The Federal Government has recently took up the challenge of documenting an official guide for how federal websites should be designed, structured and presented to the public. This is a welcome modernization, as many critics have complained over the years over the lack of innovation and modern technical wherewithal of government bureaucracies. Putting out an official “style guide” gives government websites the potential to be a consistent and enjoyable experience for users.
The guide comes from a relatively new government website, CIO.gov. It stands, apparently, for “Chief Information Officer” and is a nod to the title held by executive level computer professionals. The site, as a whole, works to cover the changes in technology of the federal government. A new section, however, has been added that gives a style guide to all of the federal government.
Some of the principles of the guides are:
“Make the best thing the easiest thing” – This is a standard in web design that is sometimes called the “priority of clarity”. That is, if nothing else, the goal of design is to make things clear to the user. Confusion is a failure of design.
“Accessibility out of the box” – Accessibility is making websites easily usable by people with disabilities. Many people use the web with things like “Text to speech” readers, or require sub-titles/closed captions on videos. “Making the web accessible to all users should be a priority of all web designers, but it often falls through the cracks.” say Tom, owner of MangoMatterMedia, a Brisbane web design agency, “It’s nice to hear that the federal goverment would make disabled accessibility a priority, moreso than standard web designers might”.
“Design for flexibility” – This is obviously necessary since the guide will be covering dozens, if not hundreds, ofunique and different sites. Using a common style guide among all those sites means that it needs to be flexible enough to make each site unique, but also have commonality that the users will recognize. This can be done through the creative use of color schemes and various structural design treatments.
“Reuse, reuse, reuse” – Like the old ecological mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle”, this one is about making the most out of what is already made. In other words, don’t invent the wheel, when you can reuse one someone has already developed. The team as CIO.gov researched and reviewed the best practices of many different private and public sector design treatments to come up with something that was exemplified the best of the bunch.
Do you think Washington Guard has met up with the expectations of the style guide? Or do we have some work to do?