A recent study mentioned by CyberAtlas (formerly NUA Internet Surveys), Errors Rampant on Gov’t sites, found that 68% of U.S. government web sites had web application failures. Of those with failures, 61% had technical errors and 7% had incorrect data errors. The report suggests that a large portion of other errors were user failure errors, indicating a lack of perspective on the user-experience during site development.
The report ends with a quote from Diane Smith, an analyst with the Business Internet Group of San Francisco who collaborated on the study, “Government agencies can only achieve a comprehensive view of their Web site health by incorporating the perspective of the end user into the testing and monitoring process.”
Incidentally, the IRS web site apparently does quite well, passing the review with flying colors.
To me, the report verified a phenomenon that I have seen before. That is, web development teams are staffed by server and database admins, coders, programmers, project managers, designers, and writers, but quite commonly the user is left out of the picture. You get all these people with all these highly specialized skills and together they manage to forget about how the audience they are building the site for will actually handle the site.
Or, perhaps they don’t forget about it, but they think they can imagine how a user would interact. But then they don’t take the extra step of actually finding out in user testing and other user-centered design practices.
It is really one of the cheapest parts of web development, yet it is just so easy to forget about or brush aside.