The problem with typical .gov websites is that they’re “just very ad-hoc.” So says Hillary Hartley, deputy executive director of design team 18F. “Each agency has its own style guide, its own logo,” she says. There’s no consistency. Government websites have long suffered from a lack of standards. “As a result,” writes Molly Ruskin from the United States Digital Service, designers “spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel and recreating common patterns such as buttons, forms, and search bars over and over again.”
18F, a sort of design consultancy based within the General Services Administration (GSA), and the U.S. Digital Service have created a set of tools that might fix that. The U.S. Web Design Standards is a “plug-and-play” set of downloadable code that could help government agency websites look more related, not to mention more official. That, of course, is predicated on those agencies using the brand new tools. 18F and their team can’t exactly impose a law mandating that site developers use them; instead, they’ll be encouraging adoption through marketing and word of mouth, with their own site serving as a living example.
A collection of all the different, widely varied, “submit” buttons the design team found during research. 18F and United States Digital ServiceA few years ago, the U.S. Web Design Standards was a germ of an idea, shared by a few design fellows working within the GSA. “It was always this pie-in-the-sky goal we wanted to get to, to have a common look and feel so no matter what page you landed on you knew were part of the ecosystem of a state website,” Hartley says. Their aspirations were simple: they thought that across different agency sites, simple tools like “Submit” buttons, or navigation bars, should look consistent. If that strikes you as an obvious idea, it’s because it is. But bureaucratic changes happen slowly, even when it comes to web design. “I think a lot of it has to do with inertia,” Hartley says. “There are just an inordinate number of government websites under maintenance.”U.S. Web Design Standards could streamline all that fragmented design and development. Instead of agency development teams sweating the look and feel of every site, they would just download the design files and the code provided by 18F and the U.S. Digital Services team. There’s nothing radical about the visual style laid out by the Web Design Standards: the typography and color palette guide calls for Source Sans Pro and Merriweather fonts, the primary color palette is a gradation of blues and grays, and the secondary palette includes a series of reds. It’s distinctly American, but clear and muted enough to make the serviceable information pop. Layout tools include elements like a 12-column grid structure, buttons for different use cases, and form controls and templates. From a functional and aesthetic standpoint, everything shares a certain grade-school simplicity.And simplicity is crucial, especially given the way we navigate the web. Users don’t go straight to city or state homepages; they Google for services and information. “When they land deep within a site, if it doesn’t have common themes and common systems, then people get confused,” Hartley says. “And when you’re talking about a government website, it’s really important to instill trust that it’s secure.”Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.