Screen capture from the MPD site, via Co.Design
I’ve grown tired of the notion—or maybe it’s the concession—that government websites should be deserts of design sense. Far too often, the goal of creating a beautiful, functional website design for municipalities is sabotaged by the misconceptions of stakeholders within the organization who insist that the public prefers parsing text-laden dumping grounds of links and indecipherable legal gibberish. So what do we do when the functionality, design, and usability of a government website is held hostage by key decision makers? I say we call in the police.
Fast Company covered a brilliant reboot of the the Milwaukee Police Department’s site—a design that featured arresting photography (sorry), parallax scrolling, social stream integration and a simplified information architecture. The result: A departamental site that not only connects visitors to critical information (such as Most Wanted mugshots and breaking news), but also creates an engaging brand experience that strikes a perfect balance between humanizing and hero-izing the “thin blue line.”
Mugshots from the MPD site, via Co.Design.
A project like this is a rare bird, though. It takes intestinal fortitude on the government side, yes, but more than that, it requires trust between the design agency and the client. While we’d all like to be able to unfurl a tapestry of case studies showing how executions like this have worked in the past, the truth is, there often are none. When you’re setting a precedent, the only thing you have to go on is trust. A little imagination doesn’t hurt either.
Rather than waiting for case studies to justify why your organization should take a leap, what if we flipped the convention? What if we took it upon ourselves to BECOME THE CASE STUDY?
I know. Scary as hell, right? Of course we can’t ignore the fear of failing on the tax payers’ dime. But do we really want to use that fear as a crutch for complacency? Decisions like the ones made by the MPD can set the tone for an organization. It influences how the public sees it (Is this organization simply business-as-usual or is it trying to do more for citizens?) as well as rippling through the internal ranks (Does this place inspire me to punch a clock or kick things into high gear?). A website’s success (or failure) has deep and wide-ranging implications.
And for what it’s worth: the MPD site’s traffic is up 2,000% compared to pre-redesign. Considering that mugshots and critical calls to the public are centerpieces of the new site, every additional set of eyeballs is one more opportunity to yank a bad guy off the street. What are the chances of that happening if the department had been content to regurgitate the same strategies of others like, say, the Los Angeles Police Department
Personally, I’m excited to watch this case study unfold.