Why Government Website UX Matters?

Summary: Multiple case studies (provided below) demonstrate that better User Experience leads to better digital transaction completion rates. Great UX help constituents complete what they need fast and at their convenience.

Illustration of brands included in UX case studies

User experience as a concept has been around since the 1990s, but only in the last decade has it entered mainstream conversations and crossed from the technology sector into the business world. The private sector pays attention to user experience because it directly affects customer and brand experience, which ultimately impacts consumer spending.

Government websites can benefit from optimized user experience as well. As we shared before in our guide on government website performance best practices, by approaching the digital transformation project with the business mindset, the award-winning GOV.UK website saved £61.5 million ($85.9 million) in 2015. The UK government focused on streamlining digital transactions in order to help users accomplish as many digital transactions as possible online, instead of visiting offices and filling out paper forms.

Replacing paper forms with web forms is the first step in digital transformation. The next step is providing access to content and services on a range of devices, form factors, and assistive technologies. But in order to improve digital service adoption in a country, state, county, or city, government websites must provide quick access to the information the user needs, open up the content to all levels of literacy, education and expertise, and make it easy to use, accomplish tasks, bookmark and share.

A few examples of digital services that benefit from improved user experience include:

  1. Power outage or wildfire reporting.
  2. Discount or equity program application.
  3. Application for school or college.
  4. Public transportation ticket purchase.
  5. Climate change incentive registration and renewal.

Continue reading below to learn how to convince your organization with examples of UX successes and failures.

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How to convince your organization to improve your website UX?

Here are a few examples of why user experience matters and how a good user interface, as well as concise, clear, and well-organized content, help audiences to complete tasks:

  1. User experience is a matter of survival for your business and can be the reason your competition puts you out of business. Large companies such as Amazon, Intuit, and Airbnb have invested heavily into UX and credit their success to improved UX. Research from Forrester (paid report) shows that, on average, every dollar invested in UX brings 100 in return, which is an ROI of 9,900%.
  2. In 2009, UIE redesigned a major retailer site, renaming the “register” button to “continue,” explaining that the registration was optional when completing the checkout process. Sales went up 45% / $15 million in the first month and $300 million in the first year.
  3. In February 2021, Citibank got a $500 million lesson on the importance of UI design. Ambiguous user interface caused a transaction error, and instead of sending $7.8M in interest to creditors, they sent $900M of the principal.
Internal hands-on meeting with optimistic participants
  1. In 2011, Netflix spurred outrage and 800,000 account cancellations when it unexpectedly announced it was increasing the subscription price by 60% without additional benefits, and days later stated that it was spinning off its DVD rental services into another business, Qwikster. Mark Hurst, the author of the book Customers Included, writes: “Customers’ emotional attachment came directly from the convenience and ease-of-use of the service. Netflix’s brand was (and still is) fully defined by the experience it creates for customers. Hastings’ mistake may be summed up in a simple rule of thumb: Harm the customer experience and you harm the company.” (At that time, the stock price fell from $298 to $54 within a year.)
  2. “In a recent project, an airline approached IBM to improve its kiosks to speed up passenger gate check-ins. While the engineers started by improving the kiosk’s software, designers went straight to gate agents to ask why the check-in kiosks weren’t used more effectively. Designers found out that female gate agents struggled to keep kiosks charged because their constricting uniforms prevented them from reaching electrical plugs behind the machines. By finding the root of the problem, IBM delivered a mobile app that significantly eased the boarding process and reduced airline costs.”Anne Quito
  3. To write content that everyone can understand, use plain language. A 2003 Department of Education literacy assessment conducted with 26,000 adults (PDF) showed that 21–23% of adults—40 to 44 million people—in the US demonstrated literacy skills in the lowest level of prose, document, and quantitative proficiencies. “Many of the individuals in this level were born in other countries; had not attended school beyond the eighth grade; were elderly; or had a disability, illness, or impairment.”
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  1. “If the customer can’t find the product, the customer can’t buy it”. Usability studies conducted by Jakob Nielsen show that poor information architecture and content design have a negative impact on users being able to complete tasks on websites. It can also leave users frustrated with the website, causing them to leave, and can even cost you money.
  2. Extensive research by Baymard Institute showed that over-categorization can lead to website abandonment. With over-categorization, users are siloed into overly narrow category scopes where they can overlook the bulk of a site’s options. Certain other website navigation approaches such as overly elaborate navigation menus challenge users’ motor skills, unfamiliar labels increase ambiguity, and duplicate links (for example in the navigation and on the page) increase the number of choices and move the user from the cognitive ease of shopping or browsing, into the cognitively strained mode of thinking.
  3. Larking and Picard demonstrated that people perform better in cognitive tests — such as the Candle problem — after being exposed to a more appealing design. For example, the participants who received good typography afterward performed better on Isen’s cognitive tasks as well as on subjective duration assessment (PDF).
  4. Microsoft’s Research on subjective duration assessment demonstrated that people perceive successful task completion as faster, and unsuccessful tasks as slower. We know from research on website performance that webpage performance and the perception of speed are critical factors that improve conversions.
  5. Hitachi Design Center research found a stronger correlation between the participants’ ratings of aesthetic appeal and perceived ease of use than the correlation between their ratings of aesthetic appeal and actual ease of use. This is called the aesthetic-usability effect. With an aesthetically pleasing design, users are more likely to tolerate usability issues, which can lead to unsolved usability problems.

It is clear that government websites’ improved user experiences can empower constituents to more efficiently utilize government digital services, reduce operational and customer support costs, and increase the likelihood of users completing the goals around which the sites are built. Also, for millions of Californians, in addition to the fast loading pages, simple and easy-to-use websites mean more equitable access to digital services.

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