Agencies now have a concrete map for designing and developing public-facing websites that comply with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or 21st Century IDEA Act, as the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service released a set of web design standards for federal agencies Jan. 22.
The act, which became law in December 2018, requires agencies to develop plans to improve the usability and accessibility of their websites and mandates that agencies adhere to the standards set forth by TTS.
“By creating the web design standards and the web design systems as a shared service to transform how government designs and builds the websites, it’s really getting at the rid of the concept of each agency having to do it on a one-off basis,” said Anil Cheriyan, director of TTS, in a roundtable with reporters.
“Back in 2015, GSA collaborated with agencies and the [Office of Management and Budget] to conduct research and gather feedback on developing web design standards. What we are announcing today is the version two of that, which is really enhanced to support the IDEA Act.”
As federal agencies prepare their plans to modernize websites, as mandated by the 21st Century IDEA Act, they should remember they are at the beginning, not the end.
The new standards should look familiar to agencies, as the short document points agencies to the U.S. Web Design System maturity model, released in December 2019, and USWDS code, released in April 2019, to ensure that their websites meet legal requirements.
The USWDS maturity model encourages agencies to incrementally work through design principles for their websites in three levels:
- Integrate design principles by starting with real user needs, earning trust, embracing accessibility, promoting continuity and listening to users.
- Follow user experience guidance by inventorying website components, reading the user experience guidance for those components and ensuring that each component follows the corresponding guidance.
- Use USWDS open-source code to integrate design tokens — consistent elements of color, spacing and typography that government websites share — and components — pre-built, defaults elements that make up government websites.
Agencies are also encouraged to contribute new research, guidance and components back to the system as their experience with USWDS evolves.
“What we’re trying to do is a couple things: we want to start with reliable components, guidance and code that we have tested with users, and that we have checked usability guidance with user testing and conventional best practices. We want to start from a good baseline of usability, that we feel comfortable with in our compliance. What we want to layer on top of that are design principles, and part of the idea of design principles is focusing on user needs and listening to those who use your service,” said Dan Williams, USWDS project lead.
“We know that no two agencies have exactly the same needs, no two projects have exactly the same needs, but we’ve built the design system to start from a reliable foundation and be able to adapt to those needs as projects see them and notice them.”