Thoreau said our lives are frittered away by detail, and someone in Texas was listening.
Websites reflect an organization’s heart. The way people present themselves online reveals a lot about their character, and the message sent by Texas.gov’s newest iteration, which soft launched on Saturday, May 2, is that officials want site users to find the information they need quickly and easily. After six months of development, the NIC subsidiary’s newest state portal is keeping up with design trends and nudging along the erosion of state government’s Luddite image.
Good design is hard to explain because it’s like a new invention – it’s obvious once someone presents it to the world, but the genius therein is often shrouded by simplicity. There isn’t much to the new Texas.gov. It has a search bar, and there is one page that users can scroll down to find the most commonly accessed services, which are arranged in order of popularity based on analytics gathered from past iterations of the website.
“Ultimately that’s our job as public servants, to serve the constituents and to be accessible to them,” said Erin Hutchins, director of portal operations at Texas.gov. “When we have a stodgy, word-filled site that doesn’t resonate with them, that doesn’t speak their language, that doesn’t have tight visuals that represent where they’re from, it doesn’t resonate that way with them.”
The new website is built on WordPress, supported by an upgraded CMS on the backend, and is the culmination of everything the team has learned from past versions of the site, and the data collected and analyzed, said Andrew Goodrick, user-experience manager for Texas.gov.
“It’s much easier to find what you’re looking for than the old method of clicking through a hierarchy of pages,” Goodrick said. “In fact, we believe this may now be the first one-page state government portal.”
Analytics revealed that about half of Texas.gov users are searching for some kind of service, and with the most accessed services located on the front page, most users will have to do little more than use the search bar or scroll down a few inches to find what they need.
Analytics also revealed that more than 80 percent of Texas.gov visitors are accessing the website from within Texas, so the website’s presentation was tailored with Texans in mind.
“We’ve continued our plain language concept that we’ve always had,” Hutchins said. “We’ve Texan’d them up a little bit, you’ll notice, with things like ‘These are a big hit with y’all.’ You’ll find those throughout the site now.”
The imagery is also more closely aligned with the real Texas, not the Texas people see on TV and the movies, she said.
“We’ve kind of moved away from the broad landscape photos that you see on so many state portals and tried to concentrate more on some of the quirky architecture around the state that really makes us unique,” Goodrick said.
One prominently featured image shows the Cadillac Ranch, a modern art installation created in 1974 and found in Amarillo.
As of 2010, 29 percent of Texans speak Spanish, which is why designers took special care to make the site accessible in Spanish, too. The translations on the Spanish website were done by a person, not a computer program, just as they were with past versions, Goodrick added.
A social media chart allows users to browse and discover new content on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, or filter by agency or social media service.
Mobile users can also scroll through the website and find a lot of content before they need to click anything, Goodrick said, noting that they worked off the recognition that mobile users prefer scrolling to clicking because they don’t know how long the page will take to load after they click.
There’s not much else to say about Texas.gov, but maybe that’s a good thing. Like Google, the website is simple and it works, and that’s good design.