As part of an ongoing series, every few weeks I will be reviewing various psychology and psychiatry websites with an eye towards user centered design and usability. Hopefully you'll be able to get some ideas on what to do and what to avoid when it comes to your own website.
This week: The Beck Institute (http://www.beckinstitute.org)
The Beck Institute has a world-wide reputation for excellence and groundbreaking work in CBT. Not being a CBT specialist, I can't evaluate the quality of the content presented. However, as a usability professional and an interaction designer, I can evaluate some of the user experience expressed on the website.
There are many things good about this website from a usability perspective, but right off the bat, there are a couple of strange things that catch your eye. First, when you navigate to the home page, you are greeted with an extremely long URL. I initially thought I was linked into the wrong place. While it isn't strictly an error or a major problem, it made the experience strange and made me question where I was. Never a good thing on an initial visit.
The other thing that I immediately picked up on was the dual navigation. There is navigation along the left side, and the same navigation elements on the top. At first, I thought there might be different ones, or I was missing something. But no, the two sets of navigation are identical.
There are problems with horizontal navigation, as the website already has run up against. Namely, when you run out of room on horizontal navigation, what do you do? You can allow users to scroll, you can make the font size smaller, or you can make multiple rows of navigation. The Beck Institute decided to do multiple rows. But when they are inconsistent in spacing between each one, you have to read each individual item and evaluate if it is what you are looking for.
But enough about the difficulties, what does the site do well?
Some of the basic design elements are good:
1) dark text on light background, makes it easier for reading
2) a clearly identified logo and title, to indicate where you are and the owners of the site
3) User based navigation
That last requires a bit more explanation. The "For Journalists", and "For Professionals" lets me as a user know that I should click there, that I would find links of interest for me. Theoretically, I would know if I am a journalist or a professional, so I can quickly find what is of interest to me.
While there is some attention paid to denoting where you are, with the top navigation including an underline on the page that you are on, and a sort of breadcrumb visible at the top of each page of content, much of those clues are very subtle on this site. As a result, they can get lost.
Ultimately, this site suffers from some of the same problems that commercial sites do: lost in trying to provide too many things to too many audiences. As a visitor, on the landing page, I am not sure where I want to click next. I'm not sure where the Beck Institute wants me to click next.
One of the most important things to think about: what is the conversation your website is having with your visitors? What is the tone, the style, and the interaction? The Beck Institute seems to be speaking to multiple people all at the same time, and the voices get confusing.
But heck, that's what I think. What do you think?
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