Rethinking the website

Internet workshop

Participant Workshop

In its present form, the HZB website spans no fewer than 25,000 pages. Some 200 web editors from all departments of HZB are continually preparing content for their institute’s pages. The site’s gigantic size and its heavily branched structure don’t come without problems; not ever visitor finds what they are looking for. And so, the Communication department will be revamping the HZB website. The agency Goldland from Berlin is supporting HZB in this endeavour, adding its own insights from an outside perspective. “lichtblick” asked the CEO of GOLDLAND, Hans Florian Müller-Hermelink, and our online expert at HZB, Kerstin Berthold, what the most important steps will be from here. 

How is the site currently used?

Kerstin Berthold: Two thirds of the online visits are from HZB employees. They are looking for telephone numbers, info about equipment, or the menu. One third of the visits, more than 650,000 a month, are from outside. The external visitors are hugely diverse. You have the BMBF spokeswoman, for example, who needs an overview of the topics and strategy, the junior scientist who is looking for a job, or research groups who are using the infrastructures of HZB. But you also have locals and those looking to learn more about proton therapy visiting the website.

What was your first impression of the HZB website?

Hans Florian Müller-Hermelink: It’s actually a tidy, well-tended site that offers a huge amount of information and, with two million accesses per month, is very actively used. But there are a lot of menu options and different points of entry. That makes it difficult to navigate quickly.

How are you approaching the task of redesigning the website?

Berthold: Goldland has a lot of experience in working with customers to design new information architectures that are tailored to the visitors’ needs. After an initial stocktaking, Goldland and we held two workshops for HZB employees so that we can take their different viewpoints into consideration.

What did you learn from the workshops?

Müller-Hermelink: In the workshops, we defined the most important needs and requirements for the website. We are working with “personas”, as we call them. These are fictitious user types that we “flesh out” as realistically as possible in terms of what these personas are looking for on the HZB site, how technically savvy they are, whether they only use their smartphone or still prefer a desktop PC, their approximate age, their hobbies, and even their appearance. With that, we have a very vivid representation.

What you use these “personas” for?

Müller-Hermelink: With the help of these personas, we can clearly identify what content should be arranged to what technical depth at each different level. This will make the site’s architecture much clearer.

Can you give us an example?

Müller-Hermelink: We have identified a total of eleven different personas: from Celine, who is 30 and planning her career in science, to a reviewer who quickly wants to see who has published what, to a journalist who is looking for a potential story. But, because managing eleven groups of people is difficult, we have made a very rough distinction between “strollers”, who only want to gain a quick impression, and various “experts” (employees, researchers, or industry representatives) who know quite specifically what they are looking for.

What results have emerged?

Berthold: We need to reduce the complexity in order to create clarity and orientation. For the external website, we found it makes sense to divide it into two parts: one part a picture-rich offering with reduced text for “strollers”, enough to convey the image of a modern research centre; and the other part a deliberately factual and informative site for experts. We have also decided to separate the Intranet and the external website from each other.

Is this all heading towards a new website?

Müller-Hermelink: Yes, that’s what the project team has decided is best. We are now developing an “agile” roadmap with recommendations for action. So, there won’t be a single “relaunch”, rather the renovation will take place over multiple stages because, as soon as it’s off the ground, a relaunch on its own will already be on its way to becoming obsolete. With the roadmap, we can continually apply the new experience we have gained from previous steps.

What will be the measure for whether the new website is ultimately successful?

Berthold: We’re not interested in maximising clicks. The number of users of a website has a natural limit. Certain topics may only have a handful of experts who are interested in them, but those are of course very important experts. Instead, we want the different user types to be able to find what they are looking for quickly on the new website, and to be satisfied with the experience.

Interviewed by Antonia Rötger.