New project: User research for the OM Sanctuary website

It’s a new year, which means it’s time for new projects!

My latest is streamlining the information architecture of the website for the OM Sanctuary, a retreat center in Asheville, North Carolina. This is one of my favorite places on earth. We’ve stayed there three times and plan to go back again. However, I definitely love it in spite of their website, not because of it.

Read on for more about my process of user testing to identify areas for improvement.

The first time I visited the website, I got frustrated and knew it could use some improvement. However, it was only after testing several site features with a couple people that I was able to fully articulate the problems.

I asked the two people I worked with to do three tasks:

  1. Book a stay (well, pretend like it, anyway)
  2. Find out about spa services offered
  3. Find out about weekly yoga and meditation classes

Here’s what I observed as I they worked on these tasks:

Booking a reservation isn’t immediately obvious

The first thing both testers did was click Stay With Us in the navigation bar:


That takes you to a page that describes all the accommodations, but doesn’t lead to a place where you can actually book a reservation. To do that, you have to select Lodging from the Stay With Us dropdown menu. This wasn’t immediately clear to either person I had test the site, or to me, when I first encountered the site.

On the page that described the accommodations, both testers said they expected to be able to click on the room types, and book from there, but that wasn’t possible.


There’s no clear path to information about spa services and weekly classes

Other than lodging, these are the two main reasons to visit the OM Sanctuary, and both testers had trouble finding details about them. After a couple clicks, they both found the schedule of weekly classes, which is on the Programs page. But both said they’d expect it to be labeled more clearly.

Neither user was about to find clear information about massages and spa services. Here’s the roundabout route that the first tester took:

Clicking on Rest & Renewal Retreat in the Program menu:


Then clicking on Massages in the sidebar menu:


Which took her here:


Clicking on the massage treatments link (in green) didn’t lead anywhere, so she abandoned the task.

The second tester got frustrated as well, and just did a Google search.

The menu at the bottom was obtrusive and annoying

This bottom navigation menu that appears (and stays) at the bottom of every page bugged the heck out of both testers. One was using a smaller laptop and it took up about a quarter of the browser height. Both remarked on it a couple times.


Clicking on most of the options doesn’t lead to any useful information, either. Most of the  menu options lead to a page that leads to the program calendar, the organization’s blog, or a newsletter signup. However, clicking the health and wellness option leads to a list of spa services that neither of the testers found in the expected places:



It’s clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement here. Testing with other people besides myself helped me define what those improvements should be. Now that I’ve identified problem areas, the next step is to figure out how to present all the information that visitors need in a more obvious, streamlined way. Look out for more on that soon.


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