I’m taking Interactive Design Fundamentals as part of getting my Graphic Design Certificate at UC Berkeley’s Extension School (UCBX). To supplement my homework, I’ll be blogging regularly about what I’m learning in the class. Since I have been remiss at posting to my blog, I didn’t want to create a whole new blog for this purpose.
In the second class (I missed the first), we compared two websites with similar purposes: USA.gov and Canada’s government services site.
At first glance, the US site looks slicker and simpler - more web 2.0 friendly. But at second glance, we realized there was more to it than just that. The sites conveyed different personalities, and frankly the Canadian site won me over in the end, if I were comparing the two.
On the surface the US site seemed more open and friendly - it’s white layout with social media buttons prominent at the top of the site, and an easy to find phone number. While Canada’s site was based in black, with social media buttons hidden as text links in the footer and no phone number to be found. But this initial message was actually flipped when we dug deeper.
The Canadian site was much more user friendly. All of the services were accessible in a variety of ways. If you know what you needed you could find the service in an A to Z index, but you could also find services relevant to you based on who you are (such as a veteran, senior or Aboriginal person) as well as based on what you’re trying to do (buy a home, get a divorce). And you could also find services from a popular items list and from topic based lists. The US site only displayed services in the A to Z format with a call-out of popular services and a handful of timely ones that they chose to highlight in a carousel. If I were trying to actually get help and wasn’t clear how the government could help me, the Canadian site would be much more successful.
Also, from a design standpoint, the Canadian site lives up to what I expect from a government website. Lots of text, official looking. And pictures of people I can relate to (this goes beyond what I expect from government). The US site looks so generic I might think it was a fake. The imagery is stock photo-tastic and the logo is covered in snow, a nod to the seasons which came across as a tiny bit unprofessional, google-style.
In any case, it was interesting to realize how many assumptions and learnings we derive from a website alone. Messages you may or may not be trying to convey are coming through loud and clear in your web design choices.