I do realise that designing a website is a complex job! And this realisation was reinforced recently – when I embarked on creating the new website of the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).
Being the national statistics office (NSO), one of the organisation’s primary tasks is to disseminate statistical data; and to reach wider audiences, it has to happen through all available media/channels – print, events, and the Internet (electronic).
On the Internet front, NISR had a website. However, with ever-expanding demands from its data users and capitalising on the latest developments in internet technologies to meet those demands, NISR decided to revamp its website.
The new website was to accommodate the latest advances in statistical data production and dissemination processes and, at the same time, to augment the ease and efficient access of statistical data through a single entry point.
Handling statistical data is a specialised task and requires specialised tools. Therefore, it was clear from the start that the website would be an amalgamation of different functionalities, coming from various tools – but the resulting website should be giving the website visitors a seamless experience.
This understanding steered the direction of the design from the beginning, and therefore, instead of creating page layouts or designing the landing page first, the primary focus was on studying prospective visitor’s behaviour on the website and that the design must be to support the website visitor’s flows – how visitors would journey through the website.
Talking about visitors, not all visitors are the same. Visitors may come from different sources, with varying levels of knowledge and engagement, and with different objectives. However, it was essential to identify a prioritised flow that could affect most of the visitors.
The identified flow was – a landing page and then a clear and distinct navigational difference between accessing generic organisational information (about us, job notices, contact us etc.) and statistical data. With this aspect in mind, the website design started.
And then the issues of content types and their grouping came up!
After several iterations, on the statistical data front: ‘Surveys’, ‘Publications’, ‘Indicators’ and ‘Microdata’ were identified as the main groups, and on the organisational information side: ‘About us’, ‘Services’ and ‘Contact us’ were identified as the main groups.
These main groups now collectively support the content types of survey metadata, survey incidents, publications, stories, notices, articles and advertisements on the new website.
The first two content types, survey metadata and survey incidents create generic and specific information about a survey respectively. The publications are documents (mostly in PDFs). Stories are news and events and may include press releases, event announcements, press coverage of NISR etc. Notices are either job announcements or procurement announcements (Tenders). Articles are statistical news items accompanied by a cover image (the image is displayed on the landing page with the link to the article). And Advertisements – which are created to persuade website visitors to specific contents (banners displayed on the landing page with appropriate links).
One of the most challenging tasks was providing website visitors with a seamless experience in navigating between different tools/applications. An example of successful implementation of this is the smooth transition that has been established between the website and the ‘Prognoz platform’ data tool.
On the website, under the ‘indicators’ group, one can see three menus items. One of them reads – Rwanda Data Portal. Clicking on this takes the website visitor to the ‘Prognoz platform’ data tool (hosted elsewhere). However, for the user, it does not appear ‘going to another website’ as the look and feel of the Rwanda Data Portal is precisely like the NISR website. The visitor can click on any menu items on the Rwanda Data Portal to return to the main website.
Though the new website is online now, the work on it never finishes. It’s an ongoing process, and therefore the governance mechanism around it is important to establish.
In NISR, there is a Website Management Committee – headed by a senior manager, entrusted with the responsibilities clearly outlined in terms of Reference; also there is a panel of staff – with unambiguous responsibilities of various content types; and then finally a webmaster – who not only works as the technical focal point for the website but also as the visual editor for the contents on it.
The development work on the website – giving shapes to the ideas – was done by the young and vibrant team of Tayari communications based in Rwanda.
Yes, designing a website is a tough job indeed, but making it a successful one is harder. So my efforts are now on to achieve the latter!