Jun 18, 2009

New Utah Website Graded on Tasks

The State of Utah launched a new, visually stunning web portal. Ari Herzog gives a great overview on his blog. 
Suffice to say, Utah and its portalized front page is at the forefront of the digital revolution among the 50 states. The new layout blows the other states out of the water.

From the press release on the new site, Utah CIO Steve Fletcher: "The new Utah.gov incorporates cutting edge technologies to enhance the user experience and the usability of the site. This site is ground-breaking in the effort to help citizens find information regardless of the level of government.”--Read and see more on AriWriter.

The sophisticated design offers a number of attractive animations that lead visitors down various navigation paths. Have a look.

screen shot of new Utah state website

Definitely sweet. So who wouldn't want to take it out on a test drive?

For my test, I decided to take it on a dot-gov tour to complete three tasks: get a new drivers license, find out what I needed to do to start a business in Utah, and find eldercare information, specifically I was looking for evaluations of senior living options.

New Drivers License. This is a common task so I figured it would be easy. I clicked the very nice top navigation item "Residents." It brilliantly and very usefully then exposed a series of options, "Citizens & Community" and right below that "Cars & Transportation." BINGO! 

Nope, had to hit the breaks hard. From here I could RENEW my drivers license, but not get a new one. Okay, to the search. It featured a smart search that provided options as I typed new drivers license.  Again, I got the option to renew, but not to get a new license. Back to the top navigation and I found the option "Moving to Utah." Here I could get a new drivers' license. Task was completed, but convoluted. I have a new driver and a new-driver-to-be in residence, so I would expect to find getting a new license as easy as renewing--but these are two different websites/applications.  Grade C-

Starting a new business in Utah. I imagined that I wanted to open a nail salon in Utah. I was in luck because prominently on the site, under "Popular Searches This Week" was a link to "start a business." Now here was the motherload of salient and helpful information. There was the "One Stop Business Registration"  which stepped me through the process. It was great because I could check it out without having to give up a lot of information about my "business." I easily found Government Requirements that led me to registration and licensing requirements. This was an easy to complete task. Grade A+

Finding eldercare resources. People with aging parents know the challenges of accessing eldercare services--especially across state lines. I pretended my mom lived in Utah and went through the exercise of finding senior assisted living options in the state and learning about consumer and regulatory ratings of facilities. I went back to the main navigation at the top and clicked on Residents. My first scans missed the option "Seniors.utah.gov." It would have been easier to find if it said simply "Seniors." It was the only option in URL-speak. Every other navigation option was a clear heading. 

I clicked on the Seniors.utah.gov page and turned to the Quick Links where I immediately saw "Housing & Living Arrangements."  At the top of that page is Licensed Utah Nursing and Assisted Living Facilities which includes NO resources for assisted living. So I backed out to the Housing Page and tried "Senior Community Housing," which led me to a page helping me understand "congregate housing," but that wasn't what I wanted. Back again to the Housing Page to "Guide for Retirement Communities." This, however, was not a Utah resource but a nationwide, commercial "finder." Of the eleven links on the housing page, only one went to a specific Utah resource. Either Utah does not have services for eldercare OR the state and local organizations that support seniors don't have web content. Grade D-

There is a reason that I don't like portals. They allow for silos and competing and overlapping content. There really is alot to like about the new Utah site, and I think it's a model for other state web sites. But, to be citizen-centric, it needs better integration and coordination of content.

Utah has been a leader in morphing services into dot-gov, and I expect that they will be at the forefront in helping to resolve the "problem of the portal." Because as challenging as the completion of these tasks were on utah-dot-gov, they are harder and even impossible on other state sites. It's clear that they are focusing on top tasks, just need more work under the hood. Good job Utah, help lead the way.


  1. Great post! This is exactly the kind of analysis that is so helpful. It gets to the heart of government websites. Well done.

  2. It is important to note that this is just one user's experience and therefore not an objective task analysis of the site.

    When attempting to complete the first task (new drivers license), I had no such issues.
    Here's what i did:
    Residents (top navigation) > Cars & Transportation > Driver License Division > FAQ > What do I need for a first-time driver license?

    First try, very easy. My grade for the site on this task: A

    but does that mean anything? Is my A "really" better than your C? No, not really.

    I haven't tried the other tasks yet, but I just wanted to make the point that no plan can account for how everyone thinks, we can only do the best we can overall. I do think that these are good tasks to try -- with multiple users to observe trends and make improvements.

    All web sites should be doing this continuously all the time. A web site is never done improving.

  3. Great comments @anonymous. Usability is both personal and general. See also Jakob Nielse's research on getting good usability research results with a small sample size.

    I'd add that it could be that the tasks that I identified as important to me are not optimized because they are not important to most utah.gov visitors. Maybe their data showed that getting a new license is unimportant. You can't be everything to everyone and a strong focus is critical to successful web design.

    That said, the issue the drivers' license use case exposed was the problem with a portal system. There is more than one site to do the same task. It would be easy, for example, to have a link on the online renewal application to "New Drivers' License." But the different owners of the sites are likely not working together and there is not an overall editor-in-chief to coordinate and cross link the content. (See the PDF "Putting Citizens First:
    Transforming Online Government"
    for this and other recommendations on improving government websites.) A portal brings the sites together, but cannot make them make sense together.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Your reminder that I am not "normal" is truer than you know [/endjokeonself].

  4. @candi Thanks! The work is just a reminder that this stuff isn't as easy as it looks!

  5. Dave Fletcher and I both want to thank you for your comments on utah.gov. As you know this is an evolving site and we are working to make the interface as effective as possible from a task/use perspective. Look for many more changes and improvements to come, and thanks again for the constructive observations.

  6. @Bob, sorry, there was a squirrely delay with getting your comment posted. Thanks so much for your comment. You guys are doing GREAT work.


I hope that you will read and comment, ask questions and make suggestions. I just ask that you simply stay on topic, respect other people’s opinions, avoid profanity, offensive statements, illegal content, and other unpleasantries. Since this is my personal blog, I reserve the right to delete any comment.