What users want

When Greg Carson, director of Internet services at the Internal Revenue Service, wanted to improve the usability of his agency's Web site, he based his redesign on commercial portal leaders and developed a taxonomy-based structure that provides lists of topics for users to browse.

But he said, "When we were finished with the upgrade, we found we had taken a step backward in terms of usability." One problem was that users couldn't search for documents when they didn't know what documents they needed.

Carson's organization has again redesigned the site. This time he used a process called intentions-based design, and according to survey results, users like the new site.

Lisa Mascolo, a partner in Accenture's federal government practice, which helped develop the IRS site, explained the approach this way: "The emphasis is on type of user rather than type of information."

So visitors to www.irs.gov first identify themselves as individuals, business representatives, tax professionals and so on. Next, they see a list of documents relevant to their needs. Individuals, for example, can find out about making payments on a tax debt or how to file returns online.

Mascolo said the approach can be used on any Web site that caters to different types of users. After giving visitors a series of options based on the kind of user they are, a Web site could also lead them to a third set of choices.

"The closer you can hone down the type of user and the desired activity, the better," she said.

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