Check out the improvements you made to the ATO Community beta!

12 July 2017

A little while ago we asked you to try out an early design of ATO Community. It’s a peer-to-peer online forum where you can go to ask questions, get info and help others.

While designing and delivering ATO Community, we've been guided by the Digital Transformation Agency's (DTA) Digital Service Standards. These standards make sure the services we build are designed well, tested thoroughly, and make sense. You may use similar processes in your own work.

We test our projects with users at three stages: Discovery, Alpha and Beta. Each stage gives us insights we can use to make sure we are building something of value to you, the user. You can find out more about how to design with this process in mind at the DTA website.

We learned a lot during this project, and we’d like to share some of our discoveries with you.

Design for users

Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!

A service is better when it’s designed with users in mind. It’s a simple concept, but it’s easy to get it wrong. 

It’s easy to build:

  • the service that solves one set of user needs
  • the product you have the immediate resources to make
  • what you think people need.

Spend time with users while you’re designing your prototype so you can understand what they’re looking to achieve. This will help you make sure you’re designing the right thing to solve the right problem. Next, test their experiences with your product and modify based on the feedback.

It’s what we did with ATO Community, and our product is better for it. We asked early testers to explain their thinking out-loud while using the prototype. This helped us modify our design and content to meet user expectations and improve their experience. We then asked the Beta community for feedback to make sure our changes worked for a wide range of people (You can join our team of testers!).

Takeaway Tips:

  1. Talk to your users early (before you start coming up with a solution!)
  2. Talk to your users frequently (not just at the start of the project)
  3. Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!

Simplify processes when you can

Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!Make processes as simple as possible

We found out early on that our registration process was really confusing for our testers.

  • It was too long and complicated.
  • We didn’t explain our password requirements upfront.
  • We put restrictions in that made no sense.

This really frustrated them.

Because we caught the problem early, we had plenty of time to make changes and do more testing. Registration is a lot faster now that we’ve fixed the bugs that made the process confusing. We also simplified our verification email, because testing showed users liked when it was short, sharp and sweet.

Sometimes you can be so close to the product that you can’t see the problem. Something you can breeze through can be really confusing for someone looking at it for the first time.

Takeaway Tips:

  1. Realise that you may be too close to your projects to see problems (so go back and talk to your users)
  2. Make processes as simple as possible

Make it easy to find things

Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!If you have important content, make sure users can find it

It’s really important to us that our users can find information, whether they are browsing or searching. We know from previous user testing that everyone looks for content in their own way. We also wanted to make it easy for people to find and recognise content written by the ATO in a way that made sense to them.

We got some positive feedback: our testers could find content easily, and they could work out how to use the forum even if they weren’t regular forum users.

We also got some critical feedback – our testers couldn't work out:

  • if a response was from the ATO unless we pointed it out
  • which search results were ‘ATO Certified’.

Our testers had some great ideas about how we could fix the issues they were experiencing. We made some changes and did further testing. Success!

Takeaway Tips:

  1. If you have important content, make sure users can find it.
  2. Consistency in design is really important to help your users learn.

Design for readability

Don’t make assumptions about your users – ask them!Say less but say it well

Last but not least, once users found our content, we needed to make sure they could recognise it and understand it. Designing a peer-to-peer forum presents unique challenges in how we present information.

Early testing showed we had accidentally created barriers to our content.

  • Our design features confused people.
  • Some people said we wrote too much in reply to questions.

Readability is really important: if your content is hard to understand, people won’t pay attention. We updated the design to clearly show the hierarchy of information. Once again, we removed unnecessary information and linked to content on the ATO website. When we tested the forum again, we found that people could now easily read and understand the content.

Takeaway Tips:

  1. Design should enhance the content, not hinder it.
  2. Say less but say it well.

About ATO Beta

ATO Beta trials new digital products with real people to make sure government services are simple to use and meet your everyday needs.

We’re always on the lookout for volunteers to take part in our online Beta testing. Tests usually take less than 5 minutes and you’ll help us improve services for millions of Australians. You can subscribe to join the Beta testing team.

If you’re interested in hearing more about what we’re doing, drop us a line at

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