The Bigger Picture behind User Experience

User experience goes hand in hand with good customer service and effective marketing.  A company’s homepage is the new storefront.  And today’s online customers are more discerning and fleeting than ever before.

This semester we are analyzing organizations to see how they use digital tools to enhance their storytelling, and how user experience is at the center of this. I chose to look at the website of Oxfam International, arguably one of the largest and most respected charities in the world.

At the outset, I presumed the key purpose of their website would be to raise awareness, enlist volunteers, and perhaps most importantly, to fundraise.  However, the user experience did not meet my expectations for an organization of this stature and through somewhat of a wild goose chase, I unraveled what I believe may be a larger strategy problem for the organization.

My journey went a little something like this:

•A Google search for ‘Oxfam’ led me to www.oxfam.org.  At that crucial first impression, there is a LOT going on in homepage.  The box layout works well to group various pieces of information, but there are still a lot of messages along with their own banner ads competing for my attention.  In fact, the layout looks really dated now that I am used to very minimalist websites with graphics telling the story as I scroll through.

Oxfam International

•The site is very text heavy, which does make Oxfam seem authoritative, but unfortunately it is not presented in an accessible way. It would be more efficient to group information by the key objectives of the user, and then gradually providing more information within each section.

•Lime green must be a challenging logo color to work with! The big green buttons certainly stand out but clash with other colors.  It’s hard to know if there is a system, but it’s not clear to the user.

• I really didn’t know where to start reading the content.  “Emergencies” seemed like it would be the most pressing, and this lead me to more sub-menus by crisis. The “Development” page had a good interactive map to navigate by region.    The ‘“Campaigns” page was then grouped by issue type.  It did leave me wondering though if these sections are internal divisions at Oxfam, rather than the best categories to educate their audience.

Sadly, this site left me a little frustrated.  I didn’t really know where the experience should start or end.   I am interested to know what the bounce rate is from their landing page, as I suspect many users are likely to return to Google to refine their search.  Or worse for Oxfam, find the information elsewhere.

Looking for signs of mobile optimization on my iPad, the homepage looked more or less the same.  But when it came to my iPhone, I was so disappointed. It’s not responsive at all!

Oxfam International Mobile

 

I end up expanding and panning across each inch of the massive homepage, not really knowing what I was looking for. It felt much like trawling a beach with a metal detector in hope of finding hidden treasure.

I was  surprised that Oxfam didn’t have a mobile site.  I had come through Safari browser on my phone so it should have detected my device.  I decided to try again through Google.   This time however, I tried searching for the phrase ‘oxfam usa donate’.  The top result took me to a very different looking page.  On closer inspection, I saw that this was a page for Oxfam America, which is an entirely different website!

I was happy to find that this site was mobile optimized and offered a much more pleasurable experience, through the layout, the colors and icons used.  Back on my laptop I found a complete user-centered experience at Oxfam America: large, scrolling images; a good content strategy; easy navigation by a few section links.

Oxfam America

But this brought up a huge question for me as to why the two websites are so different.   And how I missed this in the first place.  I went back to the Oxfam International page.  What I had scanned over previously was a box on the top right corner labeled ‘Oxfam Near Me’, which uses geo-location to suggest Oxfam America.

Oxfam International is actually made up of 17 member organizations across 94 countries, and I now realize that each of the members have their own websites.  Member sites are also listed in small print at the bottom of the International homepage and there is far more consistency among the country website, than any has with Oxfam International.  It also allows for each member to highlight locally relevant materials and customize the layout for their local audience preferences.

This ultimately makes me question the purpose of the International site.  Does it contain information that is not duplicated elsewhere?  This could send users away disappointed, and translates as a real lost opportunity for the charity.  Since fundraising is all channeled to local member sites, this is of huge importance for their key objective.

Unfortunately, it makes Oxfam look very fractured and shows a huge disconnect in the personality of the brand.    Is Oxfam International out of touch?  Are their objectives aligned?  Or are they simply last in line for the makeover?  I’ll be checking back for sure.

3 thoughts on “The Bigger Picture behind User Experience”

  1. Hi Marianne! Great evaluation on Oxfam’s website UX! I especially love the first half of this post. It tells the reader what the article is about at the opening, shows how your journey began and went on. You not only described the UX and their problem but also offered possible solutions; which is awesome. The only thing is that the post is a bit long. Truly admire your deep thinking though, I found similar problem with PETA’s Asian website too (not as good UX as its mother site). I hope a lot of international organizations would hear your advice!

  2. I like the way you evaluate the homepage. You commented very detail oriented, like what does the color do or the logo. And, I totally agree with you that I dislike text heavy content and I think for any NGOs it’s very necessary to be responsive centered!!

  3. I love your blog post and I can tell you put a lot of thoughts into it. I found that both Water.org and Oxfam put heavy text on their website. Being a reader, I also felt frustrated looking for useful information. Would this be a common problem for NGOs?

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