Comments upon DC Citizen Atlas Usability Testing © Bob Andrew (from June 21, 2003 all-day usability sessions)
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These comments are organized in three sections: first, overall opinions on an alternate to having a single, one-size-fits all user interface, and a second section being screen-by-screen comments upon the current site. Finally, some comments on "lessons learned" from how New York City has implemented "My Neighborhood" & statistics.

1) Alternate Design Concept

Consider having a different interface for several kinds of user - resident, visitor, business person and commuter. Such an approach has been taken by DC for its home page, and by Federal FirstGov site which caters to several audiences. In such an example, the Taxi Fare calculator wouldn't appear just on the Atlas page but other pages aimed at tourists.

This is in keeping with major themes on the redesigned home page (About DC, Living and Working, Doing Business, Visiting DC, and  Government Services).

2) Current Citizen Atlas Interface

Comment on what was NOT available for citizen review - namely almost none of the narrative information links worked! As long as this project has been in planning, there's no good reason why text - caveat if need be with "draft" -  was not provided for "About the Citizen Atlas" (e.g. scope) and "About the Data" (some subset of ~150 layers in DC Atlas?)

And a positive comment - the plain language smarts that power "Restaurants near" and "Parking near" work just great: they just need to be extended with a hyperlink connected to the restaurant and parking garage names. I'm fairly sure that the National Parking Association and Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington can provide most of these.

DC Citizen Atlas "Home" Page
Too many different types of input requested: a clickable map, a search dialog, help, and several categories of links.

At minimum make it a two-step process, first a screen with information/orientation/related links, then a screen focused on access to the atlas.

"Points of Interest" is not clear: I understand it is meant to be landmarks known by the name alone without knowing an address, but to a hungry kid, they might type McDonalds!

Repeat users could in future go straight to the second step.

DC Citizen Atlas "Reports" Page
Inexcusable lack of attention to the pull-down boxes! OCTO contractors may not know much about the city, but having "US Asia Institute" show as the first ANC selection is simply a cause of confusion, and a recipe for causing doubt about their attention to detail.

Similarly, all pull-down items should be in alphabetical order.

Finally, the sheer number of Neighborhood names (~140) is too many to do with a scroll down. Suggest ask what Ward people are looking for, then have a sub-form come up with neighborhood names that are relevant. For names straddling a Ward boundary, have them show in 2 ward lists.

DC Citizen Atlas "Directions" Page
Because these results appear in the same window (do they have to?) and below the input form (do they have to?), the waste of vertical space really does need to be addressed so that more of the results are visible. Right now when the results appear it is not self-evident.
This could be done by moving the Mouse function radio buttons alongside the map. not below. Another option is to move the photo banner at the top of the page to the side: this is how the Washington Post positions advertising items.

The "Point of Interest" pull-down should be initially .empty: put example text instead next to the "Add A..." language.

Also have a "Zoom In" mouse click set as the initial default.

DC Citizen Atlas "Custom Map" Page

Some seven categories are available to display on the map. It does not help that the ANC boundaries shown are those developed from the 1990 Census, not the 2000 boundaries!

What are the plans for adding other boundaries, such as the School boundaries and PSA boundaries? Precisely because these are about to change is a good reason for residents to be able to see them in context with the other administrative boundaries such as Ward and ANC.


DC Citizen Atlas "Search" Page
This screen illustrates the confusion in "DC Search" results throughout this website. They just produce an intermediate result, which itself requires further, non-intuitive action, to either add to directions or add to map.

The entire directions vs. map dichotomy should be handled the way MapPoint and all of the other commercial direction sites do it: with a single address entered display just a map! Directions are not relevant until there is a second address needed, which is typically where the enquirer is coming from to reach the first, destination address.

Also many polygons need grouping: why are Federal Parks broken into 528 separate polygons? Re-assemble them!

3) Lessons We Can Learn from New York City "My Neighborhood"

"My Neighborhood Statistics" site by NY's mayoral Office of Operations takes mapping beyond location and directions to spatially-based performance management.

It has a simple starting screen (address or intersection). a four-page user guide, and Definitions guide with very useful indicators that might work well in DC as well.  For DC think Ward where NY uses Borough. (See DOH Asthma reports).

The tabular reports list indicator data for three years, and PDF link of a GIS-developed thematic map for current year.

The map-based reports are annual thematics by borough on major themes of Health, Education and Human Services; Infrastructure, Administration & Community Services; Public Safety & Legal Affairs, and Business & Cultural Affairs.

See example screenshots - click thumbnails to see full-size.