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Public Roads - July/August 2013

July/August 2013
Issue No:
Vol. 77 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

USDOT Redesign Puts Users First

by Kate Sullivan

Have you visited lately? The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently completed an overhaul of its Web site that makes it easier for the public and industry partners to find the information they need, quickly.

“The goal of our new Web site is to provide valuable content that is easy to find and understand,” explains Francisco Reinoso, associate director for IT strategy and technology projects at USDOT. “The bulk of our audience is looking for a small subset of information, so we had to lift up a lot of content and make it easier to find.”

Many site users, the public especially, are not familiar with the agency’s organization or with government acronyms, so searching can be difficult, Reinoso says. “The new Web site is like going from the White Pages to the Yellow Pages. You just tell us who you are and what you’re looking for, and we can help you.”

USDOT had three primary goals in developing the redesign: helping users find what they need as easily as possible, making the most popular resources more accessible, and arranging resources in line with how users think about transportation. Thus, the landing page -- under a screenwide marquee that rotates photos and the latest news topics -- contains three major sections designed to reflect those goals.

Audience Segmentation

The first section, designed to help users easily find what they need, divides USDOT content along user lines. Boxes arranged by target audience provide links to the following:

  • Resources for individuals. Users can report safety incidents, learn about flight delays, and sign up to receive vehicle recall alerts.
  • Resources for partners, such as businesses and organizations. Visitors can learn about opportunities for small businesses, as well as regulations concerning vehicles, highways, and hazardous materials.
  • Resources for government, including Federal, State, and local agencies. Users can find information on grants and other Federal programs and projects.

The “Top Requests” section meets the second goal of making the most popular resources more accessible. “Top Requests” is a menu of the 10 topics most often sought by visitors, including crash test ratings, the transportation career center for veterans, and how motor carriers can get a USDOT number.

The third major section -- “What Are You Interested In?” -- meets the redesign goal of arranging resources according to how users think about transportation. Rather than organizing USDOT’s operations by administrative entities like the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, Reinoso’s team presented the information by mode of transportation, with buttons for automobiles, trucking and motorcoaches, railroads, and others. As Reinoso explains, “these modal representation boxes are particularly helpful to users, who don’t care what branch of USDOT works on a specific topic. The representations are iconic and instantly recognizable.”

Stakeholder Input and Usability Testing

One key to the redesign’s success was usability testing. Developers used the U.S. General Services Administra-tion’s First Fridays Usability Testing Program (which performs free product testing for government Web sites); they also were helped by system users from stakeholder groups, other government agencies, and the public. Usability testing, for example, revealed that the average citizen is unlikely to know the structure of a Federal agency, which led to the decision not to organize the information by departmental operational units.

The developers also met extensively with internal State department of transportation stakeholders, holding more than 120 meetings with various State offices about the site content. The offices and subject matter experts in these offices “know their business audience, and we wanted to be familiar with their work and their content,” says Reinoso.

Feedback on the site has been extremely positive: users say they like the clean, clear, engaging design. The modal feature is very popular (as indicated by the high number of visits), and many people have praised the photo rotation. Web site metrics have improved, as well: 2 months after the launch and with limited promotion, site visits had already increased by 30 percent, and the “bounce rate” (the percentage of visits that go to only one page before leaving the site) had dropped 20 percentage points. Qualitative analysis using the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that users find the redesign an improvement.

In December 2012, USDOT further enhanced the Web site by becoming the first Cabinet-level agency to integrate responsive design. Now, when any user visits the Web site on a mobile device, the site’s pages not only scale to fit a smaller screen, they also rearrange the content to fit the user’s device, whether it is a smartphone or tablet.

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Kate Sullivan is a contributing editor for Public Roads.