User Experience Checklist for Government Data Programs
Concepts like brand identity and user experience aren’t typically associated with government websites. But, when it comes to creating an open data platform, these concepts should be front and center.
After all, one of the principal drivers of the open data movement is making data accessible and usable by the broadest possible audience. Following best practices for visual hierarchy, navigation, interactivity, and use of color will promote more frequent and meaningful use of open data platform and encourage citizens and civil servants to engage with and share the information they find there.
Looking to launch your organization’s open data platform or give your existing site an upgrade? Here’s a basic checklist to help you get started.
Start with the Goal in Mind
Every website — whether it’s a news hub, an e-commerce site, or an open data platform — should reflect the priorities and goals of the sponsor organization. For example, if the first phase of a city’s open data initiative is focused on tracking and communicating progress toward goals for police and fire department services, those service areas should be prominently displayed on the homepage. A user shouldn’t have to scan the page endlessly or click through several links to access data sets related to those departments. This basic example illustrates a broader principle of user experience design: the way information is positioned on a website impacts how it will be consumed, or whether it will be noticed at all.
Make Navigation Easy
Navigation is an important consideration in encouraging more frequent use of the data on your site. As with any modern website, the best practice is to position navigation horizontally across the top of the page or vertically down the left side, and to limit core navigational elements to a maximum of six options. You can still include multiple additional links in a separate dropdown menu for each main navigation item. Some large websites with lots of depth and categories of information, like White House.gov, use panels that expand when a user hovers over each item, revealing deeper links within the site.
Use Size, Shape, and Color to Guide Users
Another effective way to make your open data website easier to use is to group similar elements on the site in consistent ways. As users scan your site, they will pick up on these patterns (even without realizing it) and use these helpful cues to find information faster. There are numerous ways to group related pieces of information, or to prompt users to take certain actions. Color is perhaps the most obvious tool. For example, red is most often used to direct attention to urgent information on the page, such as alerts or updates. More generally, bright colors are often used to signify interactive elements and cooler hues (like blue) are typically used to encourage readers to slow down and consider information more deliberately.
Shape and proportion are also useful tools in guiding readers. For example, the data cards used on the San Mateo County (California) open data site group large categories of complex information into a familiar pattern that can be easily understood — while the individual cards invite users to go deeper to learn more about each category.
These are just a few of the design elements that play an important role in making your data site easier to navigate and more accessible to a broad range of users. Check out our website to see additional examples of successful open data websites for more inspiration.
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