Holmes Run Acres (HRA) is a small woodsy mid-century modern community in Falls Church, Virginia. When the first homes were built there in 1951, the modern architecture was a radical departure from the typical colonial and ranch houses that dominated the post-war building boom in the Washington, DC area. The Holmes Run Acres Civics Association (HRACA), the organization that maintains the community website, was looking for a refresh, as the current site had not had any significant updates since first being built in 2014.
As the site was maintained on a volunteer basis using the Weebly platform with a minimal budget, research was needed to prioritize only the essential updates. I had access to the neighborhood email listserv, an active and opinionated group, in order to conduct an initial survey, which garnered 87 responses. Key findings included:
1) 62% only visited the site a few times a year
2) 36% visited the site before moving to HRA
3) 50% visited the site on a mobile device or tablet
4) 58% did not feel they were able to find all the information they needed
"The flight is at noon, so we need to get to the airport by 6am..."
Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
Archetype: The Bucket List Cruiser
The site was only partially responsive, so unsurprisingly when asked for general comments and features, mobile-friendliness was high on the list. Additionally, users wanted to see more photos of homes, get help with renovations, and have a place for general neighborhood news and updates.
Due to the haphazard and piecemeal navigation structure of the original site with ambiguous categories such as "Resources" and grouping a number of miscellaneous items under "More...", along with the consistent feedback from users that information was difficult to find, as well as doing some market research on other neighborhood community sites, I began to craft a new IA from scratch. I proceeded to test this new structure through four unmoderated iterative tree tests with 40 individuals (both HRA residents and the general public) using two different test platforms.
The original home page included a slideshow of photos with a number of poorly cropped and badly lit images along with some high-quality shots that were of outdated community events not relevant to the general public. It did not do the neighborhood justice. The page also utilized a vintage map as a background image, which in other contexts may have worked, but felt out of place here and in user testing actually confused someone who thought some of the map text was clickable. Responsiveness was inconsistent, with some items like the navigation working well, but others like the slideshow not scaling properly:
"all I can say is WOW. I practically rubbed my eyes in disbelief. It's fabulous."
- HRA resident after viewing the new Wildlife page
Additional user and tree testing could be completed to further refine the IA as some additional changes were made after the initial round of testing. Second, a case could be made to move the site to a more robust platform as Weebly has quite a lot of limitations, but at this time the HRACA board is happy with the results and feels more comfortable making updates on the system they already know. Finally, the user survey showed that there is still a love of analog by many members of the neighborhood, so we also may want to avoid digitizing certain assets, such as the quarterly "Holmes Runner" magazine, in order to keep that vintage dream alive.
"Cale’s rework of our website took it to a new level: crisp, easy to navigate, elegantly simple, with a clear wink and warmth to its organization that captures the soul of this historic neighborhood."
- Edith MacArthur, HRACA Board Member