’s financial and staff resources. Our estimate is that this project cost nearly $50,000, including professional consultants, staff time, graphic designers, and software programmers.

The beauty of building on a common technology platform is that this investment by PBN and MLSC benefited not just users of Minnesota’s site, but also users of nearly 30 state sites now building on the LawHelp platform. Because LawHelp is designed as an integrated web platform, all of these valuable changes could be made simultaneously on all the other LawHelp state sites at no charge. Thus, the investment by PBN and MLSC has been leveraged many times over and has benefited the entire network of groups working together on LawHelp.

It is the integrated platform of LawHelp that makes such rapid and efficient changes possible. Trying to conduct similar usability testing state by state would not be possible. There simply would not be enough dollars to invest in this kind of vital but costly process across 30 states. The shared LawHelp platform allows us all to benefit from the technology investment of one or two of us. The experience also shows how we can build technology that is sustainable and that continues to improve from investments in new innovations.

Special thanks to our partners in Minnesota for all of their hard work and vision!

Published by Pro Bono Net
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