Since 1991, Concerned Resources and Environmental Workers (CREW) has given young people employment and developed lifelong skills through environmental work that restores natural land and protects communities against wildfire. I delivered a usability audit and 60-slide report on their current website, to help them recruit more CREW members, engage more donors and partners, and demonstrate their impact to the community of Ojai Valley, California.
I delivered my audit as a 60-slide presentation and report to key stakeholders and board members of CREW, along with recommendations for further review. This audit did not go as far as sketching or wireframing solutions, but simply identifying current strengths and key strategic areas for improvement.
Sample of the final report
As part of the auditing process I undertook the following processes:
To kickstart the project, I met with my project partner within CREW, to find out more about the organisation, decide on the deliverables, and find out the basics from which I would start defining users, journeys and methodology. I found out a few important things:
The site had no analytical data capturing processes - we considered whether it was worth enabling Google Analytics and returning to the audit in a few months' time, with more quantitative data. On full reflection we decided we could complete the audit using interviews and other methods, and include installing data capturing as a recommendation
There were three main types of site users - potential CREW members, potential/current donors, and supportive community members in Ojai Valley. Other visitors were subsets of the above three: potential project partners, akin to project donors; and community members/business owners who were considering hiring CREW.
We agreed to conduct user testing within two of these three main users (potential CREW members and potential donors). Finding members of the community for user testing would be more difficult, and improvements for the first two user types would likely bring some benefits to community members too.
Identifying user personas
Based on the learnings of my stakeholder interviews, I investigated the three core users of the site. They were all vastly different and had very different needs and focuses, but all shared an enjoyment of the outdoors, the belief in community and young people (if not themselves), and a tenacity and belief in hard work. None were lazy!
To develop these personas, particular of the potential CREW members, I was really indebted to the success stories of other conservation corps' websites, such as on the LA Civicorps website. Even though it's from a more urban community, I could sense that a lot of the stories and emotions could be applicable to many young people in that situation: a potentially unsteady education/upbringing; enjoyment of practical work; and a lack of prior institutional support.
Red Route analysis
Given the differences in background and motivations for exploring the website from different user groups, I decided to conduct some red route analysis of major actions that users might need to undertake on the website. This really helped me find common ground among users, as well as question and clarify my personas. From this I was able to recommend a potential information hierarchy for the organisation - or at least provide the template chart which they would be able to use to conduct their own red route analysis, should they so wish.
Google Lighthouse Report Analysis
I conducted a Google Lighthouse analysis and included several key recommendations in the final report, as well as linking to the full report (the full report is extensive and more aimed at developers than my stakeholders).
Its primary recommendation was on speed and page loading improvements for the website, such as eliminating render-blocking resources, sizing images appropriately, and preloading key requests.
Market Comparison of Comparable Websites
I investigated comparable websites to CREW's, to understand better the overall quality and resources of conservation and youth development organisations of a comparable size. My biggest resource was the Corps Network directory, who have chapters all over the country. I eliminated chapters which obviously were part of multi-chapter conglomerates, who clearly had much more extensive funds and resources to spend on web development and branding. I also eliminated those who had more of a focus on volunteers rather than actual employees.
After this I studied six key websites:
Los Angeles Conservation Corps
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps
Northwest Youth Corps
From market comparison I judged the key features of competitor websites, and what was reasonable for CREW to be able to achieve, when judged alongside cost and effort. I then provided this to CREW for inspiration, highlighting key strengths of other corps, alongside links and screenshots.
Some of the key strengths of the other websites were also shared by CREW's, such as a clear navigation menu, authentic use of photography, and easy donation. But others had clearly put a lot of effort into areas which CREW could take inspiration from, such as:
A wide variety of storytelling media, such as videos and interviews
Testimonials and success stories from partners and employees
Clearer details on work seasons, dates and salary
Stronger visual coherency
Better integration of social media
A wide variety of ways to support the organisation, including volunteering, mentoring and donation options
Throughout the process, my project partner at CREW helped me schedule user testing with interviewees who fit either the 'Potential CREW member' or 'Donor/Partner' profiles we had identified. I then guided them through user testing in three sections:
A 'first impressions' questionnaire of the homepage
Three usability tasks, based on the red-routes and user personas I had crafted, and the interviewee's profile
A questionnaire ranking the website's overall usability and keywords associated with it
These tests were conducted over a remote video call with screen sharing - I then rewatched the recordings and data-logged the findings.
From these interviews, I learned a few of the main strengths of the website were:
A homepage which gives a clear and accurate impression as to what the organisation is about
A strong tagline
A clear and simple navigation system
Good information on the projects and what CREW does
Pain points included:
A difficulty in finding information on training - the important 'Staff Development' page was overlooked 100% of the time unless otherwise assisted
Difficulty in finding the measurable impact of the organisation - the 'Our Impact' section was hidden in 'Financials'
There was little information on how to support CREW other than by donating financially
I used well-known accessibility measurement tools (including 'Check My Colour' and WAVE from WebAim) to measure the site's accessibility. Overall the site performed well in that:
It had a structure of headings and body text that is, on the whole, well-structured, with a clear hierarchy of content. This makes it easier for those with screen readers to access and read.
The language of the website is identified as English, which helps screen readers
The contact form has form labels (apart from one exception) which make it easy and clear for people with accessibility issues to read.
However, the site suffered from poor contrast between text and background colour, a lack of alt-text tags for imagery, and some missing form labels.
Overall it was a delight to complete this usability audit for such a worthwhile organisation. They clearly do such a lot with a lean team, and I look forward to seeing what they do next. If I could do it again it would undoubtedly have been interesting to have more site data to back up my results, such as key pathways through the site, and most visited pages - this might have focused and strengthened the investigation. But I am confident that we had enough to provide solid recommendations for improvements, which will build on what is clearly a strong, easily-navigable and user-friendly website.