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Clear thinking: give all your online visitors a great experience

Written by Philip Lowe, User Experience specialist, Texthelp

Are you overlooking basic principles of usability?

Who wouldn’t agree that your website visitors deserve a comfortable online journey?  ‘User experience’ – or UX – has been a web design buzzword for more than a decade. So it’s all the more surprising that in 2017, many organisations still seem to overlook basic principles of usability.

Legislation in Europe and the US makes accessibility a must-have for all public sector service providers. But despite the good intentions of our lawmakers, nobody has yet legislated against poor website design.

Whether you’re a local council or a utility provider, you’ll have a huge spread of online ‘customers’ to cater for. Many of your users won’t speak English as their native language. And as many as 10% will have some kind of visual disability or cognitive impairment that makes navigating the web a real challenge.

UX matters for every web site. None more so for local government and public-sector providers of essential services that can be a lifeline to whole communities.

As GOV.UK has already stated, “The style is about writing clearly, concisely and without jargon. Everyone can benefit from simplicity. Some people have previously seen this as ‘dumbing down’ but being open and accessible to everyone isn’t ‘dumb’ – it’s our responsibility.”

So what’s the secret of great UX?

It’s a subtle art, but one very short answer is simplicity. Don’t give people too many bewildering options. Funnel them gently to finding the information they need, rather than wading through dozens of irrelevant pages.

Keep writing clear, consistent and easy to understand. Why confuse car drivers with a button labelled ‘Penalty Charge Notices’ when most people understand ‘Parking Fines’ better?  And if you’re providing healthcare information for patients and hospital visitors, why use medical jargon like ‘Radiology’ when ‘X-ray’ is instantly understood? Don’t be scared of plain speaking: tools can help check that your website reads easily.

Design true usability into every web page to help people facing a range of literacy challenges. At Texthelp we use easy-to-read fonts in 12 point size or bigger for all our writing. What’s more, all our digital output aims to meet the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to at least AA compliance levels.

And by all means, embed accessibility features to help the widest possible range of users. Increasingly popular with local government, healthcare and other public-sector organisations, digital inclusion software makes web sites more accessible with text-to-speech, translation, page magnification and other handy tools.

So when it comes to website design, don’t just focus on the finishing line. It’s the journey getting there that’s equally important for your customers. Otherwise, there’s a real risk you’ll frustrate the very people you’re meant to be helping. And that’s something that no government can impose laws against.

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