WASHINGTON, DC – Government websites are not known for their beautiful design. Unlike many commercial websites, government agency websites must comply with things like Section 508, accessibility, old web browsers, and slow internet connections. These compliance issues often take a toll on aesthetic design and style. Moreover, government agencies are not driven by the same motives as their business and commercial counterparts.
People go to government websites because of need, not necessarily because of want. Not only that, when it comes to government contracting and competition to win government contracts, vendors often have to offer lowest price or best value to win and reduced cost often comes at the expense of design.
Fortunately, a handful of government agencies, employees within government agencies, and government contractors are demonstrating to the world that government websites can look great while still complying with accessibility, Section 508, and other constraints that have often been an excuse for mediocre government web design.
Take for example CA.GOV, the website that represents the State government of California:
Website for the State of California
I believe UTAH.GOV should get the credit for this web design because it seems that CA.GOV was modeled after Utah’s State Website. Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the beautiful design, high impact first impression, paths for various target audience segments, and universal iconography for people whose native language may not be English.
U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
In my intro, I suggested that government websites don’t have to look great because people visit the sites out of need rather than want. However, VisitTheCapitol.gov is an exception because it is a consumer-facing website for the purpose of education, tourism, travel, and entertainment. In fact, visitor segmentation is a very important distinction and the first step in designing a website.
Regardless of whether I am search engine optimizing (SEO) a website or designing a mobile app or creating an interactive web design, one of the most important things I need to know is Who do we want to visit the website or app and What would drive them to the website or app? Identifying and segmenting our target audiences, practicing empathy and putting ourselves into their place, and designing a user experience (UX) for them – not us – is probably the most important principle of successful web design.
U.S. Air Force Recruiting Website
The Air Force recruiting website is not your typical government website. For one, it is a dot com, not a dot gov or dot mil. AirForce.com is clearly a marketing and recruiting website striving to inspire, excite, and attract qualified candidates. The Air Force recruiting website is dynamic and alive. There is one clear call to action: AIM HIGH AND APPLY NOW.
State of Alabama Website
Be bold! Go explore Alabama, it’s waiting for you! This is the message and call to action on Alabama.com. Clearly, they are trying to attract new businesses, visitors, and residents to the state. It is clearly a recruiting and marketing website, which is why it doesn’t look like your ordinary government website. Alabama.gov is a website that is clearly on a mission with a distinctive purpose.
The state also recognizes that it must serve the needs of its existing residents so it has secondary calls to action: Renew your fishing license, renew your hunting license, renew your vessel license, and renew your drivers license. But aren’t those guys and gals of Alabama clever? Fishing, Hunting, and Boating is also clearly a benefit they are using to attract new residents, visitors, and businesses. So, their subliminal message of renewing your fishing, boating, and hunting licenses are also a way of saying, “Hey, looking for a great state to fish, hunt, and boat? Come to Alabama!”
Government websites don’t have to look like crap!
As you can see from these examples, just because it is a government website doesn’t mean it has to forsake design and usability. Creative agencies and government website managers can be bold, just like Alabama, and produce visually aesthetic web designs and interactive user interfaces that inspire and compel website visitors.
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