Doing Government Websites Right

Today, I have a piece over on Tech President about how the new UK government website – Gov.uk – does a lot of things right.

I’d love to see more governments invest two of the key ingredients that made the website work – good design and better analytics.

Sadly, on the design front many politicians see design as a luxury and fail to understand that good design doesn’t just make things look better, they make websites (and other things) easier to use and so reduce other costs – like help desk costs. I can personally attest to this. Despite being adept at using the web I almost always call the help desk for federal government services because I find federal government websites virtually unnavigable. Often I find these websites transform my personality from happy affable guy into someone who teeters between grumpy/annoyed on the mild side, to raving crazy lunatic on the other as I fail to grasp what I’m supposed to do next.

If I have to choose between wasting 45 minutes on a website getting nowhere versus calling a help line, waiting for 45 minutes on hold while I do other work and then getting my problem resolved… I go with the latter. It’s not a good use of anyone’s time, but it is often the best option at the moment.

On the analytics front, many governments simply lack the expertise to do something as simple as Google analytics, or worse are hamstrung by privacy and procurement rules keep them from using services that would enable them to know how their users are (or are not) using their website.

Aside from gov.uk, another great example of where these two ingredients came together is over at Honolulu Answers. Here a Code for America team worked with the city to see what pages (e.g. services) residents were actually visiting and then prioritized those. In addition, they worked with staff and citizen to construct answers to commonly asked questions. I suspect a simple website like this could generate real savings on the city’s help desk costs – to say nothing of happier residents and tourists.

At some risk of pressing this point too heavily, I hope that my TechPresident piece (and other articles about gov.uk) gets widely read by public servants, managers and, of course, politicians (hint: the public wants easier access to services, not easoer access to photos and press releases about you). I’m especially hoping the good people at Treasury Board Secretariat in the Canadian Federal government read it since the old Common Look and Feel standard sadly ensured that Canadian government websites are particularly terrible when it comes to usability.

The UK has shown how national governments can do better. Let’s hope others follow their lead.

Original post

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Fascinating model and love how they’ve iterated as well – from pure just search to adding more contextual links as well.

One of their advances I really like but haven’t seen much talk about is their use of a bunch of light-weight super quick forms/calculators that drive you to where you need to go

Cat Robinson

Great post. As time goes by and people interact more with gov from laptops and mobile devices, people will begin to understand that design correlates directly with usability. The best web designers make a site look good, but also organize the site’s architecture in the most sensible way. It’s not necessarily about “pretty.”

I have witnessed a two-year-old trying to zoom a paper magazine cover as if it were an ipad. I am sure she will not tolerate being put on hold at help desks in the future 🙂

Andrew Krzmarzick

Quote of the day from Cat: “I have witnessed a two-year-old trying to zoom a paper magazine cover as if it were an ipad. I am sure she will not tolerate being put on hold at help desks in the future :)”

Alex Bornkessel

Thank you for this article! Some of my colleagues and I were just talking about the need for design and usability champions to team with the digital metrics folks. Many spend time on the technology and in the best cases are starting to understand how to develop flexible content–but without also looking at design, usability and metrics, the bread will never rise.

Steve–I dig the site! I’m seeing more sites use parallax scrolling, but I hadn’t seen a .gov use it until now. It’d be fascinating to see the before and after stats as a business-case on design and usability.