By Jim Clanin
As an Atlanta web designer, DoubleDome Digital Marketing appreciates the importance of designing user-friendly modern websites. We monitor important developments in this field. The U.S. government infused fresh impetus into the goal of creating easily accessed websites for the public recently. In late 2018, Congress passed 44 USC 3501, the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (also known as “21st Century IDEA”).
This legislation required federal agencies to review and modernize their public websites, online forms, digital services, and apps during 2019. It establishes specific web design guidelines for federal agencies. The legislation may offer helpful directions for any web design agency consultants creating public websites for federal agencies or programs.
Promoting Eight Key Web Design Principles
The new web design standards by law instruct federal agencies to evaluate their public websites in accordance with eight criteria. These principles relate to accessibility, consistency, streamlining, search capabilities, security, user needs, transaction efficiency and accuracy, and functionality. They offer guidance, while also supplying flexibility for the provision of variable content.
Pursuant to the new legislation, federal websites must provide access to people with disabilities. The standards specifically refer to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Congress amended Section 508 of this landmark statute in 1998 to ensure people with disabilities obtain access to federal agency electronic and information technology. An independent federal agency called the United States Access Board serves as a clearinghouse for federal agencies in implementing disability-related access rules. The Access Board issued final rules for implementing telecommunications equipment access for the disabled in 2018 (prior to the passage of the 21st Century IDEA legislation).
The federal guidelines establish simple standards for the consistency of public website design. They specify only that federal sites must reflect “a consistent appearance”. Design teams can gain an appreciation for this issue by studying examples of three approved redesigned sites: usda.gov, CIO.gov, and AmberAlert.gov. All utilize a comprehensive U.S. Web Design System provided by the General Services Administration to supply a uniform design platform for federal agencies.
The 21st Century IDEA legislation imposes a requirement upon federal agencies to periodically review their websites. Managers need to ensure they consolidate their sites. The standards specifically prohibit the duplication or “overlapping” of content with legacy sites. Additionally, managers must eliminate sites no longer available for public use.
The statute offers general guidance concerning online searches on U.S. government websites. Legislators required federal agencies to enable visitors to search easily for content intended for the public. However, the standards don’t supply information about particular search algorithms, apart from the user-friendly criterion.
One of the eight key design guidelines refers directly to website security. It specifies federal agencies must ensure they provide their public sites “through an industry standard secure connection.” Presumably, this requirement seeks to help protect visitors against phishing and other online scams.
The statute also requires agencies to design websites, digital services, online forms and apps with user needs clearly in mind. It specifies federal agencies should perform continuous testing to accomplish this public service goal.
Transaction Efficiency And Accuracy
The legislation indicates digital customization options must enable the completion of online transactions efficiently and accurately. The websites designed for federal agencies need to facilitate this important requirement.
Finally, Congress instructs federal agencies to make their sites completely functional on mobile devices. This provision assists people using small screens in accessing public information. Apparently, current U.S. government public websites should display well on both PCs and smartphones!