The movement to encrypt the web has reached milestone after milestone in recent years as major platforms and small websites alike have made the shift from insecure HTTP to more secure HTTPS. Let’s Encrypt and EFF’s Certbot have changed the game here, making what was once an expensive, technically demanding process into an easy and affordable task for webmasters across a range of resource and skill levels.
Today we’re releasing a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make a tool like Certbot easy to use. This case study walks readers through our designers’ and developers’ process for redesigning our interactive Certbot website: our methods, the challenges of doing user research on a tight budget, and strategies to make the most of the resources available to your team. We hope this case study can serve as a resource for other scrappy groups of designers and developers working to improve their own tools and projects.
Certbot is a free, open source software tool for enabling HTTPS on manually-administered websites, by automatically deploying Let’s Encrypt certificates. Since we introduced it in 2016, Certbot has helped over a million users enable encryption on their sites, and we think this update will better meet the needs of the next million, and beyond.
Certbot is part of EFF’s larger effort to encrypt the entire Internet. Websites need to use HTTPS to secure the web. Along with our browser add-on, HTTPS Everywhere, Certbot aims to build a network that is more structurally private, safe, and protected against censorship.
Recently, we released a redesign to our Certbot website, with new features and information to guide users through the larger process of getting an HTTPS certificate, whether through Certbot or through another method. This redesign was the culmination of a year of in-depth user testing. Our designers and developers identified areas of confusion—from questions users had when getting started to common mistakes that were often made—and used them to make changes in both the instructions for interacting with the command-line tool and in how users get the full range of information necessary to set up HTTPS.
If you’re a Certbot user, please feel free to drop us feedback on our website repository on GitHub.
If you work with a user testing service and have extra funds for testing (e.g. additional user testing credits), our small team would be very appreciative of the support to do more user research work.
And if you like EFF’s free and open source projects and our mission to encrypt the web, please donate! We’d be grateful for the support.