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Editorials

Creating a User-Centered City Website

Local city governments are doing more to improve the user experience on their websites with the help of partners in the private sector.

Historically, government websites haven’t been designed with the end user in mind. Usually, some combination of budgetary concerns, conflicting stakeholder priorities, and regulations create government user experience that leaves users with more questions than answers. Thankfully, all that is starting to change.

What can cities do to build a website that’s responsive, easy to use, and visually pleasing? Here are some tips:


Keep it Simple

The first tip is one that trips up even big private companies: Stop designing so much!

Often, designers and developers get overzealous, adding more features and trendy gimmicks to a page until it becomes difficult to use. Take video autoplay for example. For a while, a lot of websites were choosing to make videos play automatically, slowing down page load time — especially for users with older, slower computers — and blasting audio into the ears of their unsuspecting visitors. Not an enjoyable experience. Now, only a few years later, this feature makes websites look outdated.

Offer people what they need and make it simple. Pages and forms should be easy to use, and designed using established user experience (UX) principles.


Create Consistency Across Pages

Consistency is another important aspect of user-friendly design. Websites should look consistent from page to page to create a complementary visual motif. Maintaining an optimized and visually pleasing homepage is great, until it leads your visitors to outdated and low-quality subpages.

A lot of government websites will jump from a sleek, well-designed page with valuable information to an older, clunky PDF. Sometimes, these PDFs need to be printed and mailed to City Hall.

Your website shouldn’t go from digital to analog. The SeamlessDocs platform builds custom online forms from existing PDFs that comply with all necessary regulations. Even better, it requires no coding, no development, no IT maintenance at all. SeamlessDocs is as easy to use as uploading an attachment to an email.

Responsive Design

More web traffic goes mobile every year. Websites that aren’t designed to be responsive to different screen sizes aren’t going to survive much longer.

All web design today needs to be responsive, but a surprisingly large number of major government websites aren’t. Take this page for the California Centers for Medicare. While the main homepage is responsive, this subpage certainly isn’t — something you’ll immediately notice if you clicked that link on your phone. This complicates the user experience.

All pages on your website should be responsive. Furthermore, when you have responsive digital forms like the ones created in SeamlessDocs, you allow people to easily fill out applications anywhere, anytime. Add easy-to-use payment methods, and people can complete the whole process online instead of waiting in line at City Hall.

Accessibility

No one should be limited in the ways they can access government services. For too long, government websites weren’t designed for everyone, though now that’s finally starting to change.

All federal websites are required to meet specific standards for accessibility to ensure people with impairments can use them without trouble. Now, more local governments are getting their websites up to speed as well.

Your website should meet both Section 508 and WCAG 2.1 standards. That means that your constituents can all use your resources equally, no matter their age or ability level.

Many government websites have used their web presence as a dumping ground for information, leaving people to find what they need on their own. Thankfully, a lot of governments — often with the help of private industry partners — are starting to do the heavy lifting themselves. The result is a better, user-centered web experience that improves access to vital services.

Learn more about user-friendly design for your city in our exclusive ebook.
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