The private sector places a lot of emphasis on optimizing web design for the user experience. But what exactly does user experience mean? And how can governments learn from — and strive to achieve — best practices in web design?
When it comes to web design, user experience (UX) describes the application of design and development techniques that enhance the ease of use and enjoyment users feel when engaging with a website. A web page that is built around the physiological tendencies of the human eye—and expectations of the typical user—is said to have good UX.
Historically, government websites did not prioritize UX. Many were designed in the early days of the web, and even recently developed pages sometimes reflect that same rudimentary aesthetic and functionality. However, all of this is starting to change as the public sector turns to the private sector for guidance.
Here are three best practices in web design to enhance your government's online presence:
1. Create a Consistent Look and Feel
One of the most important steps in optimizing your government’s web design is developing visual coherence. The style and design of your website should be consistent across all pages. Maintaining one updated, visually-appealing homepage that links out to outdated and low-quality interior pages makes visitors skeptical of the content they find there. As a result, they become far less likely to use the information and services you’re offering.
Visual elements such as fonts, logos, graphics and banners should stay consistent across pages. Structurally, web pages that promote similar content should use a similar layout. Also, your online applications, web forms and payment portals should stick to the stylistic standards established by your style guide whenever possible.
2. Responsive Design
If you regularly use your mobile phone to access websites, chances are you’ve encountered bad responsive design in the wild. Pages that load halfway off the edge of your screen, or load so small they’d be better suited for ants, are prime examples.
Most government websites aren’t designed to be responsive to all browsers and devices. This status quo creates problems, as over 50 percent of website traffic comes from mobile devices. That’s a full half of the people accessing your website trying to pinch, zoom and move it into something they can read and interact with.
If you don’t want a significant portion of your visitors to drop off due to difficulty of use, it’s necessary to develop a website that is mobile-friendly from top to bottom.
Over the past few years, accessible design has become a vital concern in government. Federal agencies are now required to make their websites accessible to users with disabilities. State and local governments are increasingly expected to adhere to Section 508 and WCAG standards as well. Part of the rationale is legal — protecting the rights of people with disabilities is the law — and part of it is moral. Your website should be available to all your citizens!
Municipal websites and online services should be designed in an easy-to-read manner. This can make a huge difference for people who experience difficulty reading small text. Beyond that, a government website should also integrate with assistive technologies, so that users who have more difficulty seeing can interact with the site without a problem.
Government websites don’t need to be hard to use. Private companies are setting the standard for consistent, responsive, accessible design, and constituents expect similar experiences throughout their public sector journeys. Implementing best practices in web design is becoming more and more available to government agencies with small budgets — it’s up to you to get on-board.
To learn more about best practices in government web design, check out our new ebook: Best Practices for Driving Constituent Engagement through Digital Services. In this ebook, we draw from over six years of learning and insights from our government partners to recommend ten best practices for implementing digital services in the public sector.