Usability and “forward compatibility” are key for Excellence Award Winner, The Board of Pensions of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Web site of The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), www.pensions.org has earned a 2005 Standard of Excellence WebAward for outstanding achievement in Web site development. Throughout the design process, usability and “forward compatibility” were a top focus.
The Board of Pensions Web site provides information and resources to more than 50,000 current and retired members of the Church’s Benefits Plan, as well as to administrators at employing organizations. “Once we determined that our users have a median age of 50, we went about designing for their special needs,” explains webmaster Dan Allen. “We used larger fonts, minimized page clutter and consolidated the main navigational elements into one area.” Allen also made accommodations for those with disabilities. Those unable to use a mouse can instead tab through menu options. Text labels allow sight-impaired users with screen-reading software to “hear” navigational choices.
Another strategy ensured that the Board of Pensions could cost-effectively repurpose its site content in the future. “The idea was to keep content separate from its presentation,” Allen notes. “Headlines and text are stored in one file and their appearance is governed by a separate controlling style sheet. If we want to make all headlines bigger, we can just update the style sheet, instead of every page of site.”
This approach also makes it easier to repurpose content for other formats such as screen readers for the blind, PDAs, or other hand-held devices. “Our content is ‘forward compatible’ with future technologies and formats,” Allen remarks.
Once Allen had designed the site, the Board of Pensions took steps to make sure he had gotten it right. “Usability testing was a key part of the design process,” says Dr. Karen Babik, Director of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing at The Board of Pensions. “We conducted testing sessions with ministers, church workers and church treasurers, both at our Philadelphia headquarters and at one of our local churches.”
Now that the site is up and working, Allen has turned his attention to redesigning the Board’s intranet. “Then it will be time to go back to the Web site and see what we can do better,” Allen says. He entertains visions of adding podcasting and blogs, saying, “We’re looking for more ways to provide content in accessible formats.”
Even now, the Board of Pensions Web site offers a rich array of multimedia content, including web briefings on the Board’s programs and archived teleconferences. Multimedia “StoryBoards” feature testimonials from individuals who have helped support – or benefited from – various programs.
The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) oversees benefits programs for Presbyterian Church workers and their families. When the needs of Church workers or their families exceed the bounds of the Benefits Plan, personal resources, or other means, its Assistance Program provides an important safety net. For more information, call 800-773-7752. Or visit www.pensions.org.