October 4, 2012 By Brian Heaton
Reporting travel and safety incidents to Uncle Sam should be a little easier moving forward, thanks to a revamped U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) website.
Launched on Oct. 1, the site’s navigation was overhauled so that finding information should be more intuitive for users. Also added was a screenwide marquee that rotates news and images, which enables the department to better spotlight important issues and events.
Other changes include a more prominent placement of a “top requests” area that shows a list of website activities most often sought by visitors to dot.gov, and beefed-up sections for transportation-related jobs and vehicle safety ratings. The project took approximately 10 months to complete and was worked on by contractors and U.S. DOT employees.
Francisco Reinoso, DOT’s associate director for IT strategy and technology projects, said the department had been receiving feedback from site visitors that it was difficult to locate what they were looking for. So the DOT made an effort to stand in the shoes of the public and step away from organizing things in a government-centric manner.
The result is a centrally located navigation area that focuses on the resource needs of specific user groups. It complements a more traditional menu and search bar at the top of the page.
“In a perfect world, everybody would be one click away from the home page, but that’s obviously not possible — and kind of overwhelming to the users,” Reinoso said. “Our guiding principle was to make every click a step forward. Every click is progress for the users. So really it’s not about how close you are to the top, as long as it is an intuitive path for the user.”
The U.S. DOT’s work encompasses a number of different operating administrations, such as the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. On the old site, a user needed to find content based on those organizations. That’s no longer needed.
On the new U.S. DOT website, high-level landing pages pull content together to make it an easier search process. Reinoso said a click or two may have been added, but a clearer path to information has been created for users.
Making the change wasn’t easy, however. Reinoso recalled that the major challenge was getting buy-in from various people around the department about a more user-centric design. The design team overcame that by presenting usability testing and other evidence showing that even though some officials thought some users want information presented in a certain way, the old design was actually confusing visitors to the website.
The new site may be more user-friendly, but it’s far from complete. Some of the pages still maintain the old look and require more time to find information. Reinoso said “there’s a lot of room for improvement” and he explained the goal eventually is to have a user experience where people will not have to reorient themselves when they go to a page.
For example, at times, the site still requests that people print and mail forms that should be digitized. The site also isn’t optimized for mobile devices. All of those are on the drawing board and Reinoso revealed that a mobile version of dot.gov likely is the next project on the horizon.
“This is really just the first step in the iterative process,” Reinoso said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but this is a big step in [the right] direction.”
Side-by-side screen captures of the new U.S. DOT website (left) and the old version (right). Pictures courtesy of the U.S. DOT.
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