Recently causing a stir in the online government world has been the new Lancashire County Council homepage. Basically, it rejects the old school (or should that be ‘old skool’?) facets of council homepages, and replaces them with a few links, and a search box. Most of the screen real estate seems to be taken up by a large black and while advert for council services which changes every time you visit it.
It’s certainly split the gov Twitterphere into three - some like it, some hate it and some are not convinced. I’m firmly in the ‘not convinced’ camp. I’ve been thinking about making our homepage just a simple search for a while now, but I don’t think our organisation was ready at the point of the last redesign, so we went for a compromise, with a huge search box at the top of the page to try and encourage searching, as opposed to the traditional navigational route.
With Lancashire however, (which seems to be heavily influenced by Bing - Microsoft’s attempt at a Google killer) I don’t think the search is emphasised enough. Sure, it’s outlined in red, but it’s very tiny and towards the bottom of the page - I can’t see less experienced web users picking up on it. Also, the ‘quick links’ are hidden at the top right and need to be activated by a click.
I much prefer Westminster’s approach, you can’t avoid the search box, it’s bold, clear and in your face. It’s also more service driven, with links to maps, forms and payments, as well as links to the most popular services. Also, if you scroll down, you can still see more traditional things like council news and events (as well as the lovely Google map, which utilises the premier Google Maps API, to get around the Ordnance Survey licensing restrictions). It’s also very Google like, without ripping them off completely, which makes users (experienced and non-experienced) feel at home.
It’s great that trailblazing councils are doing this work though. Hopefully now we’ll see more and more councils following this line, so when we get to our next redesign, the powers that be will be much more comfortable with a simple homepage design.