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How design consistency helps users navigate federal websites

We launched the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards last September, and over the next month, we plan to explore various topics related to design standards. In this post, we detail how our user research informed the design decisions we made.

While conducting research for the Federal Front Door study, we learned people rely heavily on search engines for the information they seek. When we asked interviewees how they found out about a particular service, many of them said simply that they had “Googled it.”

This strategy works well when the search engine pulls up official sources but can backfire when third-party sites or scammers appear near the top of search results.

We also learned that people employ a variety of strategies before deciding to trust a government service.

Many people mentioned that they look for one or more of the following to evaluate the trustworthiness of a digital service:

  • https
  • .gov domains
  • Official government logos
  • Trust-building language such as “This is an official government website”

Other people need more than just the .gov to trust a site. A woman in Kansas City told us she relies on several different clues to assess a government site’s trustworthiness. She told us that she looks at the logos a site uses to determine its validity, and she also looks for an affiliation to departments or agencies she’s aware of. Finally, she said, she bases her trust on whether a site “looks legit.”

Having consistency across typography, color, images, icons, forms, buttons, layouts, and data on government websites can help users realize they’re on a government website. Consistency helps people become familiar with our services — and patterns help users navigate digital services on the web.

For this reason, the Draft Standards has become part of the Federal Front Door’s areas of focus — the Draft Standards provide a starting point for building this consistent experience across government, and as a result, for building trust in online government services.

Moving forward, our team will be investigating more ways that government sites can identify themselves in ways that third-parties can’t replicate. What have you implemented in your own sites to meet this need?

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