If you log on to any of the state’s myriad department, agency and board web sites you’ll find little consistency in how to access services. Some sites’ links are nearly invisible. Others’ search features don’t search at all. Still, other web sites are so overloaded with information you have to jump around to find what you’re looking for.
At least most government websites, though, provide some sort “Welcome to California” banner at the top of their page to let you know you haven’t stumbled onto someone’s blog; but even this marker is inconsistent.
By next November it could be a different story. All agencies, boards and departments under the state executive branch will be required to apply a single design standard to their websites. By one estimate, some 170 boards, commissions, departments, and agencies need to convert to the new Web design.
The standard was developed in the past two years in consultation with business leaders, citizens and the departments themselves to ensure a uniform look for state websites that conforms to the best practices of the online community.
So far, 10 departments have converted to the new look, and 18 more have signed up as “early adopters,” said Andrew Armani, director of the eServices Office.
The agency was created last August to manage the state’s official website, or portal, and help other agencies transition to what’s required. The portal –which now showcases the new look–is found online at ca.gov. Its search engine is powered by Google’s technology.
Basically the idea behind the standards is consistency and ease of use, said Armani. “You don’t want people to wonder if where they are going is a government place,” Armani said.
The Department of Personnel Administration is hoping to convert to their new website by the end of the month, said Communications Director Lynelle Jolley. “We planned to do it by now … but our challenge is manpower,” Jolley said, alluding to the many “static” pages that need updating. Still, Jolley said that eServices staff has been helpful and their standards are more flexible than those from years past. Having to revamp their website led DPA to consider new “user-friendly” ways to package existing material for the web, Jolley said, instead of posting, say pdf files. “We want our two main user groups, human resource officers and state employees, to … be able to select their services from menu choices,” Jolley said.
The two most important changes that went into the new template are a standard color scheme and a tabs feature to organize swaths of information into smaller relevant groups. Armani said both were inspired by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s orange-tabbed state of the art website. “The research says (tabs and web friendly colors) are the most user friendly way to do it, and what the public favor,” Armani said.
Schwarzenegger’s spokesman Aaron McLear said that the overarching theme of the governor’s website is access it provides to the public. The website site can be read in English and Spanish. It also often features webcasts of the governor’s speeches, video messages from administration officials, and “webinars” where citizens can e-mail questions live to a panel of experts whose discussion streams live from the guv’s site. “This is a good government tool that we can give people,” McLear said.
The governor’s website, gov.ca.gov, while more technically advanced than the state’s portal, however, still doesn’t conform to exact standards that are required for all executive agencies.
Government website sites must include at the top of their page a new cursive California logo that links back to the state portal. Also, elsewhere on the site they are required to post medium sized banner links to the CHP’s Amber Alert program, and the Flex Your Power website. Armani said this was a requirement from the days of Governor Grey Davis and Schwarzenegger’s office wanted to continue the practice. Still prior to last Friday, such banners were missing from the Governor’s own website.
Last week, when asked by Capitol Weekly if the Governor planned to include links to Amber Alert, Flex Your Power, and the state’s new portal, within the day they appeared on the footer of his gov.ca.gov – though not in banner form. “The website is a work in progress,” said McLear. “We do update content to be more accessible to the public.”