Case Study: Huge sets a precedent for government websites with its redesign of NYC.gov

Redesigning a website which is annually visited by 35 million people, speaking 100 different languages, is no mean feat much less when it is a government website where bad design and inaccessible information can be inefficient at best and downright dangerous when an emergency strikes.

Historically, government digital projects have failed to consider user experience, but this is changing as the value of considering the user first is realised. Last year, design firm Huge was brought in by New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg to improve the government website, NYC.gov, a hub of essential information which hadn’t been touched in over a decade. Huge relaunched the site from the bottom up in September 2013, with everything from new information architecture to a new look, working with various government departments on digital strategy, design, and front-end development with the goal of fulfilling user needs and developing an aesthetically pleasing, long-lasting design. Knowing the userIn the research stages, Huge met with New Yorkers and City government constituents to analyse the existing site’s traffic drivers and user behaviours. With such a broad user base, with competing interests, it was important to ensure the layout of content wasn’t just consensus-driven. Knowing what the users wanted from a government site, a few important tasks, such as searching for jobs and paying parking tickets were chosen to be prioritised, ensuring the simplest possible experience for visitors.With 25 per cent of people accessing the site via mobile, having it run seamlessly across multiple devices was vital. Unnecessary add-ons were cut: gimmicks eat up bandwidth and hinder continuity. Organise In a fast paced city like New York people need to find the information they want quickly, and so the experience was organised into ten meaningful ‘buckets,’ such as Business and Culture and Recreation. This would become the construct for the whole experience. In order to promote the City’s initiatives in compelling ways and provide easy access to the most frequently requested services, the homepage was designed to feature a news carousel and daily status updates on parking, rubbish and recycling schedules. The City’s customer service platform, NYC 311, was also fully integrated into the site for the first time to allow users to instantly file requests and get the information they need on the spot. ContentRather than posting news in press release format, City news is communicated through data, allowing people to scan a story. Any written content has been simplified to accommodate various languages. Visitors to the site will notice the lack of typically ‘tourist’ images. Manhattan, with its iconic building and attractions, may be the most populous area, but equally representing and engaging all five boroughs of New York was more important. Prepared for an emergency Huge began designing during last year’s Hurricane Sandy and quickly realised how essential a government website becomes in a state of emergency. The site was designed to be easily customised with almost no graphics, making it quick to load when critical information needs to be pushed out to the public. Results The resulting NYC.gov is a best-in-class public information resource, accommodating millions of NYC residents and advancing the City’s digital roadmap. Users are able to efficiently engage with their government and rapidly find answers to important issues impacting their lives each day. The City has now been empowered to extend the code framework and style guide across its many agencies to create a more unified look and feel across all of its digital properties. This case study was featured as part of The Drum's UX Guide, sponsored by E3, in the 25 October issue. You can buy a copy here.

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