One particular part of their post rang true to me, as I’m frequently tasked with developing information architecture for government websites:
“In many discussions that we’ve had with people who develop these sites, they’ve told us that they feel the need to cater to all possible audiences. Although an understandable impulse, this becomes problematic when they try to cater to all audiences equally…When they don’t sufficiently prioritize their different audiences, they fall into the same old traps: including as many links as possible on the home page.”
In my job, we often encounter the same issues. We recently conducted an informal, internal audit of government websites, and with the exception of a dozen or so sites created since January, most fall into the homepage link trap. Why? One reason might be guidance posted on Usability.gov.
Based on research and analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services, this comprehensive document is intended to guide website development throughout the government. The guidance in this document is very good, and in my opinion WebContent.gov and Usability.gov are great resources for web designers and developers inside and outside of government. That said, the examples provided with the recommendations do not always achieve the stated objective.
Here’s an example:
Chapter 5: Homepage [Download the chapter]
Guideline: Present all major options on the homepage.
Comments: Users should not be required to click down to the second or third level to discover the full breadth of options on a Web site. be selective about what is place on the homepage, and make sure the options and links presented there are the most important ones on the site.
I don’t think the guideline here is wrong, necessarily, but the comments and example provided show an interpretation of that guideline that is very literal. A more nuanced approach to this guideline might result in fewer options on a homepage in order to guide the site’s audiences to important information more quickly.
So, my question for the community is: When developing your agency’s site, do you follow Usability.gov? If so, to what degree? Is it a requirement for you, or more of a resource? Do you get push-back if you interpret the guidelines in ways counter to the given examples?