New agency website launches

By Ann Hartman, Communications Office

Employment Security launched a redesigned, rewritten and refreshed agency website on June 30, giving job seekers, employers and unemployment claimants better access to – and a better understanding of – the resources they need.

After more than a year in development, the new esd.wa.gov improves on the old site in many ways, said Scott Peterson, multi-media and Web manager in the Communications Office. First, the website uses what’s called a responsive design, meaning it looks good and works well on personal computers as well as tablets, smart phones and other mobile equipment.

“Many of our customers are using mobile devices, so it’s really exciting that our site will function well for them,” said Peterson.

Second, the new website uses a persona-based layout, designed from the perspective of sample users (personas). The home page of the old site offered only two main categories: unemployment and employers, Peterson explained. Those choices didn’t adequately reflect the agency’s varied customers – job seekers, unemployment claimants, tax payers and business owners – who often fit into more than one of those categories at a time.

Home page of the new esd.wa.gov

The new agency website home page calls out categories designed for Employment Security’s main user groups. The old site had only two categories: unemployment and employers. The new home page also highlights easy-to-find links to commonly used applications.

Third, the website is now up to speed with industry standards, Peterson said, and will interact well with other new websites coming online in the next couple of years: WorkSourceWA.com (the job-matching and case management tool for WorkSource customers and employees), and the new unemployment benefits computer system.

Plus, the new site is about 250 pages slimmer than the old site after shaving outdated and unnecessary information.

The new esd.wa.gov uses a content-management system called Orchard, which has many strong points, said Daniel Hoinowski of the Information Technology Division.

Orchard is powerful and aligns with other technology the IT Division has adopted for the agency, Hoinowski said. It’s also “open source,” which means a technology community supports it – not a company trying to sell its product.

In addition, Orchard’s flexibility puts more control into the hands of “content owners” throughout the agency, Hoinowski said, which is important because esd.wa.gov is managed not only by IT and the Communications Office, but also by many agency subject matter experts.

Many of those experts in WorkSource and in the tax and unemployment arenas played a huge role in developing the site, said Christa Diaz De Leon-Feuchter, who worked on the website with Stacy Klein, former Web manager who left the agency in late February.

The website’s new design and organization attempts to solve several business problems for the agency, Diaz De Leon-Feuchter said.

“Customers often call the various departments, saying ‘I can’t find this information on the website,’” Diaz De Leon-Feuchter said. “We added instructions to make it easier for staff and customers, so that customers won’t have to call.”

The old site also had no gateway pages to lead users logically from one step to the next, she said. To fix those problems and to choose the best features for the new website, Klein and Diaz De Leon-Feuchter did a lot of research on design, readability and usability, as well as an assessment of other websites of state agencies that deal with unemployment.

A gateway page on the new esd.wa.gov website.

The gateway page to unemployment information has links on the left side leading to related information. Each tab at the top (Jobs & training, employer taxes, etc.) has its own gateway page with its own set of related links.

Curt Wilson, multi-media and marketing manager in the Communications Office, designed the look and feel of the website to comply with Employment Security brand standards and to employ best practices of functional Web design.

“The challenge is always to use design principles to achieve the goal of helping customers quickly get to where they need to be,” said Wilson, who provides the creative art direction for the agency. “We have so much information to provide and so much direction to give, we opted for a simple, streamlined approach. I opted for a flat design, taking out rounded corners, shadows and gradient fills, and using simple flat colors to not only help customers quickly navigate the site, but also to enable the site to load faster.”

In addition, Wilson ensured the design will function well for people with disabilities. Font size and color contrast are only a couple of the criteria he had to consider to make the site comply with accessibility standards.

“It’s about keeping all those things in balance – accessibility, functionality and design – to create a clear, consistent, and positive user experience,” he said.

Once the website has been live for a while, Peterson will conduct usability testing with customers to modify and improve the site based on their feedback.

“I’m so proud of my team—both past and present—who worked together to really listen to our customers and our staff to build this amazing new website,” said Janelle Guthrie, communications director.

 

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