Until this week, the New York State government hadn’t updated its website since 1999, thus fulfilling all the stereotypes about outdated and out-of-touch government services. The font was tiny, the design non-responsive, and the navigation a total nightmare. Someone looking to do a simple task might have to jump between multiple different government sites with different structures to collect all the information. It was exactly what people expect a government entity to be: inefficient.
Since a website acts as the face of a government–all sites related to New York state government attract 730 million page views per year–Governor Andrew Cuomo made it his priority in 2014 to create an online destination that better reflects his vision for a more efficient, more effective, and more modern government.
“The user shouldn’t be forced to go to many different sites and agencies to cater to their various needs,” Rachel Haot, chief digital officer for the state of New York, told Fast Company. “We should have a design that puts them at the center.”
The new website, which launched Wednesday, does just that.
The guiding design principle was utility. “This project wasn’t just simply about look and feel; it wasn’t about making pretty websites. It was really about creating a useful functional design system that would be efficient and would solve for a multitude of use cases,” said Mike Treff, a managing partner at Code and Theory, the creative agency that worked on the project.
The state government recognizes that most people visit its website to get information about government services and processes, like renewing a driver’s license or signing up for health insurance. Ergo, the very first tab at the top of the navigation bar leads to common services. A landing page for How to Start a Business, for example, puts as much related information about opening up shop in one place as possible. Haot calls it an easy-to-consume “Turbo Tax-type of layout.” There are similar pages for a variety of topics. Creating each one took a team of dozens several months to do. (Imagine the horrible task of aggregating government-speak from various websites across another website, and writing concise copy for the landing pages. Yikes.)
The website also tries to give people new reasons to visit NY.gov. Using location data, the homepage is personalized to a visitor’s current city, offering useful local resources. If a Manhattanite heads to the homepage, for example, the “Now In” section provides the trusty updated subway service ticker so many of us rely on for our daily commutes. In addition, when more people want to visit the site than usual, NY.gov will respond. In the event of an emergency, when government sites tend to get overloaded, NY.gov will use lightweight customized pages with quick load times. On tax day and other times of year when more people seek government assistance, the homepage will update to reflect those needs.
Inspired by Medium and Gov.uk, the pages are sleek and simple. “It was important to us that everything was very clear, very plainspoken, and very easy to navigate,” said Treff. “If you put yourself in the mind for someone who would go to a government website, way finding and clarity are extremely important in the experience.”
As for design, the website looks a lot like popular websites around the web, with big, full-bleed tiled images. The pictures reflect all aspects of New York State, from the rural to the urban. And, of course, the design is responsive and will look just as good on a cell phone as it does on desktop.”We wanted it to feel modern, we wanted to use color and give it a look and a feel and a tone that was more representative of an active dynamic engaged government, not the bureaucratic archetype,” Treff said.