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The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine  – a Case Study

The process behind creating a new UX-concept for the parliament’s website of Ukraine

homepage after redesign

A news resource wrote about the adoption of the draft law, and you want to read the source on the Parliament website. From the page, the complexity of information immediately fell out on you. Multilevel navigation and chaotic site layout was a red flag, but Google taught you to believe in the sacred power of Search. You hoped to quickly find the information you need and get back to your business. But this time it did not work out.  The search results for the keyword showed zero matches. You got upset.

“The site of the Verkhovna Rada is douchey and outdated” – you concluded proudly retiring to any local commercial resource for lawyers. Things didn’t work out between you and the Verkhovna Rada website, and you most likely will not give it a second chance.

Today this is the most realistic scenario of how the website of the Parliament could appear in the life of an ordinary Ukrainian. People learn news about the government from sources like Ain, League, and Censor. Even someone’s postings on Facebook or Twitter, we favour more than public resources.

Here arises the question: what is wrong with the online state representations in Ukraine and how to help this?

Why did we start this initiative?

Short answer: because we care. Our professional expertise allowed us to create a new website that will be understandable for various audiences: voters, media, and public organizations. We decided to give priority to transparency and accessibility of information within the online service.

This was not a state order, but an internal agency initiative. Nextpage has sand-alone rules for internal projects. The most valuable resource is time, so we gave ourselves 3.5 months to implement the UX concept.

How did we work?

The team gathered specifically for the project and worked iteratively, each on its own part. We met twice a week to debrief and discuss next steps.

Initially, the goal was to share information about our design initiative in the media, so we should have worked on a special project at the same time. We collaborated with Ain.ua, putting together design and text material that details the main problems inside the existing Verkhovna Rada website.

What was the basis?

Before starting on the design process, we devoted time to studying the content of the Verkhovna Rada website and similar resources all over the world. We were especially inspired by the experience of Britain and their single portal GOV.UK, which combined 1800 state websites.

Our ambition continually insisted that Ukraine deserved the best website of the Parliament and that we could offer a decent solution in every sense.

The concept of the site that we have developed is based on four main principles of UX design. We did not discover America. What we did was offer to apply the principles of Design thinking in a new context for Ukraine and look at the Verkhovna Rada website as a full-fledged online service.

Principle # 1 – In the beginning was the word

Scenarios are an integral part of the design approach that puts a person at the forefront. They are essential because they ensure that designers act in the best interests of users. This is an opportunity to remove the guesswork and learn from mistakes that appear in the process of testing hypotheses.

We developed three user scenario and offered a focus group to test them in our presence.

According to our scenario, the Lawyer should have clarified a couple of points in the Ukrainian Bankruptcy Code. His task: to find the history of the document on the website of the Verkhovna Rada.

Journalist – should write news about a free trade agreement between Ukraine and Israel. We asked her to find on the website the law on ratification of the agreement: its exact name, number, how many deputies voted.

The entrepreneur “wanted” to know if he should create a Ukrainian version of his site. His task was to find the exact text of the bill on ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian as the state language.

Principle # 2 – Only work with real problems

Charles Kettering, the famous inventor and head of research at General Motors, once said:

A well-formulated problem is half the solution.

During the interview, all of the focus groups led us to interesting insights, which allowed us to formulate the “right” problems.

The main page Rada for me is “dead.” 80% of the traffic from lawyers is a catalog of laws. I go to the site only to quickly find something since the portal loads in a few seconds. In other cases, I go to commercial websites for lawyers.
We also heard a clear position regarding the effectiveness of the search tool. It causes a lot of problems and requires a workaround.

Google searches work better than searches on the Rada site. Therefore, I am looking for keywords in Google, and already he pulls up the desired page in the Rada.
Everyone was unanimous about the lack of loyalty to the news section.

News on the government portal is written in clerical language by government journalists; I don’t believe that I will find criticism or a useful opinion there.
This confirmed our assumptions about the need to create a full-fledged press center on the website of the Verkhovna Rada. The portal should be credible and an authoritative information source for different groups of users.

Principle # 3 – Building on existing user experience

A thousand times designers were asked not to reinvent the wheel. It makes no sense to design a new solution for each individual case. Reasonable UX solutions can almost always be used successfully in a different context. Thoughtful design is consistent. When a user successfully applies the experience already familiar to him while working with a new site, this inspires confidence in his own actions. He likes to use the product, he can even feel smarter.

We used people’s ideas and expectations about chats, social networks, seating arrangements in cinemas, information cards and strengthened them with clear copywriting. The principle of consistency applies both to the experience that the user will receive during the interaction, and to the unity of the visual design component.

Principle # 4 – Focus on content prioritization

The site has a lot of information and multi-level navigation. Our goal was to offer such a navigation system and layout that would reduce the cognitive load on the user.

As a first step, we identified the main content types and put them into separate modules.

We collected the necessary information about users at the stage of the interview. We were interested in:

  • “Characters” who interact with the site;
  • What pages do they interact with?
  • Context of use (what is their purpose);
  • The main actions that they perform;
  • How often do they access this content?

The portraits we collected formed the basis of the information blocks. Further modules are assembled from them.

Modularity is part of a design strategy in which a system consists of relatively small and autonomous units. According to our idea, the site administrator can replace or add any component depending on its priority, without affecting the rest of the system.

What came of it

The UX concept has been well received by the media and the design community.

Two weeks after the release, the flow from different social networks can be summarized as follows:

Findings

About two months after we started working on the project, several tips and principles for developing Ukrainian government sites appeared on the Internet. To date, they are not approved by the state as social. We would be interested in taking them into account. We decided not to depart from the design stratum already outlined earlier, and to leave this information for subsequent iterations.

Creating government sites is always troublesome. There is a good chance that you will come across ossified reactions like: “too new-fangled,” “too expensive” or “too bold”.

But working in this direction is vital. Transparent, accountable, and easy-to-use government online representations are a necessary step in the development of democracy.

Transparent, accountable, and easy-to-use government e-services are a necessary step in the development of democracy. The website of the Rada should be clear to every voter, regardless of how comfortable he feels on the world wide web. Our concept is in no case the final version. It is only the first small step towards digital democracy and the state of the future.

Dariia Ponomarenko

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