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A quote from the user testing we did on the site at the end of last year:

“People aren’t here to enjoy themselves; they’re here to find information”

User research on

Since we’re a beta site, we’re continuing to talk to users to help prioritise our development effort. We’ve already published a few things we learned and the assumptions we’d made that turned out to be false. The full user report (round 1 and 2) is now available.

Our research objectives

We explored 3 main areas:

  1. Was the content on the beta site using the language people were using? Had we managed to write simple content that got rid of all the ‘govspeak’ and gobbledygook that just confuses users?
  2. Would the simple design of the site help users? Or would it create problems since we’re only providing very ‘thin’ content at the moment, and linking users to other government websites?
  3. Could users find what they needed on the site? There’s no left or top nav — would this stop people completing tasks?

Users gave us both good and bad feedback

As always happens with this kind of research you can expect to get mixed results.

We recorded what people said, watched what they did, and measured how long it took each user to complete each of the tasks. Sometimes what they said and did didn’t correlate. Our test facilitator spotted this and prodded, queried and questioned participants to tease out more detail.

Quotes from users tell a powerful story

Here are a few of the things our users had to say:

“I would use this site frequently — it’s much simpler. It’s like a little government Google, without having to look at all those horrible busy government websites.”
“It doesn’t look very exciting and the colour combo is not exciting, but it looks like it has what I want.”
“It originally looked boring but as we started using it it surprised me.”
“Student loan — noooo, why would I end up with a page that is anything to do with when somebody dies?”
“Replacement of driving licence. I don’t want a replacement, I just want to change the name…”
“I’d probably think I’ve come to the wrong area. Because it’s asking me to renew my licence.”
“Huh — ok, I feel like I’ve been following the wrong pathway. I need contacts.”

Measuring a user’s emotional response

In this last round of research we wanted to have a way of measuring users’ emotional response to the beta site compared to what they thought about other government sites they had used. Each participant was given a pile of cards at the start of the session and asked to group them into 2 piles:

  • Government sites are...
  • Government sites are not...

At the end of the test session they were asked to use the same cards and create 2 new groups:

  • is...
  • is not...

What users said about

The stand-out differences in what users thought? Compared to other government sites participants more frequently said the beta site was:

  • comprehensive, usable and straightforward
  • trustworthy, secure and convenient — none of the users we tested chose ‘secure’ to describe other government sites
  • a bit dull and boring, but also simplistic.

Iterate, test, and iterate again

The big take away for me — having worked on the redevelopment project since it’s inception — was that our approach is right.

  1. We’ve had users involved regularly.
  2. We launched the site before it was finished, and that was ok.
  3. Using agile has meant we could change priorities as user needs were uncovered.
  4. There’s a fine line between simple, usable and beautiful. Content design is just as important as visual design — you won’t get it ‘right’ without experimenting and making mistakes along the way.

What’s next for

We’ve already made some changes to fix issues identified in the research, including a new homepage and some changes to our fonts.

We’re still working on some updates to fix other things discovered in the user research. The project team is making changes in a small, iterative way. We’re releasing code and design changes at least once every 2 weeks. We’re also gearing up to open source some of our code. More of that in later blogposts.

There’s more research coming, and this time we hit the road taking the testing sessions out to different places across the country. In the next few months we’ll be testing in:

  • Auckland
  • Manukau
  • Porirua
  • Nelson
  • Christchurch, and
  • Dunedin.

I think it’s possible for us to create a site that helps people find information and is an enjoyable experience — well, as enjoyable as a government experience can be. What are you doing to bring enjoyment or (dare I say) delight to your users?

We’ve just published the full user report (round 1 and 2).

Do you have research you can share? Leave us a comment below, or email the team at

Post your comment


  1. Brian 27/01/2014 4:08pm (5 years ago)

    I'm curious about traffic. You're effectively offering a directory of sorts, with abbreviated information contained on the definitive site for government organisations. For any one topic, you'll be very hard pressed to convince Google to display your Page over the entire Site that contains that information.
    Is your strategy long-term, based on the idea that once people are familiar with it, they'll turn to it by choice? Or will it be paired with a public awareness campaign? Or what?

  2. Sue Street 28/01/2014 11:21am (5 years ago)

    About 2/3 way down the page

    "•a bit dull and boring, but also simplistic."

    Simplistic (which is not so good) or simple (which is good)?

  3. Nathan Wall 28/01/2014 1:02pm (5 years ago)

    Hi Sue

    I've just checked in with our test facilitator and she confirmed that it's meant in a good way, there are other cards in the set participants were asked to sort that included terms like 'complex'.

    One of the participants in the testing said she thought the content was so simple, initially she wasn't prepared to trust it. We asked her what she would do to help her validate the information, and she went off and hunted down information on a different site. She didn't actually read the 'complicated stuff' on the other site she just wanted the reassurance it was there somewhere.

    We still need to work on improving some of the content, there were a few examples in the testing where step-by-step processes weren't as clear as we'd like them to be, and the labels for some of the links we're using need some fine tuning. That's one of the nice things about being in a 'beta' phase - we can change things and experiment a bit more easily.

  4. Jen Geard 28/01/2014 5:32pm (5 years ago)

    I smiled at "People aren’t here to enjoy themselves". It reminded me of the debates over how we presented the process for relicensing your vehicle (updating your car registration). The mantra then was along the lines of: "Most of our users are 'hostage customers'. They don't want to be dealing with us. They'd much rather be doing almost anything else. Our job is make the process as smooth and pleasant as possible, so they can get on with other things."

  5. Nathan Wall 28/01/2014 8:35pm (5 years ago)

    Hi Jen

    I totally agree. Even though government has a monopoly in so many things that people need to do when dealing with us, we can definitely minimise the amount of time they spend trying to work out what to do. Making processes clear and calling things what people call them, not what government thinks they should call them, is something we tested in the most recent tests, and to be honest we still missed a few opportunities on what we thought was pretty good content.

    Wording that although similar, eg government saying "replace" when users were thinking "change", was enough to throw a lot of people off-track and make them question that they were doing the right thing. We saw lots of 'pogo sticking' users jumping in and out of pages and jumping back and forth between the beta site and the agency site we had linked to.

    We've now updated most of the content that we noticed users trip up on to make the process steps clearer and to fix the text on some links to make them a much stronger call to action. It's going to be interesting to see if these changes improve our results in the next round of testing.

  6. Jared Gulian 29/01/2014 12:37pm (5 years ago)

    Hi Brian - I'm Product Owner for, so I'll jump in to answer your question.

    The short term goal for the project is to replace with a more user-friendly website that gets people to the information they’re looking for. We know that one reason people who come to the current site ( is because they haven’t been able to find what their looking for elsewhere. It’s a sort of safety net. We also know that less than a third of the people that come to get to the info they want. That’s what we’re trying to fix. (Our initial problem-definition research is published publically in the post: <a href="" rel="nofollow">Are We Delivering What People Want?</a>)

    Part of moving the new website out of beta and into production will involve getting the word out about the site.

    It’s important to keep in mind that the project is also acting as a kind of ‘working laboratory’ for NZ government to explore ways that agencies can work together to deliver joined-up, user centred content. We’re trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work. The things we’re learning will inform how we evolve the site and the direction it takes in the longer term. So stay tuned.

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