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CASE STUDY: Turning Point

Turning Point is an organization that offers services to families who are the victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
We have been asked to study the organizations web site and how it can be redesigned to better serve user and stakeholders needs.

To get a better understanding of design problem and potential solutions we are going to apply Systems Thinking to the project. This means we will be reviewing the Turning Point web site as the main system and the sub and super systems that have direct impact on the system.


  • A Look at the System

    To understand the web sites system we must understand the patterns and behavior of the system above and below the web site. Above is the pattern of domestic violence itself and the behavior pattern of change. These two patterns reside outside of our web site system boundaries but play a key role in our system as they are part of a symbiotic relationship.

    Below our system we have the subsystem of support and counseling which are themselves patterns (again behavioral). The systems above and below the web site establish its boundaries and in this case are opposing forces. Above is negative stimuli and below positive reinforcement.

    Inputs into the system would be the energies and talents used to create the site itself, all the users who will use the site and the emotions/state of mind that affect their use of the site. Outputs are largely a result of the value the user gets from the site. This includes information to help them make important decisions and reassurance and calls to action to help move them to action.

    System Description

    click to enlarge

  • Pattern 1: Site layout and

    The current site is visually and structurally cluttered making it difficult for users to locate the information they require.

    The drop down menu navigation contains too many items, many of which lead to redundant pages.

    Many of the pages are information dense and not designed for internet readers. There is also too much copy that is repetitive between pages.

    Much of the outreach, donor and volunteer information is provided via PDF documents that must be downloaded to be viewed. This is not only nuisance for the user, it compromises victims safety to have these files on their computer and it hinders search engine optimization efforts.

    This is a design pattern and the result of piece meal construction over a long period of time.

    How this effects users

    Users who visit the site will have unique needs based on their emotional state and goals for visiting the site. The behavior patterns in the super-system indicate that victims will be under a certain level of distress, and possibly immediate crisis, when they visit the site. They will need information presented quickly and clearly.

    No user will want to hunt for information or slog through PDFs to get the information they need.

    Pattern 2: User Safety

    The Escape button is a navigation button placed someplace on the site that allows the user to quickly leave the page and go to a nondescript page (usually Google or Yahoo). Escape buttons are common in on domestic violence web sites as they offer a user in danger a mechanism by which to hide their actions should their abuser approach while they were on the site.

    How this effects users

    Escape buttons are a pattern to users and to developers. It is a both a physical and behavioral pattern that serves a specific purpose- to leave the site in a hurry.

    It is my opinion that these are not highly effective ways to keep the user out of danger. Statistics show that an abuser will increase the frequency and severity of violence when the victim makes any effort to seek help. Finding the victim on the web site or the Turning Point URL in the browser history could lead to life threatening increases in violence.

    Pattern 3: User Engagement

    The current web site is information dense but offers no engagement for the user. There are no areas for questions or inquiry. Users are not provided with facts or information about the nature of domestic violence or how to identify it in their relationship. There are PDF downloads but these are cumbersome and in some instances inaccessible. There is no discussion or community area for comments. This is a pattern of disjointedness and of separation. The user is held at a distance by the presentation of information without feedback or input from the user.

    How this effects users

    Victims of violent crimes need comfort and camaraderie. They need to know they are not alone, that others have been through it and survived. They need to feel confident that the services Turning Point offers are right for them and their situation. This starts at the web site. The web site should give users a change to interact with other users, to read about survivors and hear their story. To be motivate by the support of others.
    The pattern in this web site is clearly missing these elements.

  • Site layout and structure

    The design of a customized user experience for each user group. 4 mini-sites that take the users needs into account and serves them the information they require in a manner they can easily use.


    Since they are most prone to visit the site during tension and violence phases of the abuse cycle they will always have a certain level of anxiety when they use the site. They will want information quickly and decisively and in a reassuring and comforting manner. A special homepage would be designed that puts this information first. We will also have the copy, dialogue and messaging customized for their experience. The copy will be written directly to them (for instance “how to recognize the signs of abuse in your relationship”), in casual, easy to understand language.


    These are people who will be researching the services and facilities for someone they care about. They will want to have in depth information about not only Turning Point, but also facts about domestic violence. This will have a customized home page that will bring information they will need up front. The copy, dialogue and messaging will be targeted at helping someone else (“how to know if your friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship”). This copy will have an positive, confident, professional tone.


    This will present all the information that would appeal to this user with events, latest news, newsletter sign up, annual reporting and job listings up front. Focus on survivors and positive outcomes. The tone for the messaging and copy will be business professional. Links to volunteer applications.


    This area would have direct calls to action, Donor Bill of Rights, info graphics of donations in action, specific campaigns (current drive for a new shelter building, ect), shelter wish lists and information on ways to give.

    Information for all areas of the web site (all links) will be readily available in the footer of the web site. This will provide quick and easy access to any page, section or link of the site. The three buttons will also always be available in case the user decides they want to view the site from another perspective.

    By allowing the user to choose their own experience will be a more enriching experience for the user and will hopefully empower them to take the steps to change their situation

    Addressing Safety

    Rather than rely on an escape button to help viewers browse the site a little more safely, I would like to see the use of a trick URL and slide up window warning. There is no way to completely hide or erase computer history. There is always a way to trace or recover the information if someone truly wanted it. So this reason no solution will completely keep a user safe on a computer, however it is possible to use some smoke and mirrors to avoid detection.

    The site could be designed to use a non–threatening, unidentified URL in combination with an anonymous landing page. The landing page would contain a slide up warning that cautions the user about the risks of using their home computer if they feel it is being monitored. I would contain no Turning Point branding or domestic violence references. It would simply have the pop up warning that the user would have to close before they could choose one of four buttons – Get Help, Help Someone, Get Involved or Donate. Should the user decide not to enter the site after they receive the warning their activity could only be traced to the non-description url (something like “”), the warning box would not appear again for a repeat visitor. This would by no means prevent someone from finding the site, but it could provide protection to a woman in danger from abuse.

    The second level of security for user would be some form of escape button for once they were on the site. Should they be interrupted while browsing the site they could use the button to be taken to Google’s search page.

    User Engagement
    and Feedback

    Adding user engagement to the site would require a community pattern. Creating a place where victims, loved ones and staff can start a dialog about their experiences and support one another is a vial element to the redesign of the site. I feel it is important to have more than one area of the site where users can participate and add content. This can serve as outreach for staff, confirmation for victims and enlightenment of friends and family.

    This would also be a great way to get feed back about the web site and the organization as questions can be posed to the discussion participants.

    This could also be used as an education and prevention tool.