A Census of State Portal and Agency Homepage Design in the United States

A Census of State Portal and Agency Homepage Design in the United States

Scott L. Jones (Indiana University Kokomo, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/jegr.2012040102
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This study reports on the results of a census of design trends of 300 state government portal and agency homepages within the United States. The results can be used by government web designers to aid web design decisions and improve usability, researchers wishing to compare the findings with other populations, and future researchers who wish to study changes in homepage design over time. The study has found a limited number of design elements were common in state portal and state agency homepages. In addition, it found that state portal and agency homepage design is lacking in terms of design principles (such as screen length), navigation principles (such as in use of search boxes, site indexes, and site maps), providing of communication options, and inclusion of multimedia and Web 2.0 technologies.
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E-government sites continue to grow in importance as the Internet continues to expand into more facets of life in the United States. State government sites provide many essential services to citizens, whether providing information on a variety of topics, licensing motor vehicles, or supplying needed tax forms. Within state government sites, the homepage is likely the most important page; as Nielsen and Loranger (2006) note, the homepage is frequently the most visited page on a website and is often first visited by users, so extra attention is needed when designing it. In addition, for users who avoid using site search engines, the links on the homepage often represent the site functions they are most likely to use.

Since the early days of the field of web usability, authors such as Nielsen (2000) and Nielsen and Tahir (2001) have argued webpages should be designed with common design practices in mind. Nielsen and Loranger (2006) argue that sites employing common design practices are often more usable, as users have less difficulty understanding design practices they are familiar with. Thus learning the frequency of various design practices is essential to web designers for creating more usable sites. In addition, Jones and Leonard (2011) have argued for a Google-like “Wisdom of crowds” approach to web design, in that common design practices are often superior because they reflect the aggregated knowledge and experience of a wide variety of web designers. Yet while the design of the homepage can be crucial in the usability success of a website, government website homepage design is largely unstudied, leaving knowledge of common practices unknown. Thus a census of government website homepage design practices would provide designers knowledge that can be used to improve their design.

This article responds to Jones and DeGrow’s (2011) call for such a census of government agency homepage design. This article is part of a genre of studies that perform a census of specific web design practices of specific populations. The literature review below will discuss more than 20 such studies. These studies do not prove hypotheses or use statistics to make inferences. Rather, they provide comprehensive data on web design practices for specific populations at specific times, providing data on design practices for designers and future research. This study contributes to this genre by performing a census of homepage design practices for state portal for the state agencies for education, labor, health, revenue, and motor vehicles for each of the 50 states within the United States. As the United State is one of the top countries in the world in terms of e-government (West, 2008b), comprehensive data concerning its web design thus depicts leading practices at the time.

The data from this census is essential to helping designers of many government and other websites create usable websites, as it presents a large volume of previously unknown data concerning design practices for these populations during this period. In addition, it serves as a valuable snapshot of design practices that can be used in a variety of future studies. After discussing the literature of homepage design and government website design, it presents its methodology, reports the results of its census, and discusses the implications for designers of government websites.

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