Over the past few months, I’ve been getting myself acquainted with my new Job at Camden Council and learning the ropes. I’ve been brought in to work on Camden’s new website redesign project. For the past few months, I’ve not only learnt a lot about why and how the website works but also understand how much work and research goes into redesigning a local government website. And all of the research conducted has proved to be a very valuable process to the project. It has delivered some insightful data on how we should design the website.
Design Vs. Usability
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, redesigning a council website does not have the same impact as redesigning an e-commerce website. Its impact has further implications to citizens lives and is not just about fulfilling a desire to get a new pair of shoes or even a brand new car. They just want to find the information they need and complete transactions without any fuss. And this leads to the argument of what is more important, design or the website’s usability? Or can we find a balance between the both? If yes, how do we do this?
Citizens ‘wish list’ and frustrations with local government websites
Based on the user research that we did on Camden residents, we found that people’s expectations on a council website are not that difficult or unreasonable. They just want things to work. Sometimes just an email or letter notifying the process of the query is enough to put their minds at ease. But the truth is, a lot of council website are failing in doing just this based on my own personal research into local council websites. Among the most obvious challenges for citizens when using local council websites and specifically for Camden residents are as follows:-
- Better e-forms – E-forms are not clear, confusing and sometimes just doesn’t work.
- Need bigger headers and better filters – Some users complained that the headers were too small and the need for better filters of the information.
- Need acknowledgement of service, not referring to automated reply – Need notification or acknowledgement of current processing stage of query or transaction.
- The site is confusing, there is too much information – The site is very heavy text and a bit too overwhelming for users who don’t come to use the site regularly or are novice internet users.
- Wanting to pay online for recycling – Users don’t mind paying for council services online, even the novice users. They feel secure enough to make even the smallest transactions online like for their recycling.
- Better and clearer way to sign up for leisure centre and library online – The sign up process can be unclear and confusing.
- Website should have distinguishing categories like the BT website – Users agreed that there should be a clear distinction between corporate and resident users versions of the website like the BT website where business and home users are clearly defined.
- Prefer information such as news, events and general information on updates or emergencies to come to them through social networking channels – A regular social network user who subscribes to Love Camden, Camdentalking and our uservoice Facebook page described our social network channels to be useful to her because she likes information to come to her instead of coming to the website.
- Ability to give feedback – Users also expressed the want and need to give feedback on service, not necessarily on the website but through online channels.
- Have a “What is your diagnose” type facility – A lot of users seem to like using the NHS website because it has the “What is your diagnose” facility and wondered whether that could be incorporated into the council website
- Wanted to order lid for bin online but there wasn’t any for lids – User’s bin lid was stolen during the snow, possibly due to people stealing the lids to slide through the snow. Wanted to order the lid online but it was not possible. Therefore had to call to explain that she didn’t want to order the whole bin, but only the lid.
- Felt the website was information heavy for families but for childless couples or single individuals, it was limited – Interesting insight to how single or childless felt there wasn’t particularly relevant to their needs on the website because they did not need the schools, children and etc information. Maybe we should consider a section where this particular group of residents services to be highlighted.
- Desire to be digitally engaged with council – It seemed that particular segments of users want to be digitally engage with their council but not been clearly guided on how to do that on the website. This might mean that the council and democracy section does appeal to them or give the necessary tools to get involved.
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