I used to do a lot of freelance during the dotcom days, then I started working for an agency. The projects were interesting and the turn around time was fast. In the past five years, I’ve been working as an in-house designer for the government. The projects aren’t always as glamorous as they were before, and usually take much more time to complete. However, I feel the end result is more rewarding for me.
Government web sites are not typically up to date on their web technologies and design. If you go to most .gov sites and you will see archaic designs, bad usability and poor accessibility. Sites are often just a portal of a labyrinth of links. There are many reasons why government sites are lagging far behind those of corporates’, which are themselves lagging behind smaller, more agile companies. Paul Boag’s article 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Websites pretty much summed up many difficulties government sites face too. More so, government sites take much longer time and effort to redesign and re-architect. There are a lot of legal and political issues involved.
This is why last year I was very excited to see Barack Obama’s campaign site. My review for his site didn’t cover the main reason why I was impressed. His emphasis on a modern and embracing site was rare for a politician at the time. Since I’ve been working within the government, both state and federal, I know just having a competent design team is not enough, the political will has to be there too. A lot of things have happened since I wrote that review: Mr. Obama went on to win the presidential election and launched a series of impressive federal government websites. The new whitehouse.gov went live seconds after the Inauguration ceremony. In the past few months, data.gov, recovery.gov, it.usaspending.gov were launched.
The man behind his internet campaign, Mr. Julius Genachowski was sworn in as the chairman of the FCC(Federal Communications Commission) a few weeks ago. He’s my new boss now. I have no doubt, that under his leadership, a much needed redesign of the FCC web site will launch soon.
I always thought the government sites needed the most help since they serve the general public. Currently most government sites suffer from these common problems:
To overcome some of these issues when redesigning:
The new federal web sites launched are impressive, in terms of the design, informativeness and outreach. I love how consistent the branding is throughout these sites.
For the past few months, I was involved in redesigning the dtv.gov website. The team did a superb job given the time constraint. The old site was dated and didn’t have all the up to date information the public needed. With the redesign, the FCC stressed the importance of getting the public all the information they needed in preparation for the DTV transition. The news release was constantly updated, also many web apps were available on the site as well.
Recently I’ve met several people in real life or on twitter who share the same passion as me: to make a better government web. I met Macon Phillips, the new media director of the Whitehouse. He’s a big proponent for the use of social media tools to reachout to the general public. He’s behind the new whitehouse.gov and many other WH social media outlets such as Flickr, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re interested in social media for the government, I recommend following Jeffrey Levy on twitter. Mr. Levy is the web director of EPA.gov, he led an impressive effort of putting the EPA in the forefront of interacting with the general public via appropriate use of social media sites.
I never thought I’d say this a year ago, but now is an exciting time to be a web designer working on a government project. The political will is definitely there. I believe many agencies, both state and federal will redesign their web sites to the standard the new administration set. Now is the time to fully utilize our skills to make those sites to serve the public better.