Better by design

One of the main aims of the Parliament’s content strategy is to ensure our website is consistent. This means we use the same look and feel throughout the site, so that users can easily move around different parts of it.

However, one of the problems identified at the start of the web project, way back in the before-times, was the sheer number of websites the Parliament had.  At the start of this year, there were more than 30 separate websites associated with the Parliament in some way.  These used a variety of different designs, platforms and hosting arrangements.

All these different sites meant it was difficult to create a consistent user experience. From a user's perspective, this caused a number of problems:

  • it was difficult to know where to find the information they were looking for and it wasn't possible to search across all Parliament websites
  • each website looked different and behaved differently - users had to learn from scratch how each site worked
  • it was not obvious which sites were the authoritative source of parliamentary information
  • information was often out of date or inaccessible.

From the Parliament's perspective this meant it was difficult to:

  • manage, understand and support all these websites
  • ensure that standards were met, particularly in terms of accessibility
  • keep sites up to date
  • track usage effectively.

It also meant each time we used a new website, we were designing and building it from scratch.

The answer seemed obvious: reduce the number of websites we managed, and when a separate website was required, manage it within the same system.  Designs would share and re-use components and design patterns with our other websites.  This was both more efficient for the development team and better for users.

A good recent example of this approach is this year's Business in the Parliament (BIP) website. BIP is an event run as a joint enterprise between the Parliament, the Scottish Government and enterprise agencies. It therefore makes sense for it to have a separate identity from the Parliament’s main website.  But it’s also a short-lived event, so we don’t want to spend a large amount of time and resource on a new site.

So to build the website, we have effectively copied the structure of another Parliament website, the Festival of Politics. We used a distinct colour palette to give the BIP its own identity, but most of the design re-uses existing components.

This means that the website can be managed along with our other new sites, and hosted along with the beta and FoP websites.  The website was created quickly over the course of a three-week sprint.  We know that the design is accessible.  Users familiar with the beta or Festival of Politics websites will find the same structure and behaviour.

The long-term goal remains to significantly reduce the overall number of websites the Parliament runs.  But when a separate website is required, it’s good to have confidence that this can be done efficiently.

Also, you may have noticed that this blog is published on a third-party platform (WordPress).  So the work is not done yet...