Advice on website design…….from the government?!?

21 11 2009

Perhaps you are as surprised as I was when I stumbled across a unique website created by the United States government that provides useful advice on website design tips, tricks and tools?

Who would have thunk.

The website is Usability.gov, which is run by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. I knew this website was a break from the norm when the first title on the homepage reads, “Please don’t make me think!” Along similar lines, the color scheme is vastly different from other government websites I have seen. Instead of relying upon blue hues and shades of white, which tends to be standard government website fare, there is an abundance of orange, raspberry purple, teal, yellow and white. Certainly this is not what I would have expected to see prior to visiting this site.

I find this website encouraging for a variety of reasons.

The Mission: to serve as a hub of resources for government website designers to construct more user-friendly websites

The Content: numerous documents, lessons and pointers of design processes

The Resources: various case studies of improved government websites, free design templates and additional educational tools to further design study

Needless to say, this website is a great resource for presenting and understanding basic website design principles. What really surprises me, besides the fact this information is coming from the United States government, is that this website is not more prominently marketed. I for one had no idea this resource existed online. Did you?

There are many websites that could benefit from the principles and resources discussed on this site, regardless if they are public or private sector related.

The wealth of information presented is impressive and for good reason. Instead of simply stating things should be done one particular way, Usability.gov presents actual case studies conducted by government agencies. Under the Methods section on the homepage, you can view several clearly defined categories of ways to approach website design. The categories are as follows:

> Planning the Project

> Analyze Current Site

> Design New Site

> Test & Refine the Site

> Methods at a Glance

I clicked on the Analyze Current Site option and was presented with six sub-topics, each presented in short one or two sentence summations with an accompanying link for further information. This is designed well as it is easy to read and does not represent a cognitive overload.

At this point, I decided to explore the Personas sub-topic. Clicking on the link loads a page with short but clear explanation of key aspects related to analyzing online user personas. At the bottom of the page, a real   example of a user persona is presented from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.    Additionally, the side bar contains several additional real government agency examples of user personas that can be downloaded as Microsoft Word documents.

The information contained on this page alone is insightful and very relevant. Many people complain or assume that the government operates under a veil or secrecy and the public has no idea what really is going on within the halls of power. To that I say, explore Usability.gov. Here there are not just examples outlining how government entities establish and refine their online presence to better serve constituents but great tools that private individuals can use to make their own personal website more user friendly.

As mentioned earlier, I hope this website gets more publicity, it certainly has earned it. Hopefully, my blog post will divert some folks to look into this resource.

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3 responses

25 11 2009
vertexone

Thanks for your concern regarding website.

26 11 2009
Nathan Acosta

Hi Andrew,

This is quite a shock to me as well! Government bodies have some *horribly* designed/outdated websites (http://www.fbi.gov/ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/ http://www.fws.gov/ are good examples).

With Obama being such a supporter of social media and technology in general, I would love to see some of the stimulus money spent on updating government sites that desperately need it. I’m appalled that the US Supreme Court website — which represents one of our government’s most fundamental bodies — is so horribly outdated. And its a shame that our national parks have no official web presence beyond a simple page on the National Park Service website (see Yellowstone’s listing at http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm). With all of the advances in social media, broadband technology, and everything else that’s been invented since 1995, I find that in many instances the government is largely ignoring the web.

This is not always the case, however — the Center for Disease Control’s @CDCEmergency has more than 1 million Twitter followers, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health has a Flickr account (albeit, it’s the most random and awkward thing ever! — Check it out at http://www.flickr.com/photos/niosh/)

13 12 2009
Brandon

Website design is a tough task to succeed at. You have to be sure to think about search engine optimization and user friendliness along with clean development. Thank you for this blog its very helpful.

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