The city of Miami has launched the first draft of a new website, one officials hope will be an aesthetic upgrade as well as an evolution of online municipal services it provides residents.
The city is currently seeking public feedback on an alpha version of this new site, which went live for perusal in January. The new design is hip, featuring a splash of graffiti from Miami’s fashionable Wynwood neighborhood as a background, plus a tropical color palette for major page elements — creating a look that is quintessential Miami. It’s also a stark contrast from the current site, a utilitarian affair packed with browns, blues, text, disparate visual elements and cluttered tangles of links.
These differences might seem surface level at first, but Miami Chief Innovation Officer Mike Sarasti says the redesign process is creating a unique opportunity to assess how the city’s site can make local government more accessible and efficient, potentially saving time and energy for residents.
A comprehensive user study is underway, and Sarasti said one of the key takeaways is that plenty of folks end up inside government buildings because they can’t make sense of services on the current site. This common scenario is why user-readiness has come to the forefront of the redesign. Sarasti is meeting with departments throughout the local government to solicit feedback on how to best focus their services in the digital arena.
The idea, ultimately, is that city services that once involved several steps at city hall, as well as return visits for residents who came unprepared, will soon be performed entirely online, meaning residents will only come in person for essential functions.
“This is our 24-hour city hall,” Sarasti said of the site. “We’re paying attention to that, because if we don’t, it’s a waste.”
To maximize efficiency for both the government and the public, a governmental culture shift must take place. Sarasti is stressing this in internal presentations about the site. Often, Sarasti will incorporate an all red slide sporting only the words "USERS FIRST," and he’ll flash it, almost subliminally, at his audiences.
Other improvements are nice. Things like being mobile-oriented and responsive are great, but the content and the features must then be created with mobile in mind. Content creation and maintenance is an ongoing concern.
“Ultimately, we’re still going to have to write our own content,” Sarasti said. “We’re going to have to maintain this thing. The public can sense if the city is paying someone to maintain content.”
While the alpha has been up for a few weeks, the plan is to continue collecting feedback, learn which design touches are favorable and which don’t entirely gel with a city website. Then, a new design will be generated, one that provides all the content and functions of the previous site, as well as the improved design and user-first features that have been developed as a result of the alpha.