The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a beta version of Vets.gov, and it’s the future of federal government digital development.
Gone are the carousels, clunky blocks of information and seemingly self-serving updates on what the agency secretary is doing.
Instead, the user interface is focused on its core customer needs. There are limited graphics and calls to action, and the homepage especially shows discipline and confidence in its restraint, focusing on two user stories and popular, behavior-driven “Quick Links.”
This says it all:
“This site is a work in progress. We’re designing in the open.”
18F initiated HTTPS by default late last year, and this is important because it offers visitors the guarantee of a secure and private connection.
This is a bold and welcome move. No navigation menu and a focus on search and strong footer links shows confidence in design that emphasizes page-specific information with simple options to locate more or start from the beginning.
Digital Analytics Program
The General Services Adminstration’s Digital Analytics Program is an important effort to provide visibility into federal web traffic, and Vets.gov is participating in the program, as should every federal agency.
In the bottom right corner, there’s a feedback mechanism that allows users to give input on various aspects of the website.
“When you post an idea to our feedback forum, others will be able to subscribe to it and make comments,” says the site.
Having an open forum such as this allows users to see what’s been submitted and provides more transparency into the feedback. Most sites use a contact form which leaves the user wondering when and if it will ever be addressed.
The Vets.gov playbook provides all aspects of the team — editorial, design, development — with guidance to build a unified website based on core principles and processes.
The website has its own GitHub repo where you can download, fork, issue a pull request or add feedback. From the playbook, it appears it’s using Foundation and U.S. Web Design Standards for front-end development, both of which are open source.
Hidden in the comments of the source code is the Abraham Lincoln quote, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” While this is mostly interesting to me and anyone else who might be looking at the code, it’s an important, constant reminder to everyone working on this project why and who they’re building it for.
Congratulations to the team working on this. While the GitHub contributor list (go Danny Chapman!) is short, I’m sure there are many others behind it, and they should be proud they’re taking a bold step and setting the standard for how federal websites should be built.