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09.04.2010: Best and Worst of CLF 2.0 Public Web Design
My last blog article had some harsh words directed at those responsible for creating the new website of the Clerk of Privy Council. Public Service employees and people in the community rallied around the opinion that the public should leave the Government alone, irrespective of whether they produce quality or not (calling it 'experimentation'). I still absolutely disagree with that opinion. Everyone's work should be open to critical feedback, especially publicly funded projects. If you put something out there (be it a website, a social media profile, a poster, a photo, a sculpture, a painting etc.), you are opening yourself up for, among other things, criticism. You can choose to act on it, ignore it, or respond to it. But to say that it's ok to produce inferior material because those responsible are not interested in properly researching and creating their deliverables is a fallacy. Someone from within GoC told me offline that the Government can accept to be open, but cannot accept being wrong. When did GoC websites become exempt from being scrutinized?
Others have lamented I am in no position to question the quality of a website because design is subjective. I agree that design is subjective, and I would add that it is also personal. But regardless, we have had design contests since the beginning of time because quality and innovation are also obvious to the masses, and especially to those trained in creating or evaluating visual material. And because there is a huge number of GoC websites, those who have worked in visual communications, design or user experience for the government can pick and choose with relative ease the ones that stand out in quality as well as the ones who are not exactly up to par. So for today's post, I chose to agree to disagree with those who think we should tolerate mediocrity and create a Best and Worst list for GoC CLF-based public website designs.
Best and Worst lists are the bread and butter of many research bodies, including Forrester and Gartner. Bloggers all over the world publish Best and Worst lists every day. To choose these websites, I have reviewed the homepage of every site on the Departments and Agencies list available at www.gc.ca, and also looked at select microsites of some of those departmental homepages.
The Selection ProcessThe depth of this evaluation only covers the look and feel of the English homepage of each site from a visual perspective, and no functional analysis has been performed on the homepage or the inner pages.
*addendum: The first task was coming up with a list of things than I can evaluate quickly, by just looking at the sites (i listed them on Post-It notes and eventually removed all the functional ones because I felt I cannot provide much insight without visiting each tree element on the sitemap of each department/agency website). These are the 7 items I kept (I have added the description for the purpose of this comment, but at the time, what I was looking for somehow seemed fairly defined in my mind since I have done a lot of comparative research before starting UX projects before):
1. Modern design (subjective but still qualitative): is the design modern, does it inspire trust and confidence?
2. Originality (subject/objective): have the creators expanded on the CLF 2.0 paradigm or have they simply repurposed the code / template provided by TBS?
3. Consistency (subjective/objective): are the design elements and color pallette sensible and consistent?
4. Modern features (objective): ex: embedded video, content scrollers, dynamic content etc.
5. Social media use (objective): are there RSS feeds, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube?
6. Help/Accessibility features (objective): dynamic font sizes, printer friendly versions etc.
7. Clarity (very subjective without UT): can I tell what the site is for and identify which element I potentially want to navigate to fairly quickly?
Once I had the criteria (that took me about 15-20 mins to come up with), I created the reference and then proceeded using roughly the steps below:
1. I opened the CLF 2.0 template from the TBS website and used the TBS website as the middle reference (the middle point so to speak) on my imaginary CLF 2.0 scale.
2. I started opening each site on the Government and Departments list (link in the article) in alphabetical order and if it heavily deviated from the CLF 2.0 templates and the TBS website, I have kept the sites open in a separate tab.
3. I ended up with about 8-10 candidates for the Best list (what can I say, I am way too picky) and about 20 candidates for my Worst list (this was a lot harder to narrow down)
4. I evaluated the Best shortlisted sites amongst each other, and reconsidered my criteria from above.
This second part took me at least 5 hours, because trying to be objective while comparing things first to the CLF template / TBS website and then to each other takes a lot more thought.
The 5 Best CLF 2.0 DesignsThe sites below are easily the better designed sites that I've seen on the Federal Government internet landscape. Their visual design is well executed, it is consistent, it contains modern components, it is innovative, and at the same time it is clean and professional. These are the kind of websites I would hope to see every GoC department attempt to emulate.
The 5 Worst CLF 2.0 DesignsThe following sites have significant room for improvement. They all require better graphics design, more content and possibly a wider array of visual components. In the case of clerk.gc.ca, my previous blog post explains in detail why I believe that a site that was launched last week is clearly underperforming by today's standards.
Still Using CLF 1.0The following sites have never been upgraded to CLF 2.0. This is not a comprehensive list, I am aware of at least five more GoC homepages and a large number of older inner pages that have never made the jump to CLF 2.0. Who knows, maybe these guys will join the CLF 3.0 party.
What do you guys think? Are you aware of any other sites that deserve to be on the Best or Worst list on CLF 2.0 designs? Tags: GoC CLF, public sector, branding, standards, user interface
So you decided to avoid showing the best non-CLF public sector sites after all. Most of those sites are a lot better than anything you've pointed out in the post, but I guess they are not CLF compliant, so the title doesn't really apply to them. As far as additions, I would give an honorable mention to http://www.voyage.gc.ca/ind... :)
What i find funny is that the first of the CLF 1.0 designs (OSFI) is actually better than the CLF 2.0 design of the Clerk's website. As much as I don't like rankings, I'm glad that someone actually took the time to go through the sites and give some good and bad examples of what they should look like.
@steven The voyage.gc.ca site was up there as well, but I decided to go with the g8.gc.ca microsite because in has a cleaner layout and more whitespace so it feels less cluttered somehow. If there were honorable mentions, voyage.gc.ca would definitely get one...
I couldn't agree with you more in your analysis.
Maybe you should work on the QA of the links... or cut and paste skills... I agree with the choices.
Links to Site 3,4 of CLF 1.0 is ref. CLF 2.0 ...
also link 5. My friends did NSERC.
@DW thanks for the cut and paste catch... I must've rolled back too many changes while editing the post... Well, no one's perfect, but at least I'm making mistakes and fixing them on my own money :P
'Your friends' who did work at NSERC must be the evil personality (in a Fight Club kind of way) of your same friends who did the work at the Privy Council Office (btw did they do the site of Wayne Wouters?)... Cause that's just ironic.
I appreciate what you're saying, but I find it more than a touch arrogant for you to proselytize the way you do. I totally get that you are a UX expert. But it's just way too easy for someone outside the public service to criticize and hack away and make suggestions of their perceived "ideal" solution.
Think back to when you used to work on a team...did you ever have a project that was 100% the way you would have done it...without one compromise/cooperation with someone else? It's pretty much impossible. Now imagine you have a hierarchy of people who have to agree with what you're doing, many of whom absolutely don't understand it and are completely freaked out about public backlash/political backlash if someone doesn't go perfectly smoothly.
I suggest if you want to change the way the government does things, then it would be best for you to join the public service. If you think you can do things better, then do something about it.
@Gabby - there are always reasons why things are the way they are. As you point out, every design is compromise. But it's the designer's job to navigate those compromises and produce the best that they can.
If citizens have complaints about government websites then we should welcome it. That's the kind of feedback we need to get. To silence criticism is counterproductive, as is expecting only people within the PS to be able to make comments.
That said, I don't get a lot of value out of this post. I have a hard time seeing how it's useful to evaluate:
"...the look and feel of the English homepage of each site from a visual perspective, and no functional analysis has been performed on the homepage or the inner pages."
So basically this is just an analysis of the best and worst looking homepages? That's a very different thing from which are the best and worst designed. With no analysis of how well these sites are accomplishing their goals, then there's not much that's of actual use.
Maybe you just need to be more explicit in your rationale for each choice.
@Gabby @Patlaj: I actually agree with the main points you guys are making. Gabby, you are right, I have no idea about the kind of hoops you have to jump through to make something right (or mostly right because no design is perfect) internally within GoC. However, the issue of design quality is still on the table. Like you said, there was always compromise, my point is just that the wrong entity seems to win the compromises when it comes to look and feel, that's all. The issue is with positioning UX in the right space within GoC organizations. A huge part of UX work is negotiating with decision makers in your organization and selling your ideas and the designs based on those ideas (but that's my next blog post, so I'll talk about it more then). The underlying message here is that some people are settling for less than they should, or are not making a strong enough case against inadequate designs. As far as my tone being arrogant, this is my own blog and I write it in a manner that I believe engages people in a conversation. If the tone offends you, I am truly sorry, believe me, this doesn't even come close to how racy some other professional blogs are out there. I don't mean to offend anyone, but I do want to get something across and political correctness is not always the name of the game. A far as joining the government, I've applied for a job of NewMedia Manager (incidentally it's with Agriculture, @Patlaj's department), we'll see what happens... I would love to try to do some work on the UX front from within and leverage some of my public sector work in the US and the help of some of the #w2p folks who also play in this field...
@Patlaj: Agree with your point as well. There is not a lot of UX value in this post, but I did mention that this is simply a Best and Worst list from a design perspective, similar to what you see on a daily basis on many blogs. I haven't seen one for CLF 2 designs so I created my own, and did a few hours of research for it, I didn't simply make this up on the fly. A comparative usability evaluation of all those sites would probably take me 4-6 months to put together, and unfortunately I don't have that kind of time to dedicate to a blog post. This post is directed mostly towards the teams that make the bulk of UX design decisions, and is meant to give them an idea of what to strive for from a CLF 2.0 design perspective. It was never meant to be a scientific paper, it's an opinion of what looks appealing and what doesn't. Is it subjective, the answer is definitely 'Yes'. But if you disagree with the classification, I'm glad to listen and improve it. The feedback I get offline is that people are happy to be recognized for good work, while others are also happy because I am pointing out the fact that someone is cutting corners in their own organizations. Even people whose sites are not on either list have asked me for feedback on their own sites, and I was more than glad to give them my 2 cents. At the end of the day, while visual appearance is not the no 1 concern of UX, user confidence and emotional response to a design does play a pretty important part. This is the reason why I still think this post is relevant in its own way.
Thanks for taking the time to share your opinions with us. While I tend to agree with some of your choices and comments, with your experience and knowledge it almost seems irresponsible that you would not provide some of the criteria that you looked at during the 3 - 4 hours you spent searching for and analyzing government sites. I'm not suggesting you do a through analysis, though I don't doubt you have the capacity to do a great job at that. Maybe sharing some insights into what makes these ones the "best" would have been time well spent. It seems like with such little additional effort this post could have provided a lot more to the people who took the time to find out what you had to say about their work.
While your abrasive tone doesn't bother me that much, I agree with @Patlaj that it would have been a lot more helpful to us as practitioners to have heard a few reasons why these sites were best or worst, other than just ratio of whitespace, or your first impressions. We are storytellers, constantly looking for ways to present data in an interesting way, to help site owners create *effective* sites, and also to tell them why, so they could continue to improve on their own.
Design is an important part of the confidence and trust citizens have with government, as are the quality and competency of the service we can provide. However, as publically funded entities, we have to also be cost effective. While it would be nice to have all the bells and whistles, we must also be fiscally responsible. That's why we need feedback, not just from citizens, but professionals who have the ability to share some of their time and expertise with us. I for one am very interested in learning more about test methods, success factors, processes and resources.
Thanks for providing a window into your experience and ideas with us. The number of comments and views show that a lot of people appreciate the engagement, opportunity and provocative format. As a private citizen, you are able to say things in ways we're more likely to choose not to. I also commend you and welcome your input into how we can help improve, which I'm not sure I've heard enough of yet. We already know a lot of the issues with the sites, as many have said above, we have to make some tradeoffs. Any advice you have on how improvements can be made is welcome and I'll continue to read your next couple of posts to see if there are insights to be gleaned.
Maybe the fact that your inbox is filled with offers from nearby cities is a sign. Living in Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto are all pretty good, even if you have to commute a bit. Still sounds like pretty good quality of life to me. But that's just my opinion.
@Laura (cc @patlaj): I'm sorry that you guys feel like the validity of choices is compromised by the lack of process description, I simply followed the vast majority of design lists on blogs out there and they do not provide any kind of insight in the actual comparative process. Forrester and Gartner provide whitepapers with summaries of their comparative research, but as I said before, this is way too time consuming for the scope of my little blog. Rather than getting into a long discussion about why so and so is not on the list (which I'm guessing is going to ensue), I felt compelled to simply give some credit where it's due because some departments have worked within the realm of CLF 2.0 significantly better than others.
But since you guys want to get an idea how I went about it, I have added a step by step addendum to the process in the body of the blog post. Do I believe that adding this information lends more credibility to my post? I really don't think so, since full itemized comparative matrices of every single government website rated against each other are still not present... It is simply my personal, subjective opinion on what stands out as good design and poor design in GoC.
Let's also not forget that yourself and @patlaj are UX professionals and it's ingrained in our discipline to justify everything with data. In my mind, the intended audience of this post is broader than the community of UX practitioners in the PS, as I would hope that communications teams, IT folks and so on read it and judge for themselves if there is merit to my Good Design vs Bad Design discussion. But I like you guys so I've added the criteria within. Also, so far, other than international.gc.ca (which was on my shortlist for Best design but like I said I dropped it for one if its microsites, g8.gc.ca) no one really submitted any site worthy of being in that top 5 and therefore all i can conclude is that there is merit to the post.
As far as doing what is best with limited resources, again, I have to stick with my original idea that if people care about their work and have any kind of ownership of their creative output, they will go back and fix some of the things that have been less than ideal the first time around. Some of the sites out there have been around for years. Some have evolved significantly, while the majority stayed stagnant as their website fell behind the times. If you think of refuting this by saying that there is no time/money to fix them, as much as I don't like generalizing, it's the Public Service, most people can always can find some kind of downtime to slowly chip away at unfinished business since they are not working in a consulting environment and are not continuously jumping from project to project.
That's very interesting and does lead me to follow a few other threads. I think this will help inform and shape upcoming discussions. I didn't mean to diminish your opinion - quite the opposite. Appreciate all the effort and time spent. Thanks! :)
Here's something you might find interesting: http://www.outsidethinkers....
That is definitely an interesting idea, outsourcing/crowdsourcing the concept that defines Canada's image... On the other hand, I am typically skeptical regarding the motivation of marketers :O) I'll keep an eye on it for sure...
On a related note, the Connect2Canada.com website, which was not listed on the Departments and Agencies list on the gc.ca website, would have also been included in the Best sites conversation, as it scores high in all of my selection criteria. Thank you, anonymous tipster...
useless list as all of the sites that made your top 5 'pretty' list arent even close to being CLF. sure i can code something pretty too if i dont have to worry about actually being compliant.
@GoC webmaster: now if you bothered to actually read the judging criteria you would realize that what you consider 'pretty' is only part of what makes those sites successful from a UX point of view. If you're a GoC webmaster, why don't you disclose the site you're designing/maintaining and I will tell you why it didn't make it to my Best list (or is it actually on the Worst list and you're ashamed of it?). Or better yet, build your own blog post with a better 'GoC webmaster-approved Top 5 of CLF 2.0 sites' so I can see where you're coming from. Using words like 'useless' without actually providing anything other than a simple generalization based on no research whatsoever is not helping the cause (better UX for GoC sites) in any way. Yes, some sites are CLF 2.0 (ish) but innovation was one of the main criteria I've considered. Same with social media, consistency, clarity, and trust. Trust without professional design is simply not possible. If you justify building a butt-ugly site by saying that that the CLF 2.0 template is too restrictive, than you simply lack imagination. Start sketching on napkin before coding, go to a design conference, learn to think creatively, and then maybe you'll be able to post a comment that actually provides value to those who read the post.
I think this is a good exercise, and it needs to be done. It must suck for those who built the "worst" list sites, but what can you do but improve, as I am sure they will. The CLF 1 sites need to change... strange because they are going to be releasing CLF3 and they are still CLF 1...
Below are my very personal opinions (CLF2 not part of my opinions):
- Unfortunately, I can't agree with the Muskoka site choice. It looks a little off to me.
- The Canada School of public Service looks great, no question.
- The Canada Business site, look s ok, but just ok.
- I like the Service Canada site. Looks very clear, which is required for their clientele
- Natural science site looks funky and cool. Me like.
What do you all think of this site: http://www.btb.gc.ca?
Hi Alan. Well, the Muskoka site in my opinion is the one site out there has has the majority of modern web and social media features that I normally look for in a current site: RSS feeds, Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/Flicker accounts, a discussion forum, a mailing list, variable font, printable versions, sharing/bookmarking, video, etc. So from that point of view, it's ahead of the pack easily. From a design point of view it's above the average since it's not as busy as the typical GoC site, and I like the way it is visually organized. We can subjectively argue about the design itself, but in the end, when I weighed in the pluses and minuses, it made it up there.
I like the BTB site, i would put it definitely in the upper echelon of sites, but it lacks social media completely and from a visual organization is not very original in my opinion. I clicked through the site and it seems like it is one of the better sites out there from an IA perspective, but that was not included in the initial criteria because I didn't have the time to look at all the inner contents. But all in all, if B2B is your site, it looks good. You're just missing some more modern media concepts in there that are available on a lot of other GoC sites.
Cornelius, what are your thoughts on the new fluid layout CLF posted on TBS's Intellectual Resources website at http://tbs-sct.ircan.gc.ca ? I'm personally disappointed if this is the way CLF is evolving. Better from a technical point of view, equally bad from a UX point of view. And the question is, will you get involved?
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