Emily is looking to apply for federal student loans. She browses through several government programs and finds a handful of sites that are relevant to her. However, all these different programs have left her confused. Are these programs related to one another? Are they all legitimate? She may even have encountered a few sites that aren't accessible via her phone.
A situation like this is highly frustrating for people and may even lead to missed opportunities because government websites are challenging to access and navigate.
Unlike businesses in the private sector, government agencies have to focus on people of all demographics. They can't have a specific target audience; the government website design must serve anyone and everyone.
People are often frustrated while dealing with government websites due to varied navigation systems and inconsistent design patterns. To make government websites more accessible to the citizens, the U.S. government has had to take steps to ensure that organizations didn't have to spend their time researching the best design standards over and over again.
Government website design standards are meant to be simple and consistent across all government service websites. Therefore, the U.S. government drafted the U.S. Web Design Standards (USWDS), so American citizens can expect consistent, beautiful, and highly accessible government websites.
What is a government website design?
A government website design is a specific way the designers and developers build a government CMS (content management system) to help manage how digital data is created, stored, and shared by a government organization.
Government websites are visited by people of varied ages, including citizens with different professions, disabilities, and goals. Unlike website design for businesses in the private sector, the best government website design should primarily focus on usability, website navigation, accessibility, and content.
Businesses in the private sector constantly keep up with the current website design trends and optimize their site for seamless user experience. People's expectations of government websites have been fueled by their effortless experiences with the private sector.
How does government website design differ from those in the private sector?
1. Target Audience
As we've mentioned, the government website design solutions have to serve every demographic, while the private sector has a targeted audience group.
Governmental entities must make sure that the web experience meets the requirements and preferences of people of all ages, income levels, levels of education, technological proficiency, and disabilities. They must strike a careful balance while designing a user experience that simplifies access to a wide range of information and resources for a broad range of people.
2. Building a Community
The global remote work lifestyle has made virtual connections and services critical. With the pandemic, government websites have become a place where people come to learn about public health alerts and other events, showcase major attractions, take care of any official business they may have, highlight people who deserve it, celebrate moments of pride, stay connected, and foster a sense of community.
While businesses in the private sector have a distinct focus, government websites have several different focal points to consider. While designing a government website, it's essential to consider that users may visit the site to check in and find information that may simply serve as a topic of conversation.
3. Everyone considers themselves to be a stakeholder
When anyone visits a government website, they have their own agenda. Whether they want to learn about the latest bill the government has passed, pay their bills, or learn about the garbage pickup schedule, every visitor has high expectations for the website to function well for them.
Government websites must also take into account the needs of both citizens and tourists in terms of multilingualism. The best government website design strategies allow people to easily navigate to the most sought topics while allowing them to intuitively find everything else.
The importance of being mobile-friendly for a public sector website
The pandemic has skyrocketed the range of official tasks that citizens can get done online. eGovernment services have become an essential part of today's life. Additionally, over half of the traffic to these government websites is through mobile devices.
In fact, during the time of creating this blog post, there were over 5 billion page views on federal government websites in the past 90 days - and about 54% of it came from mobile devices!
It's no surprise that people expect these government e-services and official information to be accessible on-the-go through their mobile phones. Government website design systems need to build a mobile-friendly version parallelly to ensure that their services are easy to access and navigate.
The public sector should also monitor and analyze how visitors access their websites and how their experience varies from one device to another. Depending on how people use their services, the government should optimize its design strategies to enhance user experience.
Government Website Design Principles
The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, also known as the 21st Century IDEA, aims to improve people's lives by transforming how government organizations utilize technology and improving the digital experience.
The 21st Century IDEA guides the U.S. Website Design Standards. These design principles provide guidelines that help government organizations create accessible, trustworthy, and consistent design systems.
1. Real users should come first
It's critical to involve the real user from the very beginning of the government website design process to better understand their point of view and the context of the issues they're facing. Regardless of who the audience members are, it's vital to ensure that the needs and requirements of the target audience are taken into account while making product decisions.
Understand your primary audience and what issues your product or service is trying to address. Deeply analyze the target market and figure out whether there are sectors that find it challenging to work with your product or service.
Government agencies can leverage several quantitative and qualitative research methodologies like usability testing and card sorting to find out people's pain points, motivations, dreams, goals, needs, and behaviors.
Instead of waiting until the product is built to test it out, product teams can design prototypes periodically during the design and development stage to ensure they're moving in the right direction. Regularly testing your assumptions and hypotheses with the people who are actually going to use the product or service is crucial to creating a successful design system.
2. Earn trust
It's crucial to build confidence with the public every single time, especially given the importance of the majority of transactions made on official government websites. It takes years of consistent effort to establish trust and a single moment to damage it. Therefore, it's essential to build a solid design and engineering foundation to lessen the impact of failure.
People should be able to tell immediately that they are on a government website. The USWDS banner informs visitors that the website is an official U.S. government website. Additionally, always use a .gov domain extension and up-to-date HTTPS security certificates. Follow all the rules within the Digital Services Playbook to keep your website in line with the U.S. government's design expectations.
When you ask users to provide sensitive information, it's critical to ensure they understand how you're keeping their data private. Furthermore, wherever possible, work in the open and share the development procedure and progress with the people.
Consistently check whether the website is working as intended and respond to bug reports as soon as possible. Identify and fix broken links within the website.
And lastly, all the information on the website should be up-to-date. Verify the accuracy of the content on your website on a regular basis.
3. Embrace accessibility
Accessibility has been a major concern for government website design systems, particularly over the past few years. Federal agencies need to consider accessibility while making decisions to make sure that everyone can easily leverage government websites.
Section 508 and WCAG standards make it vital for the state, local, and federal governments to make their website reachable to those afflicted with disabilities.
Websites should be designed in an easy-to-understand manner for people who have difficulty reading small text. The government website design should also make it simple for visitors to interpret the information associated with the graphic elements on the site. Use plain and simple language and accurately label headings, images, and links.
Beyond that, government organizations should ensure that their website is compatible with assistive technologies so that those with vision impairments can readily access it.
4. Provide a consistent experience
Different government agencies may provide different products and services and have different audiences, goals, and missions. At times they may not even be remotely related to one another. However, it's essential for government organizations to provide a consistent experience throughout different products and services across platforms, organizations, and devices.
Government entities promote continuity with shared values, like these design principles and the USWDS.
Again, people should know it's a government website without a doubt as soon as they land on the website — leverage existing content and style guides before developing one from scratch. Find websites relevant to your organization and keep close to their style guide to promote consistency.
Ensure the website is responsive on a wide range of platforms and devices, especially mobile. Finally, allow visitors the benefit of auto-populating long forms by reusing saved data.
5. Listen to your audience
No product can be successful if you don't incorporate the audience's feedback into your product decisions. Qualitative and quantitative user research methods allow government agencies to gather insights directly from their audience and learn from their information.
Prototyping during every stage of the design and development process provides continuous feedback and helps ensure that your product is designed for the people it's meant for. Furthermore, this direct, consistent feedback allows designers and developers to keep the audience at the forefront of their minds during every step of the design process.
Leverage interviews, surveys, and even in-app feedback mechanisms to collect feedback and provide users with a mode to report issues and bugs.
Involve the entire team in the design research process. Even though everyone can access the research data once a team has completed the study, the research analysis carried out by a designer will be considerably different from a sales rep. Furthermore, allowing the team to listen to user feedback directly will help them understand the context of their target audience's actions.
The pandemic has forced the government to take a crash course in digital solutions and website design best practices. Governmental organizations have accepted this challenge and kept improving their online presence while prioritizing community recovery and healthcare.
With the world slowly transitioning out of the global pandemic, government agencies have started to focus on creating better digital experiences for their citizens.
Government website design isn't a subject to be taken lightly. It's not just about building a sleek interface with innovative functionalities; it's about adhering to different design laws and creating a design system that meets real needs and helps improve people's lives.
We understand that having to take so many different factors into consideration can make it challenging to develop an effective design strategy. Therefore, if you'd like help with your design strategy, you can book a free consultation with our experts at WANDR today!