What Seattle Learned During Its Data Portal Redesign

September 19, 2017 9:00 am PST | Data as a Service

Seattle was one of the first major cities to see the potential for open data, launching an open data platform in 2010. There are big benefits to being an early adopter: Since then, the city has become a leader in the open data world. Seattle’s published more than 400 datasets, fostered data-driven partnerships, and, recently, cemented the city’s commitment to data with an “open by preference” data policy. But, for all the benefits of being an open data pioneer, there’s one drawback. Seven years later, Seattle’s portal needed a new look.


original portal design for seattle
Seattle’s original data portal design, 2010-2017


Seattle was ready for a redesign. “We wanted to modernize the look and feel of the portal and provide the public who use the site with a very visible indicator of some of the improvements we’ve been working hard on,” says David Doyle, Seattle’s Open Data Program Manager.


“We wanted to modernize the look and feel of the portal.” —David Doyle, Seattle’s Open Data Program Manager


Aesthetics were far from the main reason for the redesign, however. The city’s 2017 Open Data Plan specifically called out the need for a simplified site design that would allow citizens to have a self-service experience. Seattle had two major goals for the redesign: Optimize the experience for mobile users (one-fourth of the site’s visitors) and make it easier for users to locate information and find answers to their questions. Essentially, the city’s driving priority was to make data as discoverable as possible. “We received ongoing feedback from residents that the old site was hard to navigate,” says Doyle.


Seattle’s Redesign Process

seattle portal design
The new design for Seattle data portal


Decisions around updating the look and feel of the site were relatively easy, since Socrata has templates that speed up the process. The bigger challenges were the decisions and thought put into content organization and presentation.

“My recommendation is to analyze both the open data portal site analytics and asset inventory usage data to better understand your user base and anticipate their needs moving forward. Be clear on the ‘why’ before you work on the ‘what,’” says Doyle, who put a priority on understanding the goals and effects of the redesign before implementing it.

As well as reviewing site metrics, Doyle also recommends having conversations with users and stakeholders. “Anecdotal and qualitative data is just as important as telemetric data,” he says. Doyle shared initial prototype designs early on to get meaningful feedback and had many meetings and conversations with data stakeholders.


A Redesign Puts a Spotlight on Data Quality

With goals focused on data discoverability, it’s no surprise that Seattle’s redesign forced the city to take a look at the metadata for all of its datasets. “The redesign increased the exposure of our existing metadata quality issues, so we had to make sure that we had a concurrent plan to address metadata quality,” says Doyle. He adds, “Now that we have a streamlined design that allows our residents to more easily find what they are looking for from the portal itself, it highlights the need for us to have high quality metadata to aid with search queries in particular, but also to provide clear and concise contextual information about our datasets.”


“The lesson we learned over the course of the redesign was to think about our open data portal as a ‘living’ entity requiring periodic updates to address any remaining gaps in the overall user experience.” —David Doyle


Seattle is currently engaged in a data audit, which the city anticipates will take several months, and potentially even extend through the start of 2018. Seattle also plans to map datasets to services (rather than to departments), which helps align the site with how residents — who are not necessarily schooled in which department does what — browse the site and find information logically. “The lesson we learned over the course of the redesign was to think about our open data portal as a ‘living’ entity requiring periodic updates to address any remaining gaps in the overall user experience. The initial redesign was just step one in an ongoing process.”

Is your data site ready for a refresh? If it’s been a while since you considered how to present information in the most friendly format for all users (data-pros and novices, alike), it might be time for a redesign. We can help you think through your goals and how to execute them. Get in touch with Socrata’s team, or send us an email

Previous Articlenetherlands highway
Data as a Service
3 Innovative Apps Created with Dutch Transit Authority Data

September 22, 2017

Next Articlereading room seattle public library
Data as a Service
Libraries Are a Natural Home for Data Seekers — And Providers

September 15, 2017