The U.S. Web Design Standards are currently being used on hundreds of government sites, with an audience of more than 59 million monthly users. In this fifth post in our series, we met with the team at Vets.gov to talk about their use of the Standards.
Standards team: How did you hear about the U.S. Web Design Standards?
Vets.gov team: We had heard about the Standards through the U.S. Digital Service and the first iteration of Vets.gov launched, using the Standards, in 2015.
Standards team: Why did you decide to use the Standards?
Vets.gov team: From a user experience perspective, the idea of common standards was very appealing. We had talked to the 18F team and knew we could rely on the extensive user research already done. It was really exciting that the development of the Standards was rigorous and we could build off that.
The Standards gave us the opportunity to move faster without having to worry about the foundational stuff, as that was already taken care of.
Standards team: How did you integrate your work with the Standards?
Vets.gov team: From a design perspective, we really built with them in mind, since the site launched with the Standards. From a more technical perspective, we tried, as much as possible, to incorporate the different components–from the buttons, forms, alerts to labels. The only thing we weren’t using from the beginning was the grid.
For the forms, technically it’s nice that the components are pretty straightforward and don’t require us to include a lot, except for the basic styles. We can take the HTML and CSS on the site and plug those in where we need to. We use a library built with Bootstrap to construct our forms, and it wasn’t difficult to plug the Standards into it.
Standards team: What were the benefits you gained by using the Standards?
Vets.gov team: It’s nice to have a site where you can go and get a list of user-tested components, and be guaranteed that the documentation is always up to date. If we tried to replicate this ourselves, it would be a lot more work.
The Standards allow you to concentrate on the things you need to do - and allow you to go deeper on that kind of work. When we’re designing new forms, we can design them as text outlines because people know how they are going to look and we can pretty quickly outline a form. Having an outline makes our lives easier. We don’t have to wait for mock-ups or changes that take awhile.
The Standards have also been extensively tested with users to optimize for the best user experience, which makes our work easier in leveraging what they’ve discovered. One example of this is when we were building forms early on, we knew the Standards had an indicator for a ‘required field’, but we went with the asterisk as the indicator, which the agency was already using on its forms. But, when we did user testing, several testers were confused by the asterisk. So we moved back to the Standards’ indicator. It showed the benefit of the research the Standards team had done and that all the design decisions had been tested with users beforehand. We can feel confident that those decisions were the best decisions to make.
Standards team: Is there anything the Standards team could do to help you in your efforts?
Vets.gov team: No, we’ve found the team to be really responsive when we’ve added a PR (pull request) or issue in GitHub, which has been really helpful. So, it’s just on us to put the PR, or changes, in when we find things that need changing.
Standards team: Advice for other agencies?
Vets.gov team: It’s only been a benefit for our team to use the Standards. We can rely on the user research they did. Every user test we do, we get positive feedback on how easy it is to use the forms and interact with the site. Overall, the consistency of user experience across government websites makes for a better government experience.
We’re looking to learn more from agencies that have used the Standards; if you’re interested in talking to us about your experience or have any feedback, feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also chat with the team in the new public Slack channel for the Standards!