It’s Official: US Government Endorses Responsive Web Design

Still on the fence about RWD? The Federal Government isn’t.

Digital_Gov-229x300In a report entitled DIGITAL GOVERNMENT: BUILDING A 21ST CENTURY PLATFORM TO BETTER SERVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, the government officially endorsed the use of responsive web design as a better approach in providing greater accessibility to government information and resources.

Here are a few some excerpts:

Mission drives agencies, and the need to deliver better services to customers at a lower cost—whether an agency is supporting the warfighter overseas, a teacher seeking classroom resources or a family figuring out how to pay for college—is pushing every level of government to look for new solutions. 

Early mobile adopters in government—like the early web adopters—are beginning to experiment in pursuit of innovation. 

Customer-centric government means that agencies respond to customers’ needs and make it easy to find and share information and accomplish important tasks.

Using modern tools and technologies such as responsive web design and search engine optimization is critical if the government is to adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape and deliver services to any device, anytime, anywhere. Similarly, optimizing content for modern platforms, rather than just translating content from paper-based documents to the Web, will help ensure the American people and employees can access content regardless of platform. Agencies will need to keep current with the latest design concepts and refresh content delivery mechanisms to ensure the highest performance.

These imperatives are not new, but many of the solutions are. We can use modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers— building a 21st century platform to better serve the American People.

So, why is the Federal Government, which typically lags behind the private sector when it comes to technology and innovation, embracing RWD? The answer is obvious if not paradoxical: RWD provides a mechanism that allows the government greater accessibility to its citizens, not merely the other way around. I will leave it to the pundits to dissect this statement, but there is no denying that RWD creates brand new communication channels that go both ways.

There are other factors that have contributed to this early adoption. Consider the government’s own stats:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow from nearly 1 billion in 2011 to over 5 billion globally in 2016.
  • By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.
  • As of March 2012, 46% of American adults were smartphone owners – up from 35% in May 2011.
  • In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history.

For me, the issue boils down to one word: accessibility. As we have worked with several Federal agencies over the years, including NASA, DoD, US Courts, EPA and the NCI, I have learned that accessibility is matter of constitutional rights. All citizens are entitled to free and open access to government documents and resources, and to deny even one of us that right is to discriminate against all of us. Hence the reason for 501 C3 compliance.

Not everyone owns a computer. I was in my early 20′s before I had one that I could call my very own. Websites have historically been designed for computers – traditional desktops and laptops – and this has long created the great digital divide that has existed between the haves and the have-nots. Enter smartphones. For many, the smartphone represented their first true web experience. Not everyone can own a computer, but just about all of us can afford a phone. And smartphones can display websites.

The end of the digital divide? Not quite.

One of the big problems with smartphone web browsing is the formatting and display of content. Navigating through them is a mess. As websites are still generally designed for desktops and their larger screens, the experience on a smartphone can be less than optimal. We can all relate to the frustrations – resizing, pinching, and panning in a sometimes futile attempt to find what we were looking for. Just imagine how this frustration gets compounded on a government website – typically not best-of-breed in the first place. The EPA website, for example, has in excess of 500,000 static web pages. Dozens of content contributors have worked for over a decade to add page after page in what became a complete discombobulation. Want to learn how environmental chemistry methods for soil and water are used to determine the fate of pesticides in the environment?

Good luck.

Responsive web design creates websites with fluid proportion-based grids, to adapt the layout and images to the viewing environment. As a result, users across a broad range of devices and browsers will have access to a single source of content, laid out so as to be easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling. For the private sector, a poor mobile experience can lead to loss of business. For the public sector, it can lead to a discrimination lawsuit as the case can be argued that the government did not take the necessary steps to ensure accessibility for everyone. For this reason alone, it is only a matter a time before all government websites – Federal, State and Local – employ responsive web design. I will take this one step further and boldly predict that the RWD adoption rate for government will either equal or surpass that of the private sector.

That’s not something you hear every day. Is it?

Uncle_Sam

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

More Posts - Website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *