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Revamping the PC(USA) website will rely heavily on user input

It’ll take two years, but the goal is an easy-to-use site designed by and for Presbyterians

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Kathi Kaiser, a partner and co-founder of Centralis Partners, talked about the process that’ll be used to revamp two PC(USA) websites. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE — A complete revamping of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s two main websites as they merge into one site, at http://www.pcusa.org, will take about two years and will come about only with significant input from the Presbyterians who use them.

Centralis Partners of Evanston, Ill., a user experience research and website design company, is being paid $214,200 over 10 months for its research. Much of the consultant’s work will be finding out how Presbyterians use the website and making the experience better for them.

“The websites have been a challenge for some time,” said Rick Jones, communications director for the Office of the General Assembly and a member of the 6Comm group of PC(USA) communications leaders working to overhaul the websites, which include https://www.presbyterianmission.org.  “When I have the (Stated) Clerk come into my office and say, ‘We have to do something about this,’ it sends up the red flag that something has to change.”

Both the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s president and executive director, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, have “approved us to go down this path,” Jones said. Since the work of the PMA and the OGA aligns, the two agencies will share a combined website. For the time being, the denomination’s four other agencies — Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation — will maintain their current websites.

These sites, as well as closely-related organizations such as Presbyterian Women, will all be reachable by links on the main pcusa.org portal.

6Comm has worked the past eight months to learn what Presbyterians want and need from their website, according to Kathy Francis, the PMA’s senior director of communications. Four thousand people provided comments, and 11,000 people responded to a 50,000-person communications poll. 6Comm has held focus groups, researched web analytics and conducted online polling.

“With regards to the website, the results are clear: Presbyterians want a better website based on users’ needs,” Francis said. “We take that input seriously. The Centralis user study will delve even deeper, which we consider an integral step toward building a better website.”

On Tuesday, Kathi Kaiser, a partner and co-founder of Centralis Partners, briefed staff at the Presbyterian Center on the work they’ve been hired to conduct. She outlined four phases of work:

  • Phase 1 is usability testing, which will continue through November. Kaiser said a sample of 22 users will be asked to show how they’d perform a task using the website, such as finding a church near them, making a donation or looking for a particular resource. They will also be given an opportunity to comment on other aspects of the current website, such as navigation, design or even program names. “They’ll think out loud while they’re doing it,” she said. “We need to identify their needs.”
  • Phase 2, which is expected to run from December through February 2020, includes a research technique called card sorting. A sample group of 36 people will be given index cards labeled with content from the website and asked to sort them into logical categories and then rank them by interest. Kaiser said their answers will be analyzed “to help us figure out how users are using information,” she said. “They determine what’s valuable and what’s not.”
  • Phase 3, slated for February 2020 through April 2020, is an information architecture design stage. This phase, based on information collected in the prior two phases, will explore specifics on how the site should be organized to better meet users’ needs.
  • Phase 4, scheduled to last from May 2020 through July 2020, includes another research technique called tree testing. This entails asking 500 participants where they would go in the proposed new website structure to find specific information or resources. Centralis Partners will evaluate the findings and propose modifications to the proposed information architecture and labeling system.

After this final stage come the design, development and implementation phases for the new website. Francis said much of that work might be completed in-house.

“It is a user-centered approach,” said Jeffrey Lawrence, director of media & publishing for the PMA, noting that “detailed” conversations are being held with mid council and congregational leaders, as well as members of many congregations large and small, including Korean- and Spanish-speaking people. Those conversations also include people with differing levels of computer skills.

“We are about the nuts and bolts about how information should be packaged so people can use it,” Kaiser said. Centralis Partners employees are trained and have experience in a range of fields including social sciences, psychology, art and design.

One tool is UX Design, “which is kind of trendy right now,” she said. “UX” stands for “User Experience.”

“The premise is that products need to understand users, not the other way around,” she said. Usable products are thus effective, easy to learn, efficient, error-tolerant and engaging.

Kaiser presented a brief exploration she called “Meet Your Brain.” Users, of course, bring their brains when visiting your website, “and they will not see your interface the way you do,” she said. “They bring different knowledge, goals and expectations, and you can design for them only by seeing through their eyes. You have to bring real users into your design process.”

When designing a website’s landing page, for example, attention must be paid to giving the visitor visual clues that much of the information they seek is “below the fold” and will require some navigation on their part. Content is sometimes placed in unanticipated sections. Terms used to label sections can be ambiguous or unclear. User frustration is often the result.

Revamping the website, Francis said, is part of a larger program that includes development of a PC(USA) communications plan.

“The website is part of that communications plan,” she said. “We have been doing research for about eight months, so these conclusions aren’t our own. It’s information and feedback from the whole church.”


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