U.S. Web Design Standards

The U.S. Web Design Standards were introduced in September by 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, and though the style guide is not yet required by federal agencies, a growing number of sites have adopted the guidelines.   And now the team is asking for feedback to better meet  agency and user needs.

The guide’s original styles and user interface components were created with 508-compliant, open-source and mobile-responsive features.  The intention was to provide federal agencies with a more consistent yet customizable way of developing websites and enhancing online citizen services.

In order to create consistency across government sites and to ease navigation for staff and citizens, “we started to wonder if we shouldn’t try to explore ways to save time and bring a little consistency to our product,” said USDS Designer Mollie Ruskin, project and product lead, during a recent 18F and USDS webcast.

The team evaluated patterns, codes, fonts, usability factors, colors and full designs from dozens of private and public sector sites and gathered the most efficient components into style libraries. The team also conducted user interviews, rankings and system reviews to assess ideal tools and easy implementation factors.

The outcome consists of progressively enhanced HTML and modular CSS that can be used in whole or in parts.  Agencies can adopt the standards; reuse and download common web interaction tools like buttons, tables and web forms; and tweak visual style features like color pallets and typography for branding.

So far, USA.gov built a voter registration portal with the standards, and USAJobs.gov has incorporated some of the design standards into its own system.

And with the standards still in their alpha stage, 18F and USDS are still conducting research, quality assurance and usability tests, and they are asking for additional feedback and comments on GitHub. The design standards site will be updated regularly with new features and revisions based on further evaluations.

According to Ruskin, future plans include a product roadmap for upcoming releases, a transition into a fully GSA-owned product team for support and maintenance and additional supporting documentation and language for contracts.

And though it would certainly be premature to talk about mandatory standards, 18F and USDS are continuing to encourage adoption through engaging listserv posts, calls and webcasts. Tutorials and help getting started can be found on the Web Design Standards site.