Website design may not feel like the most critical communication element facing local governments in a year in which the world is slowly transitioning out of a global pandemic. However, in reality, when the COVID-19 crisis shut local governments’ doors and left every citizen more reliant on digital communications than ever before, 2020 gave local governments an unexpected crash course in modern website design and citizen service interaction best practices.
In true local government difference-maker form, content managers and communicators in the public sector have risen to the challenge of evolving their digital presence while continuing to keep ongoing vaccine and community recovery communications at the forefront of their strategic priorities. Communities across the country are taking what they learned from 2020 to improve their digital presence and create better digital citizen experiences.
In working with over 3,500 local government communities to build and host engaging and informative websites, what follows are the seven most impactful and responsive trends we’re implementing in partnership with our local government trend-setters.
1. Prominent Search
Citizens in 2020 did not have time to search detailed mega-menus or go deep into department page content to find critical information during the pandemic, such as Where can I get my child a COVID-19 test today? Prominent and accurate site search has been a crucial trend in government website design for years, but user data proved a shift in citizen website engagement, indicating just how vital site search has become.
In response to this trend, we’re helping communities place prominent search fields on their homepage, often paired with a “How Can I?” menu item that provides the most commonly searched for services in our communities, such as “How can I pay my taxes or sign up for emergency alerts?” We’re also helping to expedite getting citizens the information they need from their local government using our automated Chatbot, which leads us to number two below.
2. Creating Human-Like Customer Service Interactions Using Chatbots
When communities across the country were forced to lay off and furlough municipal employees and require the rest to work from home, they faced uniquely challenging citizen service and responsiveness challenges, particularly at a time when citizen inquiries and requests of their local government escalated. In response to their need to close the gap between citizens and common questions and further create a more intuitive website search experience for citizens, local governments implemented AI-driven chatbots.
The most progressive chatbot technology simulates human customer service interactions and learns from each citizen interaction, continually refining its database of possible search results. During the pandemic, Portland, Maine, began using the CivicPlus® Chatbot, and it successfully answered over 2,500 citizen inquiries per month. Read the full story.
3. Multimedia Experiences
With advances in high-speed internet, high-definition video, and mobile devices capable of displaying visually rich imagery, citizens can’t help but be impressed and engaged by websites that load with dynamic multimedia experiences. Pulling from design trends in the private sector that often use eye-catching videos and animations on homepages, municipal websites are more frequently leveraging video to give citizens, travelers, and potential residents a sense of home and belonging the second their municipal website loads on a desktop or mobile device.
One of the most successful uses of video we’re seeing in local government website design in 2021 is the use of gorgeous, high-definition videos that embody the spirit of the community as the hero image on the website’s homepage. Trends we’re loving include drone-obtained flyover footage of the community’s most recognizable landmarks and video compilations of citizens participating in the most popular local events and activities, like the summer community fair, hiking local trails, or buying ice cream from the shop that’s been in town for 60 years.
4. Custom Forms Built Using Low-Code Technology
Another local government website design trend that has emerged in direct response to the need to serve citizens online after COVID-19 is the growing use of mobile responsive forms to replace paper applications, phone calls, and walk-in experiences. When citizens suddenly could no longer walk into town hall to obtain a marriage certificate, pay for a summer park pass, or report an issue with graffiti on a vacant building, local government leaders had to pivot quickly to continue ensuring transparent and responsive service. Online forms were the obvious technical strategy to replace paper forms and in-person interactions. However, the challenge became how to rapidly implement online forms that created a consistent experience across departments and that triggered backend administrative workflows to ensure requests were received and responded to quickly and transparently.
Again, pulling from private sector successes, local governments turned to low-code technology to give non-technical process managers and website administrators the ability to create custom forms, automations, and workflows with no expensive custom programming. Learn more about low-code technology here.
5. Comfortable Colors
In 2017, we shared that bold, beautiful colors were a hot trend in local government website design. Today, things have mellowed out, and website designers and content creators are striving to create comfortable and comforting aesthetics. Muted color pallets with neutral, natural tones are taking over digital spaces. Pretty peaches are replacing bold fuchsias, and cobalt blues are stepping aside for cloudy, lakeside slates. Not only do these color pallets create a sense of calm in turbulent times, but they are helping to alleviate eye strain given the increasing amount of hours Americans are now spending online, which the Wall Street Journal estimates is up for the Average adult from 12:24 hours pre-pandemic to 16:06.
6. Accessibility and Availability
No one would define digital accessibility as a trend, but the shift in prioritizing the online information access experience means that local governments are paying the keenest attention yet ensuring the highest achievable level of WCAG 2.0 A and AA compliance. For this reason, expert public sector website designers are starting every scoping discussion and initial design phase from an accessibility-first perspective, ensuring that all features from navigation to form interactions to dynamic content are accessible and WCAG 2.0 compliant. To determine if your current website is ADA compliant, review this checklist.
7. People-First Design
Possibly the most impactful trend in local government website design is a shift to people-first design. For years, the public sector took its website design cues from the private sector. As a result, municipal websites were packed with department-centric, administratively organized, and elected official-centric messaging and visuals. Today, local governments realize that citizen experiences are at the core of their services and that the best websites keep the citizen and their needs at the center of the digital experience.
All the trends we mentioned roll up to impact what it means for websites to reflect people-first design. Websites designed for citizens to obtain the information and services they need from their local leaders are accessible, easily searchable, comfortable, and comforting to experience, and interactive.
If you’re ready to redesign your local government website, start your planning with a timeline, budget, exploration of your goals and objectives, and insights in choosing a website design partner you can trust. Download our commitment-free website redesign toolkit to get started.