The federal government's in-house design and usability consultancy would like sites to be clean and consistent but not necessarily uniform.
The average federal website has come a long way in the past few years, but the state of the government's online presence is far from perfect.
The U.S. Web Design Standards, which 18F released last year, aim to promote a cleaner, more consistent look across federal sites, and 18F plans to tweak and expand the guidelines in the coming years.
"Because this is government, people often have no choice but to use our products," said Erica Deahl, a visual and user experience designer at 18F, during AIGA's DotGov Design Conference on May 6.
Depending on how trustworthy a site looks and how it functions, "that's the way that trust is built or broken," she said. "If the official site itself looks amateurish, it makes people doubt its authenticity."
18F plans to expand the design standards to offer guidance on more complicated web displays and promote "full stack harmony" so that landing pages and forms give users a consistent experience, she added.
18F also plans to integrate its plain language guide into the standards.
Although 18F's design standards are meant to help people recognize official federal websites, designers at the conference asked Deahl what's to stop bad actors from copying the style on their own knockoff sites and potentially using the sites to collect personal information from unsuspecting users.
"That's a really good question," Deahl acknowledged, "and one that we're looking at and totally have not figured out yet."
Designers also wanted to know about the future of 18F and the Federal Front Door initiative.
"We're definitely sticking around," Deahl said, noting the recent announcement that 18F would become a permanent part of government through the General Services Administration's new Technology Transformation Service.
No matter who wins the presidential election, 18F's design work has been recognized as a nonpartisan pursuit that won't be disrupted by a transition, she added.
"We've had support from all sides to do this work," she said. "I'm excited to do it, no matter what happens."
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