Are you considering a website redesign? Why don’t you do it in public?

A building under construction is a work in progress for all to see. That is rarely the case with corporate websites.

Often conceived in backrooms and built by teams of design and marketing professionals, business websites are typically built less for target visitors than for executives at the companies they manage.

They are the best estimate of the target audience visitors need based on the opinions of people who haven’t met many of them.

In the reconstruction of the Website Americans with Disabilities Act administered by the United States Department of Justice, the Nava Public Benefit Corp. makes the process transparent.

The approach allows everyone to juxtapose the old and the new, see the thinking behind the redesign and provide their feedback.

It’s a tactic that more companies should use.

Get rid of the old

The site is the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s most visited website, with approximately 3.5 million visitors per year and 8 million page views. Launched in 1999, it has only been redesigned once and it shows.

Strung across a multi-column grid that is positively hostile to mobile devices and crammed into a space optimized for a 640X480 screen,’s size is just one of the issues.

The content and navigation elements appear to be aimed at compliance officers and litigators. That’s because they are.

The new site, which is still in beta testing, targets people with disabilities rather than bureaucrats. At the top of the homepage it is clearly stated what the ADA is and for whom the site is intended.

Images are people, not documents.

In redesigning the site, Nava applied some of the lessons it learned to rescue the government’s site of his disastrous launch in 2013 and other projects has been completed. One is redesigning the US Department of Veteran Medical Centers portal, a project that reduced the amount of written content by 87%.

An important starting point was to start with the target group and work backwards from there.

Simplify and humanize

The clear style of the new site doesn’t mean the technical stuff is gone.

Instead, it has been moved from the homepage to a special section that bureaucrats and lawyers can love.

The current site “organizes technical support resources, so you need years of experience to find what you’re looking for,” said Chinelo Ikejimba, a senior Nava designer/researcher. “Now everything is on one page and visitors can use tags and filters to find what they want.”

Modern web constructions help with readability.

For example on the FAQ page About service animals, a JavaScript navigation menu follows users around the page and lets them jump to topics of their choice.

“Plus” and “minus” buttons selectively expand and collapse content to minimize scrolling and halve the page length compared to the corresponding information on the current site.

Responsive design constructs channel all content into a single column, and headline tags indicate content for search engines.

Speak like people do

Look and feel, however, is only part of the equation.

“When people come to a website like this, they don’t want to be happy,” said Chief Delivery Officer Jodi Leo. “We want to help them focus on the task, and that means using clear language.”

For the ADA project, that meant writing to an eighth grade reading level, which isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Many software products help optimize readability, and a good human editor helps with tone, so the result is “empathetic but not intrusive, accessible without being condescending,” Ikejimba says.

There is also a GSA site dedicated to common language launched by a group of federal employees.

Iconography helps. “Instead of a full section on service animals, can we use icons and simplified language like ‘a service animal can go here, but not here,'” she says.

The project has been aided by proclamations such as those of the Biden government Executive Order and Transforming Federal Customer Experience and its mandate to “design and deliver services in a way that all people of all levels can navigate.”

Still, there are always skeptics who stick to the technical jargon they love.

Nava’s approach “is to try and get them involved to get their buy-in earlier,” Leo says. “We share research on how people’s understanding has improved. Once they see how much trouble people had using the old site, everything becomes more collaborative.”

Test and test again

It comes down to testing and a lot.

For the VA site redesign, Nava conducted more than 75 moderated and 200 unmoderated sessions with people whose profiles matched the intended personas of employees, lawyers, and government employees.

They were asked to perform routine tasks, such as finding information on a topic or scheduling an appointment. And to talk through the process as they went. The process uses paraphrase testing to determine whether readers regard a message as intended.

Other useful metrics include referring pages, visitor paths, and search engine queries.

Frequently searched for terms, for example, can earn a menu item or page.

There is also a small, clickable box at the bottom of every page that simply asks, “How can we improve this site?”

New feedback comes daily from that source, totaling about 1,000 suggestions on the beta site alone.

Such contextual feedback, Ikejimba says, “is very effective because it helps us identify what the pain points are.”

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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