The assessment begins with three simple statements:

  • This is a memory test.
  • You have five seconds.
  • Just look at the following image.

At that point, the Rhode Island state website RI.gov flashes on the screen. Five seconds later, the home page disappears and up pops another message telling you to "list the things you remember" in five text boxes. After that, click "Submit."

Congratulations, you've just completed the Five-Second Test, an assessment tool implemented by the RI.gov team last September to prepare for the site re-launch in May 2010. The test was set up to solicit instant feedback on the design and usability of the state's website from testers, so the Web team could make changes accordingly.

From the responses -- this included short phrases such as "RI.gov," "logo" and "DMV" -- the Web team figured out what worked well. For instance, testers quickly spotted the top picks on the site and recognized the overall role of RI.gov as the official state website, said Dan Chapman, director of creative services for RI.gov.

"It was also apparent that other key areas, such as our huge number of online services, were not achieving the same level of recognition," he said. "With that in mind, we redesigned the RI.gov home page to better showcase our services and other areas that offer high benefit to our users."

In the past, he added, they've done other forms of on-site tests to gather feedback from the public, but the Five-Second Test marks their first purely Web-based solution.

Feedback for Thought

In the digital age, the Web remains the go-to tool for state and local governments to interact with citizens. With the rise of mobile devices and free apps, the Internet helps residents connect to public-sector services on demand, as well as add their two cents about how governments can improve.

That idea was the basis behind the Five Second Test, developed by Angry Monkeys, a Web development duo based in Melbourne, Australia. The pair, Alan Downie and Matt Milosavljevic, created the tool after realizing that an online test would let developers collect results efficiently.

The test has been implemented in various government agencies around the globe and in the U.S., including state tourism websites and libraries, Downie said. (The duo doesn't have specific stats.) For government departments, he said, the test lets IT teams find out if users are successfully navigating a website.

"If users are able to more effectively self help online, it means less time in queues or on the phone contacting their local/state government," Downie said. "Government sites often have a lot of information to convey, and this makes it even more important to ensure that the landing page is clear and concise to help users to get where they need to go."

In Rhode Island, Chapman said, the test gives them the ability to garner candid first impressions from people through a simple model. But the biggest challenge comes from interpreting the data.

"What are the reasons behind why some features get noticed while others do not?" he said. "Possibilities are numerous, including color preference, location on the screen, and even individual taste or inclinations towards certain kinds of imagery. Using the Five-Second Test in conjunction with additional testing tools and techniques is vital."

This Is Only a Test

Creating a Five-Second Test with five results costs nothing, and anybody can create as many as they choose. Paid tests, Downie said, range from $5 to $15 per test depending on the number of results needed and any additional features required.

The development duo plans to launch a new site, he added, which will provide subscriptions to further promote iterative user testing. Of course, the process of website development never ends. As times and tastes change and technology evolves, websites must adapt.

With that in mind, the RI.gov team recently launched the "We're Listening" initiative, which asks users to submit and vote for good site ideas in a UserVoice forum, check out the Tumblr blog, send an e-mail or take another Five-Second Test based on the revised home page.

"Responses are still coming in, but so far, the results are encouraging," Chapman said. "Our new headline area is getting the attention we hoped for, and other requested services and sites are getting the attention they deserve."

 

Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer