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Dot Gov... Dot Dull?

Article source: http://www.smartads.info/. Used with author's permission.

Most government Web sites are about as exciting as a Senate appropriations hearing. Besides lacking charisma, sites are difficult to navigate and a bear to search. But the possibilities of the Internet make having an effective Web site too valuable to neglect.

The "musts" of good government Web site design

There are five major "musts" to any government Website. The site must be:

  • User-friendly
  • Direct
  • Section 508 Compliant
  • Searchable
  • Branded
Web sites must be designed with the user experience in mind. Every aspect of the site should make sense and follow expected patterns. For people to use it, it must be easier than picking up the phone. Options must be clearly defined and information as accessible as possible.

Running in Circles

Don't send your users on a wild goose chase. The path to find information must be direct. In standard Web site design, users should be able to access the key function of a site within three clicks. And watch for those nasty circles. Site maps and testing are vital to keeping a site free from loops.

Every User, Everytime.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act demands that Web sites must be accessible to all users, regardless of impairment. Make this a chance to ensure your site resonates with everyone equally. By including such things as verbal tags and graphics identification, designers can make a site available to all the constituents.

Seek and You Will Find

Searches on government pages seem to search every government page. Instead, searches should be limited to the site from which it is made. And the search terms must be natural language. Include common words by thinking about what the audience would. Getting into the users head is key to any design endeavor.

Image is Everything

Branding gives a fresh look and feel to an otherwise boring site. In the same way commercial businesses use it, branding breeds loyalty. By presenting a consistent image, backed by a consistent experience, constituents know that a logo is more than just a picture. It's a promise of excellence.

What now?

It's easy to create a Web site, but making it great takes creativity and forethought. Imagine the user and what they expect and build from there. Dot gov and can be dot amazing.

Kari White is a Content Developer for Brook Group, a Web site design firm near Washington, DC. For more articles like this one, visit Usability and Branding.

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