Government websites should meet basic usability criteria

via Digigov From coi.gov.uk

The title comes from a recommendation of the Power of Information Taskforce.  They commissioned our team at COI to undertake a usability review of government websites, as our mission  is to improve the quality and consistency of government and the public sector online.

The usability review found that there were many basic issues with the sites they looked at. Over 150 individual usability problems were identified including:

  • Failure to let users know where they are in the site
  • Inconsistency in page design putting undue stress on the user to recall rather than recognise (increasing cognitive load)
  • Use of language that users couldn’t understand
  • Linking to documents without clues to the content within

The Taskforce asked us to build a ‘usability toolkit’ setting out the basic usability criteria for government websites. Working with usability agency Bunnyfoot, we’ve developed a toolkit containing guidelines on best practice.  The toolkit has an emphasis on visual learning, making extensive use of graphics and video demonstrations and is designed around eight themes including page layout, navigation and writing content. Each theme has an interactive self-assessment exercise which tests knowledge and is intended to initiate discussion.

The toolkit is open to everyone to use, but there are advantages in registering as this helps users keep track what the content they’ve visited and the assessment tests they’ve completed.  So far 85 people have registered from over 20 different departments across government.

The most popular completed test to date is on page layout (123 completed tests).  It has guidelines about:

  • Consistency between pages
  • Devoting page space to content
  • Screen resolution
  • How to un-clutter content
  • Styling text for readability
  • Effective use of colour

It’s basic stuff but essential knowledge for anyone developing content for government, public sector, or inideed any other websites. There’s also a great video showing how we read text using eyetracking:

Sccreenshot of video of how we read shown through eyetracking

So, if you’re in the public sector, don’t waste another minute, register to use the toolkit! It’s easy, you just need to enter an email address and password and, if you work in central government, your department name.

Usability toolkit registration screen

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