Whether you’re planning a trip into the city, enrolling your child in school or keeping clear of a bushfire, state government websites are a necessary gateway to vital services – but often, they can feel less like a gate and more like a wall.
InDaily asked three of Adelaide’s leading web design experts to give their verdicts on 10 SA government websites.
According to Atomix Creative Director and web usability expert Jamie Esterman, all of them were “below the industry’s standards.”
“None of the government websites listed are at a level which we would deliver for our clients now,” he said.
“The SA Police and Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) websites are particularly poor and are in need of updating, but the CFS and Arts SA websites are heading the right direction, with only minor faults.”
All government websites are currently involved in the National Transition Strategy to bring their accessibility and quality up to globally recognised standards.
Mediocrity characterised the majority, as did the lack of mobile-friendly website versions – including, remarkably, the State Emergency Service website.
Website designer Wayne Psaila said that while major steps had been taken to overhaul and update government websites “the majority still fail to meet good user experience standards”.
“Many still don’t grasp the key fundamentals of presenting an intuitive user interface and concise information design – usually leaving the user overwhelmed and confused,” he said.
“Red tape, design by committee, restricted budgets and over-zealous standards policy are major contributors to the problem.”
Sputnik Sputnik from design firm Out Of This World agreed that the poor quality of government websites can often be put down to the loss of creative integrity when internal forces within government each make contradictory demands on a website.
“These websites reek of that,” he said.
The Defence SA website won the highest praise from our experts for clever audience targeting and good usability.
“It’s aggressive but it’s professional,” said Psaila.
“When I look at this I think of a video game and I know that’s the market they’re aiming for, so I reckon they’ve nailed it.”
Sputnik said the blokey look and feel of the site fit the brief.
But according to Esterman, the site looks aged compared with other Australian military websites.
“The content is clean and easy to read, but the site is not responsive and does not view nicely on tablets or mobiles,” he said.
This website earned mixed reviews for its bold, modern interface.
“I love it,” said Psaila.
“I just think it’s nice, it’s got big, beautiful images, it’s modern-looking; the navigation is quite clear. Brilliant, seriously.”
This website won a 2013 Mobile Award for its mobile version.
But, according to Sputnik, “if this is the most compelling first impression about South Australia we can make, boy, are we in trouble”.
“I quite like the TV commercial this home page graphic is based on. But having said that … I’m not sure everyone who goes to the website will have seen that ad, and if not, why is there fruit flying through the air?”
Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources
With its website, the Environment Department has achieved what many other government websites fail to deliver.
It presents vast quantities of information in a clear and intuitive way.
“There is a lot of information here,” said Psaila, “but it’s really well structured; everything is clearly labelled or categorised.”
“This is a prime example of how to deal with a million links and a lot of content.”
According to Esterman, the website is reasonably well-designed, but is too large for many screens and is not responsive.
“It doesn’t work well on tablets, mobiles and even desktops or laptops with smaller screens.”
No-one can deny the boldness of Arts SA’s smack-you-around-the-head-with-colour-and-capitalised-text central website.
“I absolutely loved the colour palette on this one,” said Sputnik.
“I’m actually a bit confused by the layout of this one, with the main visual navigation straight down the middle of the page.”
Esterman noted that the website is responsive and, a rarity among this list, works on mobile and tablets.
“Apart from some poor usability elements, like the tabs on sub pages, the site is stylish and works well,” he said.
Country Fire Service
South Australia’s volunteer firefighter service punches above its weight with this clean, modern website.
According to Sputnik, it is “definitely one of the nicer looking websites and possibly the best of them all.”
“The site is responsive and collapses down to tablet and mobile,” he said.
“The interactive maps and warnings are great. Likewise, the mobile website is clean and has the information you want first.”
Despite its attractive look and accessibility features for people with vision impairment, this is a frustrating website for consumers.
The front page is overloaded with both primary and secondary information and its most useful feature, the Journey Planner, looks clunky and complicated.
While both the Journey Planner and overhead search bars can be searched easily for keywords like suburbs and roads, the ‘Timetables’ page search bar fails to respond to more than a limited range of keywords and route numbers.
“This home page is a bit of an assault on the senses, but in defence of Adelaide Metro, anyone visiting this site isn’t doing so for a dynamic visual experience,” said Sputnik.
“I’d quite like to see a ‘how to catch a bus’ article or video on there.”
According to Esterman, “the design seems a little old and the typography is not great”.
“The functionality of the timetable is good, but can be a little confusing and clunky.”
According to Psaila, the choice of colours for this website was wrong.
“I just don’t think it works,” he said.
“There’s an abundance of grey and white, which is, whilst easy to read, quite dull.”
He also questioned the use of light grey over white for the Health Direct phone number.
But Esterman was less critical.
“The site looks modern, clean and fresh,” he said.
“I like the carousel with the variety of different images and topics,” he said.
“I like the big, clear menu options across the top and I like the fact they’ve embedded a couple of videos on their home page. To me, this has a reasonable amount of user friendliness.
State Emergency Service
Despite a clean and clear-looking website, the State Emergency Service site has several faults.
Perhaps the most concerning of these is that it has no mobile-friendly version.
“This stuff could save someone’s life,” said Psaila.
“This one could definitely do with it.”
Apart from this, our experts noted that some of the information included on the site was superfluous and outdated.
“I am not sure they need to have the Heatwave Information Guide on the home page in late April,” said Sputnik.
SA Police (SAPOL)
SAPOL’s website is 10 years’ old and has a user interface that manages to be both dull and overwhelmingly complex.
“It’s a dog’s breakfast,” said Psaila.
“I had to triple check I’d actually navigated to the home page and not accidentally skipped to some internal page when I visited this site,” said Sputnik.
According to him, the site is “way too information-heavy rather than just inviting me to click through to find out and read more on some of their home page subjects”.
Department of Education and Childhood Development
By far, the title of most horrendous state government website goes to the Education Department.
“I’m not exactly sure why anyone would go to this website and who its primary audience is, but it’s drier than a 10-week-old Sao biscuit,” said Sputnik.
“Everything seemed small and not very inviting or user friendly.
“Is this website finished?”
According to Psaila, the site needs a massive overhaul.
“You’ve got all these links on the side and even more links on the right, and then when you delve deeper, the look and feel of the site changes,” he said.
“There’s no real structure and it just seems to be links after links, after links.
“It’s very confusing for the user.”
Esterman agreed that the graphic design of the website, among other things, left a lot to be desired.
“The main navigation usability is poor and the website content is boring and static,” he said.
“Overall, this is a poor website for such a large department.”
Wayne Psaila is Solstice Media’s online producer. He was involved in the development of the Adelaide Metro website.
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