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Top 5: Awesome Ways USDA Reworked Its New Website

9:30pm last night USDA launched their Department-wide website redesign. From the beginning, they set out to tackle quite the challenge:

Here’s what they faced:

  • Do completely in-house working with a limited budget/resources
  • Design an easy to navigate homepage to get citizens to the right place, and on their way effectively and efficiently
  • Coordinate with 29 agencies/offices to represent the full scope of USDA
  • Launch in less than a year
  • Take a ground-up approach

Yea…that order is taller than a 30-ounce Starbucks trenta latte. Powered up with an awesome redesign team in place, USDA bulldozed through each and every one of those challenges, ending up with a new site that proves to be refreshing, highly navigable, and user-intuitive and friendly. Let’s take a look at some of what makes their new site a big win for all of us.

1. Organizes, highlights, and makes highly navigable what is most important. Let me preface by saying (and I know I am preaching to the choir), organizing a government homepage is a colossal task. While the primary goal in theory seems easy…simply put the all-important data on the homepage, that very statement turns out to be quite the oxymoron. Isn’t everything seemingly important? Yes, and this is exactly why many government website pages scroll into eternity. USDA accomplished this goal of delivering front and center information citizens need most by re-thinking how to best categorize information concisely and organize it into buckets. The result is a homepage with three main sections from top to bottom, an intuitive navigation bar, and easy to find programs and services, news, blog, key initiatives, and the agency’s seven mission areas. As you navigate to interior pages, the upper header navigation remains in tact so the Topics, Programs Services, Blog, etc., are still accessible.

2. Ground-up approach involving all 29 USDA offices and agencies. In designing the site, USDA took a ground-up approach involving all 29 agencies and offices for head-on collaboration. They did a call to each, asking what is most searched for on their site, and what they deemed most important. To involve all groups in the physical wireframe of the new site, the Web Team posed a challenge for all willing participants to submit their best wireframes. Web hobbyists and any one interested was allowed to participate, and the team ended up incorporating the best components of the submissions in the creation of their final design.

3. Delivers What Citizens Look for Most. As part of the call to each of the 29 agencies and offices, the Web Team asked stakeholders to determine the information most frequently searched on their site, and what they felt was most requested. This information was then aggregated and included in the new design. For example, after analyzing site data, reports came back as one of the most sought after data pieces. Now, Reports have a place front and center on the homepage.

4. One USDA shared experience. Throughout the entire process, the Web Team used the Secretary’s One USDA vision as their guiding north star. As described in the team’s blog post today: “In support of our One USDA approach, we strive to provide a consistent, high value online experience that focuses on our users’ top tasks and requests. One USDA unifies our mission areas and offices to provide all of our stakeholders with a cutting-edge experience that empowers education, decision-making and action.” As you navigate from page to page, the branding and look and feel remains consistent so you know you are still within the USDA site.

5. Leverages Social Media Channels and Captures Email. As an already established thought leader in open government, transparency, and citizen engagement, the Web Team made sure to crank up the presence of their social network sites even more than before. Their blog, Facebook (18,551 likes), Twitter (27,472 followers), YouTube, and Flickr are front and center. They are leveraging these tools to get the word out and have stats to prove their success. Take, for example, Farmers’ Markets. By leveraging social media tools, in 2010 USDA saw a 16% increase in the number farmers’ markets listed in the National Farmers Market Directory, and collected data on over 900 winter markets last year for the first time.

Under the social media icons, there is also a place to capture citizen emails for updates to topics of choice. It is essential to engage and capture the viewer where they are. This is one of the best outcomes you can have.

Of particular note, USDA publishes on average 90 blog posts per month. Whether it is penned from the desk of the Secretary or a State Director in Iowa spreading the word about huge strides made in rural developing, USDA serves as an exceptional model for other agencies in how to communicate and engage with the public through blog posts. For the visual lovers out there, USDA has a new broadcast, photo and new media teams serving up stunning images and broadcasts from ever reach of the planet.

A huge congrats to the redesign team. Check out the blog posted this morning by Amanda Eamich and Peter Rhee, Web Communications Division to learn more.

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Profile Photo MIchael Wigfall

Looks great but these sites are blocked from the workers desktop. The only site available is the twitter page or maybe they forgot to block that one from the employees.

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Profile Photo Amanda Eamich

Thanks for the feedback! As I mentioned on Michael’s page, access to certain sites (Facebook) is under the purview of the Department’s CIO shop but we do make certain all content posted to Facebook is also available and accessible to employees on the USDA Blog, YouTube, Flickr and home website.

Chris, we use Oracle Stellent UCM for the site, same cms as before redesign.

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