I’m working on a brand new web site for an organisation that doesn’t sell anything, but needs to communicate clearly to a range of audiences, from government to members of the public.
As you’d expect, there’s a lot of healthily competing requirements from different organisational stakeholders – and, as all of my readers will know, websites designed by committee serve nobody’s interests, especially not the users’.
So I’ve written a Constitution for the new website – a (hopefully) simple explanation of principles that all can agree, and from which more detailed policies can be derived. It deliberately doesn’t try to get very detailed (as it’s for a broad cross-section of the business), but if a subsequent policy contradicts something here, it is unconstitutional and can’t be adopted.
I publish it for your interest – and would love to get any feedback on it from any budding Alexander Hamiltons out there.
Added 4 November 2006: A few people have emailed me and asked if they can adapt and use the Constitution for their own sites. The answer is yes (and thanks for having the courtesy to ask). It’d be great if you could post your amended versions on your sites and link back here (and add a comment here linking to your version) so there might develop a body of best practice.
Web Design Principles
- The user is sovereign. The site must be designed around user needs, not organisational structure or operational convenience.
- Wherever possible, users should be consulted in formal user-testing. (Those of us within the organisation rarely have the same needs or expectations, and are therefore rarely reliable proxies.)
- Aesthetic design is subservient to function. Aesthetic design is subjective. Where internal stakeholders cannot agree, user-testing should take place.
- In both design and content, simplicity beats complexity,increasing the range of devices that can be used to access the Site (including old machines and mobile browsers). Therefore, any proposed technological bells and whistles must have a demonstrable value to visitors.
- Wherever possible, the technologies needed to receive the website should not be tied to one vendor, and should be free of charge to the user. The code that runs the website must conform to the rules of the various languages used.
- Site must be credible and trustworthy. This means:
- Clear contact information.
- Information must be citable and bookmarkable.
- All content on the site must be:
- Accessible to people with disabilities. Where this clashes with aesthetics or organisational convenience, it trumps them.
- Written for the Web (written for scanning and reading on screen not page)
- Content current, with dates; old material must
not remainbe deleted, or archived in a manner that clearly identifies its status. Content must only be published in one place, so versions are trustworthy. (Technology allows user to choose format of delivery).
- Easily findable (through navigation, site search, and web search)
- Written for audience. (Eg, tone difference between press release vs. news, government visitors and general public).
- Clearly written, for quick comprehension by all, including those with English as a second language.
You might also like the Expert Author’s Markup Guide (PDF), which we wrote to help business users to structure their web content before submitting it to the web team (thereby encouraging a “web-friendly” style).
Two years after I wrote this, I left the SRA and wrote up how the re-design process went in Standards-based corporate web development.
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