Successful government websites are consistent, accessible and current. Surprisingly though, many sites lag far behind today’s communications standards; missing the most important goal: serve the public well.
There are many sources of inspiration for successful government websites. The Webby Awards, “the leading international awards honoring excellence on the Internet,” as well as the Digital Government Achievement Awards, the W3 Awards, and the Davey Awards, are all great sources for finding the best of website creativity and design. Despite what many people assume, these awards are not just reserved for commercial sites. They have categories solely dedicated to outstanding digital government work, and filtering through these ‘.gov’ award-winners, there are several common elements and features that make these sites outstanding (and that would work well for commercial, association, nonprofit and government websites):
Most Important Elements for Government Websites:
- Usability: Address the public’s needs
- Design: Emphasize simplicity, while keeping it engaging
- Development: Ensure accessibility, mobility and quickness
Features that Set Websites Apart:
- Data delivery: Intelligent, designed-focus
- Navigation: Simple, purpose-driven and intuitive
- Media: Eye-catching and consistent with the content
- Information sharing: Integrative and shareable
Below are two sites that use the elements and features mentioned above. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website won a Webby Award, while South Carolina’s government site won Digital Government Achievement (DGA), W3, and Davey Awards. Both sites provide their audiences with rich web experiences.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
NASA’S JPL is the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system, and has 19 spacecraft and 10 major instruments carrying out planetary, Earth science and space-based astronomy missions. For the past half a century, JPL has curated billions of bytes of data: From stunning imagery to in-depth news stories.
The site’s design highlights NASA’s historical expanse into the unknown and gives the world a glimpse into their accomplishments. The result is a visually stunning website with loads of interactive features and content that people ‘gravitate’ toward. Webby commended the website’s design for:
- Translating the same amazing user experience across all devices and platforms
- Grabbing the audience’s attention
- Putting their massive database of space imagery to use
- Not sacrificing image quality at the expense of download speed
Special Features of jpl.nasa.gov
- Clickable images attract readers to the intricate data within the stories. Looking at a featured story you’ll notice that they are short and sweet, with images at the forefront. And, after reading a story, you will see a “stories you might also like” section, which is a simple way to encourage readers to continue digging through the site. JPL has a rich trove of white papers, newsletters, videos, images and blog articles that cover every angle of their ventures into the unknown corners of the universe.
- JPL’s interactive “mission” timeline features current, past, future, and proposed missions. It’s a brilliant way for funders and the general public to explore NASA’s missions. Click on “future” missions, for example, and classify your search by targets (e.g., Mars), types (e.g., Rovers/landers), and launch date. This kind of data delivery requires smart development work and accessibility for not only the end-user, but also the content administrators.
The mobile-friendly “hamburger” menu expands to full screen. This is a great way to feature a menu that is both in-depth and minimalist at the same time. It works well for mobile and desktop, and it allows them to focus their home page on the stunning banner images of our galaxy and beyond.
- The site uses low-text, high-image design;
- Full-width, engaging banner images reflect NASA’s missions and exploratory foci. By updating images consistently, the site remains fresh;
- Video banners on the home page awe and inspire users; there’s no better way to draw people in
Downloadable content, optimized for social media: Click on the “What’s up – February 2016” featured story and you’re shown an embedded video, transcript, and options to download images, podcasts, and the full-length videos on the subject matter. This is a great way to consume and share content, and social sharing widgets make this even easier to do. JPL also puts all the stories on a slider, so you can easily click right or left to toggle between them.
The SC.gov site has won numerous awards (e.g., DGA, W3, Davey) over the years for its ability to serve the public well in many areas. It stands out for all of its features, from the ease of use of the online complaint system to the images and content that draw in tourists. Their objective for the site is to:
“be at the forefront of eGovernment and provide citizens and agencies with state-of-the-art web services and Internet tools to facilitate doing business with government in a secure, convenient and cost-effective way. SC.gov offers state and local government entities the expertise to automate routine, time-consuming tasks into interactive web-enabled applications for citizens and businesses, as well as streamlining government processes.” – About SC.gov
Special Features of SC.Gov:
- An interactive map promotes South Carolina businesses and aids the discovery of services and attractions.
- Multi-lingual translation buttons (e.g., English to German) allow for simple switching to translated sites, which is extremely useful for reaching a multi-cultural audience. (Learn more about how websites increasingly reach their audiences in their native languages).
Impactful, full-width banner images of mountains, beaches, and cityscapes highlight South Carolina, and attract visitors from around the world.
- The site is well-integrated with social media. For example, there is a page with a complete list of government agency social media links;
- They have a “Pin it” button on the home page so that Pinterest users can browse and share images of South Carolina;
- Social media icons are throughout the site;
- There is an interesting custom-built feature (see image below): click on the circles on the home page; some of them lead to facts and others lead to calls-to-action that link to a “submit your photo to us” page. This kind of information crowdsourcing is a great way to get users to interact and become promoters of SC.gov and South Carolina;
- Their alert systems (announcement bar) and E11 page are pragmatic ways of sharing vital information with the public.
Building A Successful Government Website
A final key principle to designing a successful government site is simple: Use an experienced design team.
The features of an awarding-winning site require technical and creative skills that go way beyond out-of-the box themes, WYSIWYG interfaces, and inexperienced teams. Complex data delivery tools, such as JPL’s interactive timeline, require great technical implementation expertise to plan and develop—taking not only a sound knowledge of available software options, but also design, architecture, and project management skills. The design team needs to integrate very complex data with a simplified design, all while providing the site’s administrators with easy ways to update that data.
Sites that integrate these elements and features serve their public well. We’ll be featuring more award-winning government websites in future posts, so follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and sign up for studio updates to stay tuned.
(OmniStudio is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.)