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A Nonprofit for Legal Help - Website UX Review

UX Expert Paul Boag reviews Illinois Legal Aid Online (, a nonprofit website focused on helping Illinois residents obtain legal help. In his review Paul dissects the homepage and explains how it could use sign posts to help people find key content faster. He also touches on donate buttons, pop-ups, using jargon, and more.

Transcript below.

Topics covered in this video: Main navigation, Forms, Tooltips, Page structure, Calls to action, How users think.


Hello, my name is Paul Boag and you're watching First Impressions, a series that I do with the wonderful people at Balsamiq. If you haven't seen the series before, let me briefly explain what it's all about. Essentially, the people at Balsamiq send me a variety of different websites, each video, and they ask me to look at them and comment on them for the first time, so I haven't seen these websites before.

So think of it as a little bit of a mix between a bit of an expert review of a website and also on-the-fly usability testing. The videos are completely unedited and we just go for it and see what we've got. So let's see what the wonderful people at Balsamiq have for us this time. Right.

So it looks like today's website is the Illinois Legal Aid website. This is it, I've not really seen it before other than to load it up in the browser. Now, let's begin. Well, it would appear at face value, fairly obviously, as it says on the tin that this is a website that provides legal aid online. So all good so far.

Let's start with the main navigation because I often like to look at the navigation to see what we're dealing with. Legal information, legal help, and for legal professionals. Okay, so it looks like there are maybe two many audiences for this site, if I'm reading this correctly.

We've got the legal professionals and we've got ordinary people looking for legal advice. I'm slightly confused at what the difference between legal information and legal help is, perhaps legal help provides us with access to legal professionals that we could hire.

We'll have a little look at that in some more detail in a moment. Let's have a look at the homepage. Okay. So we've got "Popular Today," I don't know whether that's how you want to describe domestic violence but I get the idea of what they're trying to do here. So they're trying to highlight certain key bits of information. Now I can kind of understand that for legal professionals who are coming back to the website time and again, and so, they're wanting to stay up to date with different things.

But for people seeking legal advice really this isn't going to be a lot of help for them because they're going to be coming with a specific question in mind, a specific thing that they're going to want to achieve. And so, they're not going to be interested in whatever the latest thing is. So we've got "Need to Solve a Tough Legal Problem?"

So I'm guessing, from the way that that's worded, that's for legal professionals. Let's scroll down. A form library. Okay. So that's going to give me different forms that I can complete, that's quite useful if you're somebody looking for some help. Social media, why is it that people feel the need to embed their social media on their homepage?

You know, it really isn't particularly useful in most situations, it's not providing me with a lot of value to either of our audiences. Sure, if we want people to follow us on social media then that's great, that's wonderful, and we can give people a taster of maybe what they're going to get. But this kind of embedding is just a little bit overwhelming, you've got so much information going on.

Let's have a look what else we've got. We've got "Calendar of Events," by the numbers. Okay, so it's a bit of an eclectic mix, this homepage, and I think probably part of the reason for that is because of these two very distinct audiences. We've got legal professionals and we've got people looking for legal advice. And at the moment, it doesn't really serve either audience particularly well and it would probably be better to essentially divide this page into two sections, sections for legal professionals and those seeking legal advice.

So if we maybe...let's have a look, if we click on "Legal Information..." Okay, so it's going to show us all of these different categories. Now, this is much more useful, what we're seeing here, this is the kind of thing that is much more centered around user needs and what a user is coming to the site to do.

So if I'm somebody who maybe, let's say, getting evicted, let's see if they've got something on that. "House and Apartments," "Understanding eviction as a tenant." Perfect. Right? So the kind of categories and information you've got going on here works really well.

And perhaps that needs to be floated up to the homepage. Okay? Let's have a look at what legal professionals get. See, they're getting more discussion groups and things like that. And again, these options maybe could be floated up to the homepage. Right? So instead of having this kind of eclectic mix of, you know, best stuff, we could just divide the homepage into these two audiences and give them quick links to key content within the site.

Because, ultimately, that's what the role of a homepage is, its primary purpose isn't to show what's new but actually to signpost people to key content as quickly as possible. So, and at the moment, it's not doing that particularly well. Oh, I've just spotted this other box that I completely went over before when I was scanning down the page, which is "Why join Illinois Legal Aid Online?"

Right, so actually you can join it, it's like a community. "Save your progress on legal problems," "sign up for Blogger." I like the fact that they're explaining why it's worth signing up to, often these sites try and persuade you to sign up without providing any information about what you get if you sign up. But the problem is is its positioning, it's really got quite a terrible position.

In fact, I would go as far as saying, of all the places you could've placed it on this website, that is almost the worst place. And the reason being is because the right-hand side...we scan from left to right when we're reading in English so we tend to go like that across the page and don't always reach the right-hand column.

Secondly, it's not even at the top of the right-hand column but it's actually embedded partway down. Now, you might say, "Well, it'd be even worse to put it at the bottom on the right-hand column," but because of the way that this is staggered like this, your eye's kind of naturally drawn across here once you scroll down. So actually it couldn't have been in a much worse place if that is one of the primary calls to action you want people to complete.

Okay. What else have we got? See, in terms of the design of the homepage, just flipping back to the minute and this idea of taking these different categories and floating them up onto the homepage, that reminds me very much of another site which is the UK Government Digital... a government website. Right? So notice how they've got these same categories been brought to the top so you can very very quickly see what it is that you want to do.

So if you're going to the website and you want to know, I don't know, about taxation, you know, VAT rate in the UK, you can just click on 'Money and Tax," and then, [inaudible 00:08:00] that kind of thing. So VAT is right at the bottom, I can click on that and I can get all of the information relating to VAT.

So the Government Digital Service has built a website very much focused on the questions and the pain points that users have got. And actually that's exactly what Illinois Legal Aid Online should be doing with their homepage, navigating people as quickly as possible to the key content.

Okay. So what have we established so far? The homepage is for signposting, we've established that we don't want to be burying a primary call-to-action in the left-hand side. We've also got a "Donate," call to action at the top, I notice. Again, very good, you know, there's nothing wrong with putting it out there but probably that's not the best place.

Because with calls to action, you kind of want to pick your moment, don't you, when you want to ask people to complete a task. So when's the best moment to ask people to make a donation, on this particular website? Well, I suspect it's when you've helped somebody. Right? They're more open to making a donation at that point.

So let's say I'm getting evicted from my home. So if we go into "Legal Information..." I want to come back to this "Get Legal Help," in a minute because I want to see what that is, but we're going to go to "House and Apartment," and then...ah, "Eviction," here we go.

So we click on "Eviction," nice and big, which is encouraging. Okay, so it's got a whole load of information about being evicted. So we want "Written eviction notices," say I've received one of those. Okay, so it wants my ZIP code so it can make it relevant to me.

That's kind of cool, I quite like that. Now actually that is a valid ZIP code, I'm guessing, I know nothing about ZIP codes because I live in the UK but let's pretend that's my ZIP code. I'm not homeless, I'm not living with HIV or AIDS, I'm not senior.

Let's say I'm an immigrant, and then, search. Okay, I don't want to get into all of this now. See, again, this is the trouble with pop-up overlays. Right? I understand what they're trying to do here but I'm not in that mindset, I just want to read some advice at this point and it's forcing me down a route.

So what's going to happen now is I'm going to close that. Now, I might want that later, okay? Now how do I get it back? Because the pop-up's gone. So pop-ups can be a problematic thing and you've got to be very careful about how you use them. Anyway, back to donations, which is what we were looking at. So I've got my article here.

So I'm looking down at the notice, you know, let's imagine it answers my question. Now is the point to ask me to make a donation. This is still here in the main navigation but it might be worth making a more explicit request for donations within the body or just after the body of the article because we're going to be much more receptive if it's answered our particular question.

Let's have another little look at the article. Okay, it's not too bad, it's pretty good. It's got a lot of information going on, but that's hardly surprising really considering, you know, the amount that they're trying to communicate. It's actually got a few things in here I really like actually. This whole bar is a bit of a waste

[inaudible 00:12:02] and just makes the interface more busy. I think, in this particular case, having some of these things is applicable, you know, you do want to be able to print it, you do want to be able to save it. You may even want to share it with someone else on social media, I perfectly accept that, and you certainly want to be able to send it to yourself but I don't know whether that is the right place because nobody's read the article yet, it may be better off down the bottom.

And also I think the icons are a bit too attention-grabbing, you know, this is a secondary call to action really and, at the moment, these look more prominent than, even, the "Donate." So getting the balance with your calls to action is quite important. Partly because it's using the kind of default social-media icons and those default social-media icons are styled in the form of the social network itself rather than your own website, so they really stand out.

So maybe moving those or adjusting them might be useful. But anyway, let's talk about things I like on this page because there's some stuff that I like. One of the things I really like is the fact that it's neatly divided up into very clear sections, all right, that are focused around very specific situations that the user is encountering.

Very good. I like that. Then it is giving you very clearly what you must have been given in order for the eviction to stand and it's a nice bullet-point list that makes it extremely clear and it's repeating the same format multiple times.

Okay? So what it's doing is it's clearly communicating the information that it contains. That's actually another thing, going back to the website, I like about this particular website. So if I want to know, say, what the VAT rate is, there you go, look how it's floated the VAT rate right to the top there for me.

All right? Now, this is the standard VAT rate which the majority of people are going to want, but there are other VAT rates as well, but it shows them in the secondary. And look how much they strip back the information just to really get to the guts of what it is that people want to know. Now, obviously, what we're talking about here with written eviction notification is more complicated and there's more to communicate but they do it extremely well.

It might be that it can be shortened even further, it might be that, for example, this information might want to be highlighted in a box that really pulls it out. But the basic principles are right. The other thing that I quite like I just spotted, I don't know whether it's going to do what I think it's going to do so we'll see.

You notice how there's these dotted underlines under certain terms. I'm guessing, I didn't know, it didn't do what I expected, what I expected...oh, here we go. Yeah, when you roll over them, you get a little tooltip that explains what the term is. Now, in an ideal world, we should be avoiding jargon entirely from our websites.

Right? We should be writing in plain language that people understand. But when you're talking about things like legal advice, you're not going to be able to avoid that language in all cases. And even if you could then people need to learn that language in order to be able to communicate with lawyers and, you know, other people in the situation. So it's excellent that it's providing these kinds of tooltips.

Looks like these might be clickable as well, let's click on them. Okay, so it's now going to go through to a glossary. Oh, that's quite nice. All right. So we've got the's jumped me down to "Landlord," which is what I clicked on, which is great. You might want to highlight that just to kind of really drive that point home, but that's a minor thing.

And it's given me the tooltip as well. So the tooltip is a bit slow in coming up, you might want to consider doing like, you know, a quicker JavaScript tooltip instead. But the basic principle is really good. So yeah, there's a lot that's good about this page. I feel like it maybe could be simplified a little bit, all of this stuff going on on the left-hand side, it's a little bit overwhelming.

I think I would probably move some of this stuff to down here where you've got this "Learn More." You might want to have other recommended articles or related forms being displayed down here. But yeah, it's good, it's solid, it does everything it needs to. Now, I said that before we wrap up this video I wanted to have a quick look at "Get Legal Help."

I know I haven't looked at it from the legal professional's point of view, partly because I don't have time and partly because I'm not a legal professional so it's quite hard for me to comment on that. I'm guessing "Get Legal Help" gives me access to legal professionals. Let's see. No, it's a search facility I think. Yes.

Okay, so let's say, "I am being evicted." Okay? So...ah, this is nice, look, it's taken that ZIP code from earlier and brought it across here. That's really good. "What type of help do you want?" Ah, yes, so I can find a lawyer. But I won' the moment, I'm just going to find information, help me find information.

Okay, a bit of legal, lease fair enough. Okay. So now it's basically just taking me to the same information that it's... yeah, giving me the same categories. It's not actually returning search results, from what I can see, which I kind of expected it to do.

So there's a little bit of work to be done here because this is just a little bit confusing. It's like a wizard I think, "How someone can be evicted." So if it's asking me for all this now, why did it ask me for what it was I was asking here?

Right? It probably explains it in the text, but like most people, you don't read the text. Do you? So it looks like it's trying to combine a few things here. It's trying to provide me with me to a lawyer, it's trying to provide me with forms, and everything in one go. I think I like the idea of this kind of wizard but I think it needs some work and it isn't very clear in the way that it's implemented at the moment.

I think it probably needs to make a choice as to whether you're looking for advice know, online advice or whether you're looking to get in touch with a lawyer. Again, that might be something you want to repeat as well. You've got to think about people's mental processes, right?

So you come onto this site going, "I've got a problem," right? So you arrived here, "I've got a problem." So maybe they've got a problem with eviction so they're looking for information. Okay? So they go in, they find an article on eviction, you know, as we were doing before.

In fact, we scroll down, we find "Written Notice of Eviction,"which we received. And maybe now is the time when people have read this information to go, "Do you need a lawyer to help you with this?" and then, you take them into that process there rather than necessarily having this wizard. I'm not sure whether the wizard is the right approach on this. And maybe it is, maybe people come to the site just wanting a lawyer, in which case, perhaps this "Get Legal Help," needs to take them just straight into finding a lawyer rather than into finding information first.

Do you see what I'm getting at, that I think you're trying to do too many things simultaneously. Anyway, so there's a few thoughts on Illinois Legal Aid Online. Let's see if I can briefly recap or remember what we've talked about. Focus your homepage on navigating users to the information they want rather than promoting the latest stuff.

Make sure that your calls to action are well-positioned, pick your moments for your calls to action. You know, avoid jargon if you possibly can. Make sure that your copy is, you know, broken up with headings and bullets and those kinds of things. And when it comes to things like wizards and search, make sure you're doing one thing very clearly and taking people through that one thing at a time rather than trying to overwhelm them by doing too many things simultaneously.

Hopefully, those are principles that can apply to any site, not just in the Illinois Legal Aid. But for now, that's everything. Hopefully, you found it helpful. And until next time, goodbye.

By Paul Boag
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