I spoke to three physicians yesterday about a web page. It was a summary page introducing the Initial Cert application process and breaking it down into a few basic steps. Of the three interviewees, one was a “reader.” She started at the top, read the header, the sub-header, the welcome text, steps 1 through 4, and the action button label. She understood the page.

Screen grab of a recorded interview with a physician, in which she was asked to provide input about the Initial Certification exam application process.

She was on camera in real time and I watched her do it, so I know it’s possible.

But I also know she wasn’t a typical user. For another, more typical, user, there was just one word on that page: the button at the bottom that said “Begin.”

“I just skip all the instructions.”

As she got into the process, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t 100% clear to her what she was supposed to do.

I can relate, because sometimes I’m the user that doesn’t want to read. Hoping to watch a British comedy one evening, I came upon a streaming video service with various membership tiers and payment plans. Half-heartedly scanning the small print, I clicked on “Sign up for Free Trial” and pressed through to the point of purchase. There appeared the monthly fee for the kinds of shows I wanted, and the first billing date. Feeling smug for forcing the site to do the work I didn’t want to do, I entered my credit card info and enjoyed a charming episode of Doc Martin.

The initial cert exam application page we were discussing with users was not a bad page. Our client had already eliminated about 90% of the copy, adhering to all our discovery learnings and UX know-how. An action-oriented flow provided concise directive text with further info available on click. The new page looked a million times better than the old one, but it took three physicians to show us how it still wasn’t good enough.

“It frustrates [me] when you tell me you wanted something and now it’s not that easy.”

Last year, my friend posted a Facebook challenge for de-cluttering the home. Brave contestants agreed to choose an area of their house and get rid of 50% of the stuff in it. Then came the hard part; they waited a week, and reduced by 50% again. Likewise, this second de-cluttering step can launch any website overhaul from “better than it was…” to “Great!”

“I just want to sign up for the exam. I’m really busy. Why do I have to fill out my residency information?”

Without fresh user eyes, we may have missed a fundamental question: Is this actually necessary for exam application? Or is this just how it’s always been done?

“I would skip that stuff at the top…. The first thing I try to do is… to do something!”

Text on the page may serve a function for some users, but our core objective is not to inform them about their goal. It’s to help them accomplish it. The magic of the web, as shown by my streaming video experience, is that users don’t need to know what they’re doing in order to do it. Building our websites to do the heavy lifting, we make it so the physician doesn’t have to.

User feedback convinced the team that less really is more, resulting in a cleaner and more concise page.

UX Research Tip: The Best Testing Tool You Never Knew You Had

While in-person interviews are great, your physician end users live all around the country. Get the most out of a few informal interviews by holding them online with your favorite web conference tool (Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc.). You can share new designs and walk users through a new process, or observe them performing typical tasks while logged into their own accounts. Muted stakeholders can watch users respond to the experience, without adding any pressure on the user. If you record the session (with participant permission, of course), you can study the videos to tally results, derive findings, and jot down quotables.

Using conferencing tools you already have, such as GoToMeeting shown here, can result in low-risk and low-labor remote user tests and interviews.