All of us know how frustrating it can be navigating through government websites. Most do not seem to be designed with user experience in mind. Recently one of Flyover Country’s fastest growing cities engaged with Net Tango to tackle the problem of user experience and web site interfaces. Net Tango recently finished the project, which involved completely redesigning the city’s website. The challenge was significant as the website had to be accessible to all of Nashville’s 1.9mm citizens and 40,000 businesses.
We were curious how Net Tango approached this problem and wanted to see what lessons others could take from the experience. Recently, we were able to talk with Susan Weiss, Net Tango’s co-founder and CEO about the project and the importance and challenges of dieseling a functional and accessible website.
In your work over the years, how have you seen government websites evolve and what are the challenges in meeting those needs?
Weiss: Many early enterprise websites, including those for government, were huge repositories of information and documents with structure based largely on internal organization and hierarchies. Users often did not have the means to understand and successfully navigate these daunting and complex websites. More modern websites are organized and built around user needs. This requires extensive research and preparation to help understand what users want, to pair that with what government offers, and to build interfaces that make those interactions seamless and intuitive.
How did you start the process of creating the new website?
Weiss: They told us they wanted a very user-friendly website. I really give them a lot of credit for taking a step back instead of just jumping in to ‘Let’s build a new website.’ They did a whole upfront user engagement initiative, that took about six months. We interviewed about 64 different internal departments. We interviewed community leaders and citizens. That process allotted us a lot of really good information that we then compiled into a report and made recommendations.
What kind of UI testing did you do?
The Nashville.gov project included extensive internal UI testing and research, as well as public outreach to gather feedback. Areas of focus included:
- Focus groups and interactive needs assessment
- Public alpha site review, comments and survey
- Browser and device compatibility testing
- Extensive accessibility, usability and compliance testing
- Performance optimization
- Feedback tool built into every page of the site
- Functional tests of site tools and features
- Role-driven testing scenarios for different types of users (citizens, website editors, administrators, etc.)
What kind of recommendations did you make?
Weiss: Most organizations think about themselves, how they’re organized, from the inside. The permitting office would be under this department or licensing would be under another department, Well, citizens don’t know that information. So how do you organize the content for outside users who don’t think of your organization as you do internally?
One of the things that came out of the research is that most citizens come to the website to find services. If you look at their website, everything is services based. How do I find where I register to vote? How do I get a pothole fixed? What day is my trash pickup? All these different types of city services are now front and center.
What other takeaways were there?
Weiss: That you have to make your website accessible to people who speak other languages or have different ways of looking things up. The city of Nashville has the largest Kurdish population in the U.S. The Kurds don’t call a driver’s license a ‘license.’ We had to figure out how to make the site search as inclusive and predictive as possible.
The search capabilities on Nashville.gov are state of the art. They use artificial intelligence to do predictive searching. It also uses advanced filtering and very targeted searches. We felt like it was very important to have fabulous searching capabilities because it’s a colossal amount of information in a metro site that people are navigating. We worked with SearchStax to embed the advance search tech.
The amount of content accessible through the site must be incredible.
Weiss: Yes. It includes legislation you can historically search. Nashville.gov searches that third-party-created content for legislative documents. It can also crawl contents of other locations that are storing Metro Nashville documents.
Did COVID affect the need for websites to incorporate the kinds of changes you made with Nashville.org?
Weiss: Yes. If a government office is closed, as many were during COVID, you have to provide a better way for consumers to get the information they need. Technology is so much more integrated into the ways we behave.