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.





Making my Web experience Delicious

7 11 2009

Bookmarking online content has become a relatively commonplace activity. I bet if you were to ask a random sampling of Internet users if they have bookmarked content recently, many would answer in the affirmative. With this in mind, I recently made a concerted effort to utilize a pretty nifty bookmarking application called Delicious.

Before I continue, I should preface that I have previously harbored great resistance to Delicious because I did not see its purpose. As I saw things, why would I want to go through the trouble of downloading this application when I already had the power to bookmark online content through my web browser? Well, my friends, here is what helps set Delicious apart from the pack: versatility. Delicious is unique because instead of saving metadata to your computer in the manner that a web browser bookmark would, Delicious saves this data independently from your computer. What this means is that every single webpage you bookmarked is accessible every time you log online, on any computer.

Since I started to work Delicious into my online user experience, I have been impressed. Now that I have taken the first step, I have grown to really like the tool. To make your experience even more user friendly, I highly suggest downloading the Delicious toolbar so you have easy access to Delicious features through a series of several little buttons installed on your standard web browser.

Since I am not someone who is a major bookmarking fiend, I am not necessarily using the full capability that Delicious has to offer. However, if you are one of those people who bookmarks dozens of sites each day, Delicious is very capable of taking on the task of easily organizing and categorizing all this data. Unlike standard web browser bookmarking, Delicious makes it very easy to arrange all bookmarks in precisely the organizational manner you the user sees best to fit your purposes. It all comes back to versatility. Delicious has done well to make bookmarking content a more user-friendly experience.