Its Not You, Its Your Website

Politics has been a part of my life since 2002 when my mother was elected into local public office.

Post Election Party with my family

Post Election Party with my sister (left), mom and dad (center), and myself (right).

I never thought that I would become involved in politics myself. Thirteen years later, my life took a turn. Entering my senior year at TCNJ, I was afforded the incredible opportunity to intern with a top lobbying firm in the state.

Clip from a news brief recorded with my internship

Clip from a news brief recorded with my internship.

On a day like any other, I was assigned the task of locating contact information for the city councils, clerks and attorneys for over 25 municipalities. It was on this day that I discovered a terrible flaw in the county and municipal websites in New Jersey: THEY STINK! Okay, to be fair they don’t ALL stink but many of them do.

Pinaki Kathiari, founding partner of Local Wisdom, suggests that user experience is defined as a “hypothesis of different people in different situations, how they would use interfaces that are easy and pleasurable and provides value while satisfying a need.”

Simply put, people want to visit a website that is visually pleasing, easy to navigate, and provides the desired information. In researching municipalities around the state I found that many left me unsatisfied in these categories. And so, this is my ultimatum- cater to these needs or I (and other site users) are leaving… for good. But don’t feel bad, it really isn’t you. Its your website.

1. Visually pleasing-Below are two examples of poorly designed websites. Lack of color and poor formatting are the demise of the Allentown webpage (note that the video cuts off important text) while Alexandria Township suffers from small text, lack of images, and simply BLAH.
Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.47.29 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.47.46 PM

2. Easy to navigate- through my exploration of countless city and municipal websites I have found that this feature is lacking for most of them. Often times contact information is strewn across the website rather than having a single “directory” page. Cluttered interfaces make it difficult to hone in on what you’re searching for. Faulty links lead to dangerous security warnings! Ease of navigation is critical if a website hopes to keep visitors coming back.

Security advisory presented when following a link to the Borough of Lawnside website.

Security advisory presented when following a link to the Borough of Lawnside website.

3. Provides desired information- With a majority of internet usage happening on cellular devices, it is evident that our society wants information and they want it now. Immediate gratification is something that should be provided by a website if it hopes to be successful in engaging its audience. City and municipal websites in NJ fail to provide this critical component. For example, after spending over three hours locating contact information for city council members I was forced to spend an additional two hours making phone calls to fill in information gaps. For a few towns, their websites didn’t list ANY of their city council members contact information. When I spoke to the clerks in these towns, they were easily able to provide this information from memory. This begs the question: if they have it memorized, how many other people are calling and asking for the same information. Just put it on your site! I’ll stop calling, I promise.

But really, I hope we can work this out. Our relationship has so much potential. So fix your website and lets see what we can achieve together.

Want to check out YOUR local page? If you live in NJ, check it out here!

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