When the National Pandemic Flu Service launched last week, it was always going to be big. As it transpired, the demand was massive, beyond even what the developers had predicted with over 2,000 requests a second for the homepage.
When I checked the site later that day (for professional reasons), I was surprised. To be clear: I don’t really know how or why the site looks as it does: I’ve not been involved in that to date, and there’s always internal politics, a technical backstory and a team doing their best behind every government website. But as a lay outsider I started thinking: in a fantasy scenario, how would I have done it?
For me, the brief would be:
- Provide clear, authoritative, citizen-facing information about dealing with swine flu
- Aimed at citizens, but inevitably also signpost the employers who stumble across it looking for information
- Reduce load on telephone lines and GPs through online self-service, preferably of low-bandwidth static content
- Set up an ongoing channel of communication with the public to keep them updated as advice changes, vaccines become available and so on
- Be navigable by people with flu-like symptoms
So here are my before and after mockups (you’ll see I’m no designer, but hopefully you’ll get the idea):
See larger version at: http://www.direct.gov.uk/swineflu
- Key facts: how worried should we be? A few crisp bullet points about the disease itself
- Stay in touch: a strong call-to-action to connect with the service on an ongoing basis through email primarily, but also social media channels (n.b. there’s some good work being done on wider swine flu digital engagement in the UK, aiming to catch up with some of the brilliant stuff over in the US, and I’m not really talking about this here)
- Stronger branding: the common term ‘swine flu’ rather than the more scary ‘pandemic’ and clear endorsement of the site by the NHS and Department of Health
- Navigate by your relationship to swine flu, not UK nation: the critical change in this design is the replacement of the non-clickable map with 12 links around it, with a set of 3 prominent boxes routing the visitor to help/tools relevant to their current relationship with swine flu. I appreciate that devolution in the UK complicates national advice on health issues, but from the outside, it’s hard to see how nation-based advice on a single website could be the optimum primary navigation route for this content
- Prominent access to data, for transparency: there’s a strong argument for transparency by government on this issue to build trust and credibility for the advice being given. Providing direct access to RSS feeds, original briefings and region/postcode-level data about cases seems like a wise thing to do if it’s possible – even if it’s only a minority of the citizen audience who want to drill down into that material themselves.
As I say, this was just a quick exercise in user-centred design – very much in a personal capacity. How would you have done it?
UPDATE: After I wrote this, I stumbled across the US flu.gov and @flugov on Twitter. The design is, ahem, basic (in fact, I didn’t believe it was an official site at first), but we’ve come to similar conclusions about strategy: email signup, use of Twitter, publishing of data and FAQ-type content.
UPDATE 2: I’ve replaced the mockup which used Dept of Health and NHS logos with a version which doesn’t – to be clear, I’m not implying any link between this website and official information on swine flu.