There has been a strong shift over the past five years in the design and layout of council websites to a more user-centric model. Many councils are taking note of a variety of factors that influence how residents use their websites. Accessibility for visually disabled people, mobile access and other considerations are important factors for councils who want to follow the ‘digital by default’ mandate and serve their website customers well.

We’ve been watching this trend with interest, and have compiled a few examples of great council websites.

Manchester City Council

Manchester City Council recently launched a fantastic new website, which targets the needs of residents first. Based on research carried out by the council, the new site replaces a four-year-old version that users considered outdated and difficult to navigate, especially on mobile devices.

The council’s research found that 80% of users used the site primarily to complete simple tasks, such as to request a new wheelie bin or pay a bill. Taking this on board, the new site was designed around resident services, not around the council’s structure, making it easy for people to do their business fast.

The new council homepage features nine large and clear ‘app’ like icons that link to the top services residents use, including taxes, bins, roads, education benefits and planning. A ‘can’t find it’ link under the icons reveals another fifteen services without taking residents away from the homepage.

Manchester City Council website

Manchester City Council website

A bonus of this resident-centric design is that the large icons, contrasting colours and large font make the website highly accessible, meeting government standards and, more importantly, resident needs.

Rochdale Council

Rochdale has taken a similar, if slightly less high-tech approach, by also incorporating the use of icons to help users navigate around their website:

Rochdale Council website

Rochdale Council website

The use of clear, simple visual cues helps the council’s site reach far more citizens, and is useful to visitors for whom English is not their first language.

Medway City Council

Medway relaunched their website in 2010, and in March of this year was awarded four out of four stars for usability and accessibility, among other things, by Socitm. The site’s clear layout and the council’s strong, consistent use of social media also went some way towards their site being billed one of the best in the UK.

Medway Council website

Medway Council website

While it seems logical that council websites should exist first to serve their communities, many organisations still struggle to get past the ‘ego’ factor, designing sites around their organisational structure instead of their service provision.

Socitm, the association of public sector IT managers, carry out a great deal of research around council websites, and produce the annual Better Connected benchmarking report, which is a survey of over 400 UK councils. The purpose of the report is to identify best practice in digital service delivery by councils. Socitm’s research found that councils are losing up to £11m a month due to poor website design. This cost is incurred because people are forced to communicate with these councils by phone or in person, which is far more expensive than having services automated by a well-designed website.

Another aspect covered by Socitm’s research is mobile accessibility. More and more websites are taking this into account when redesigning their site. For example, the Manchester City Council website has been designed to overcome mobile issues, understanding that many residents use mobile devices to access the internet. Using responsive technology, the website recognises the type of device customers are using and reformats the layout and content accordingly.

We look forward to seeing more clean and modern site design over the coming years, as it links with our passion for empowering citizens to work better with their local councils. The easier it is for a person to engage with their local authority, the more likely it is for that person to take part in a consultation or other engagement activity.