In my daily work I'm constantly confronted with developments for government sites. Often I hear confusion in what needs to be achieved, who needs to be served and especially why it should matter.
Listening into a Webcast by Human Factors International (download white paper on Designing the e-government experience through citizen-centered usability, March 2008) gave me additional insights that I want to summarize and present here:
Goals of eGovernment
The web offers governmental sites the potential for increased operational efficiency and cost reductions while improving access to information and services for their citizens.
Levels of interaction between these two actors (government & citizens) include:
- Connect citizens with legislative offices
- Communicate faster and more targeted
- Leverage access to public services (enhanced productivity with reduced effort)
Steps to improve eGovernment
Traditionally the government has three main functions:
What can be done to improve these functions/processes?
Get it out there
- What information is interesting?
- What is already available?
Make it useful & usable
- Pre-digest the information (e.g. into charts, comparisons, …)
- Understand the citizen’s needs (e.g. Spanish language, search, text size, …)
- Assist citizen’s in finding the information (sometimes they don’t know it exists)
- Avoid: limited business focus, internal focus, lack of shared resource
- Assist citizens to walk through business logic (avoid unnecessary pages, forms, fields, …)
- Establish a baseline (best practices review, scorecard, usability testing success rates, web analytics, call center volume, server logs, …)
- Validate improvements (success rate, task time) & seek for support within your organization for doing this
- Continuously track usage
- Why? Avoid falling back in national ranking, reduce costs for service calls, …
Make it engaging
- “Will? Can?” Will citizens use the service? Can they find it?
- Make it exciting
- Use experiences or technologies that are current and up to date (videos, gadgets, …)
Embrace the future
- Become creative to engage citizens in governmental issues (using the citizen’s language), e.g. upload a photo of the damaged street (http://www.fixmystreet.com/)
- Encourage citizens to interact through social tools
- Integration of “Report”, “Transact” and “Interact” means to remove the disparity between organizational structures of governments and the mental models of the citizens
- Understand and channel the motivation of citizens to use online services
- Integrate offers from multiple agencies into one comprehensible user experience
Start a movement
- Create a community by involving State & Agency Leadership, Agency CIO’s and Webmasters
- Recognition and adoption are key aspects
- Embrace the chaos
- Provide useful & usable tools
- Reward contributions & demonstrate progress
- View webmasters as a partner, not as recipient
- The user’s perspective of the organization and the actual organizational structures are mostly very different. Citizens should not need to know how an agency is organized or be familiar with its terminology.
- Focus on the citizen means to understand how they look for information!
- Integrate internal processes into one intelligent solution (iGov = integrated Government)
- Understanding the level of literacy is key to success. Easy language assists citizens in filling out bureaucratic forms.
Government must view itself as a business
- Attract and satisfy citizens. Beware of competition and consider concepts like ‘brand loyalty’. Effective interaction adds benefits to citizens.
- Convert visitors into customers meaning that citizens become active online users of the services.
- Broaden the focus onto international audience which is important to attract entrepreneurship and investment capital and is a good indicator of a strong technology market and research and development environment.
Assistance through technology, tools and continuous improvement
- Support CIO’s and webmasters through tools like design templates, standards, guidelines and an effective means of governance.
- Adjust technology to changing market conditions, population demographics and the user’s level of expectations.
- Create a culture and long-term commitment (=institutionalization) of usability within the agency!
- Establish a baseline of improvement and continuously validate and improve through benchmarks.
I'd like to hear your feedback and if you have applied one or many of above techniques in your agency and what your experiences were.
- Straub, K., Gerrol, S.; Designing the e-government experience through citizen-centered usability; Human Factors International, Inc.; White paper; March 6, 2008
I just came back from a webcast held by Human Factors International titled "Who Are We Designing For? The Generation Dilemma". It reminded me that even though most designers - me included - belong to the Generation X (or maybe especially because of that) we need to understand and recognize behavioral differences between generations when designing web sites.
Sidenote: This generalization must not prevent us from continuing to identify and define our target audience through personas or applying all the other UCD principles based on representative users. It is solely meant to raise awareness that we as designers need to be aware of these differences.
So, what are these generations?
- 78 Mio (US) / 1.11 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1943-1960 (age 65-48)
- think of technology as a tool
- computer at work or at home (often not the latest model)
- use computer mainly for email or work-related activities
- use sites that help save time or serve relevant information
- 55 Mio (US) / 1 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1961-1981 (age 47-27)
- are technology savvy and career-focused
- keep their computer (desktop) in a separate room or office
- start their day with practical activities like reading news or checking stocks
- utilize computer for work but still keep balance of life and work
- use sites for practical tasks like online banking, news, travel preparation
- 80 Mio (US) / 2 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1982-2000 (age 26-8)
- technology is inherent and part of life
- have their computer (laptop) by the bed
- start their day checking social activity online
- look for and do things that make them laugh, might be silly
- attention span is short, impatient
- use social networking sites like Facebook
How does the knowledge about these generational differences affect our designs?
The same guidelines for accessibility and usability like consistency or efficiency hold true but it is to be emphasized that certain guidelines must be enforced stronger for some generations while others can be loosened up. Here is a rough overview:
- Simple look and feel
- Safe to use, more error-prone than usual
- Navigation in predictable places
- Hierarchies of information
- Step by step instructions
- Provide options to enlarge font sizes
- Things that don't move, flicker, or play automatically
- Focus on quality content
- Provide 'do-it-yourself' tasks
- Give control and allow customization
- Content has to be attractive, innovative, can be quirky
- Design can be highly interactive
- Audio and video is not only accepted, it's expected
- Entertainment is important
- Avoid pictures of elderly people (yes!)
How can a design satisfy all generations?
The answer is (as always): it cannot. Designs have to be focused on and implemented towards your key audience. A university web site needs to satisfy its customers, the students. The press, teachers and parents are without doubt important as well, but without satisfied students the university doesn't even have to think about getting the press to visit the site.
There are ways to generalize your site's content though:
- Identify the user (login) and present a customized UI
- Identify the content (landing page) and predict its likely customer
- Identify user preferences by explicitely asking