Redesign Consumer Health Information through Information Architecture

Online health information-seeking behaviors encompass four common information needs: Known-term seeking, exhaustive research, exploratory seeking and refinding. For the purposes of this project, we used the operating assumptions of a non-profit health entity to create a clean, dynamic and easy-to-use site. The health information web genre must support the user’s varied inquiries through an intuitive, simple and trustworthy UX. This is not the time to experiment with aesthetics or to create an immersive environment. This responsibility extends to how we convey the IA through a smartphone/tablet interface, as this is quickly becoming the new normal for online searching and browsing, especially when the user requires privacy in searching for sensitive topics.

The redesign of a typical health information website pulls from heuristics, user-generated preferences and behaviors and modern expectations of website design and accessibility. The simplified wireframe and features mimics how users often search for health information – via “Google” i.e., a simple query in a browser’s search bar. According to the user interviews, users will always visit a few health sites and not allow one to be the authority on their health. This means that the functionality of the site and its content will have to be “in the running” but not truly competing with top-tier sites. To do this, the site must contain SEO and contain layperson’s terms to capture general and technical searches both globally and within the site.

Key Constraints in the Genre

The key constraint of the genre is providing users of all abilities the opportunity to access, understand and share – most times private – information. WebMD is the top site for health information yet it asks demographic information from its users before they are able to access the symptom checker. The WebMD Symptom Checker app may also provide inadvertent disclosure of additional markers such as location, phone behaviors and purchases. Another constraint is the risk that users may perceive the site as unreliable due to sponsored content.

For a redesigned site, these issues may not appear due the fact that it is not supported by sponsored content nor is it requiring demographic information. However, this can be a constraint when it comes to marketing the site or measuring usage in priority segments.

Mobile Platform Considerations

Mobile users require a special consideration due to the balance of responsive design and information architecture as a whole. The mobile app interface in the slideshow addresses the context, content and user needs of the mobile user. The multilingual interface at the top remains the same as it is on the desktop site, since this is a crucial mode for access across users.  The key components of the website – health topics, symptom checker, and diseases and conditions – are seen as familiar “buttons” that are easy to tap. Once a user clicks on “Symptom Checker,” they are able to check boxes as the interface shepherds them through the assessment.


Along with desktop and mobile optimization, the key design components for a stellar health information site include:

  • Prominence of Symptom Checking. The symptom checking should be front and center (figuratively in the design, of course!) and self-contained without pop-ups. In this project, the symptom checker is the first thing a viewer sees (moving left-to-right) and allows the user to interact with it immediately instead of having to click through to enter a term (as other sites tend to).
  • Building Trust with Users. If the site operates with the support of sponsored content, then such content should be clearly marked with visual separation from the content and appropriate disclaimers (such as done by the Mayo Clinic). For the layperson, it can be confusing and frustrating to see embedded sponsored content and attempt to interact with the resource. This redesign does not contain sponsored content, as typical of non-profit, federally-funded operations.
  • Incorporating Thesauri into Front-End Operations. Medical and health terminology is a foreign language to most users of this genre. A complex thesaurus wherein the lay term is used in the front end (and still retrievable through searching) allows users to move freely and logically about the site and supports a consistent labeling schema. The search feature will recognize the layperson’s terminology and show them the equivalent medical term in the search results.
  • Encouraging and Supporting Internationalization. Although MedlinePlus offers its users the ability to find information in 46 different languages, the entire site may only be viewed natively in English or Spanish. This redesign allows the user to view the site in Chinese, French, and Spanish.

Typical user behaviors and needs include:

  • A comfort with browsers and “Googling” topics and selecting a variety of sources means that a site does not have to be and users will most likely not perceive the site as an authority. The site does not have to be a one-stop shop experience because users explore a variety of sources.
  • Since users begin with a basic query in a browser, search engine optimization is key to finding the site. This requires robust metadata for each page and document type.
  • The preference for smartphones and tablets mean that the site should be optimized for mobile, desktop and tablets.
  • Users are equally interested in complementary and non-Western medicine as they are in traditional Western remedies. The site itself does not need to appear as austere and “authoritarian” to encourage interaction and can be more casual or relaxed with graphics.
  • Pages should not contain a lot of text as users skim for keywords and are “satisficed” with understated yet guiding information.

In what ways can your organization tailor its information architecture to support information-seeking behaviors?

Note: I used FlareBuilder for the wireframes. 

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