If you want a better user experience on your government website, there’s a simple secret: early planning. Good designers know that it’s much more difficult to make changes to something after it’s built than before. This is true for designing just about anything, whether it’s a website, car, or new kitchen.
So if you’re in the early stages of designing — or redesigning — your website, here are some easy, “almost-no-budget-needed” steps you can take to ensure your users will be happier (or at least less frustrated):
1. Clearly define user groups
Despite what people may have told you, your audience is not this nebulous thing called “the public,” or “federal employees,” or anything like that. Rather, you likely have 3-5 key target audiences which are different from each other in at least one respect: They are Subject Matter Experts, or they are under the age of 30, or they almost never come to government websites. Research your user groups and create personas that represent them.
2. Be task-oriented
People come to your site with something in mind they want to do. It’s a priority for them, and hopefully it’s a priority for you too. So rank all the features and content on your site, and find out what’s the most important to people. Then make sure they can find that on your site very easily – via navigation and search. As Steve Krug said, “Don’t make them think.”
3. Survey time!
Government agencies can use many different types of superb survey tools to collect information (there are a few survey products in this list of services with federal-compatible Terms of Service). Why not find out more about your audience with some well-designed surveys that will explore people’s needs? Quite a few survey tools are free.
4. Know thy metrics
Chances are, you’ve got some metrics lying around that could use some more exploring. If you’re rebooting a site, you’ve got all the old traffic reports. Maybe you’ve got some old surveys or customer emails in a folder somewhere (see above). Or you want to explore what search terms people are using in Google. Whatever it is, take a look and try to find some patterns of user behavior inside your key metrics. Are there features people have been asking about for years? Pages that were popular / unpopular? Exit points where people got frustrated and left? Be like Batman – it’s time to be a detective.
5. User Interviews
The easiest way to find out about your users is to talk to them. Schedule interviews with users and chat about their goals, wants, likes and dislikes. If you’re doing a few you can use Google Forms or another tool to create fields and then fill them in as you do your interviews. You can schedule them for an hour, 30 minutes or even 10–any time is better than none.
6. Keep the goal in mind
You’ve got a site, or some digital product, because it’s a tool that will help you further the mission of your agency. That’s the only reason it exists, and it should do a good job at this. So make sure you’ve got a good understanding of your organization’s goals, and that you can align your new product with these goals. It’ll keep you on track, and get you the great results that you want your site to deliver.