21st Century IDEA: User-First Means a Better Internet

As a Senior Content Strategist, much of my professional life centers around website modernization, which is a key component of the 21st Century IDEA (IDEA). One of the things that excites me most about this groundbreaking legislation is the opportunity to build websites with users in mind.

My role on projects is often to encourage my non-profit, federal, and commercial clients to make decisions based on thoughtful research and strategic planning. It’s fulfilling to see our approach sealed into law, specifically, as section 6 states, that websites be “designed around user needs with data-driven analysis influencing management and development decisions, … [and] using qualitative and quantitative data to determine user goals, needs, and behaviors.”

One of the most exciting aspects of section 6 is that it brings attention to the importance of improving customer experience. When speaking with U.Group’s VP, Technology, Clay Marshall, he mentioned that the bill’s greatest impact may be the standardization of agency-administered digital services. It’s a winning strategy to require all new websites and digital services to be designed and developed around quantitative and qualitative user analysis, be solidly in alignment with the objectives of each agency, and undergo ongoing reviews to measure usability and customer satisfaction.

I wholeheartedly agree with Clay on that, and it’s something U.Group content strategists are well-versed in already. When updating existing websites or building features for new ones, we must first gain a deep understanding of our clients and our users.

Designing sites for users means making recommendations for everything from designs to navigation structure to top tasks based on what users are looking for. To uncover users’ needs and desires, we use tactics such as navigation model testing, usability sessions, focus groups, surveys, heat mapping, interviews, and analytics. The trick then becomes finding the happy medium between internal stakeholder needs and external user desires. A well-designed site must take both into account and balance what the user wants against what the organization is driving towards.

Strategic Planning for National Park Foundation

One example of striking this balance can be found in our recent work with the National Park Foundation, the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. We were tasked with revamping their showcase content—pages dedicated to each park, recreation area, or historic land—and we accomplished this with user behavior in our back pocket. We implemented and tracked events on Google Tag Manager to evaluate user behavior; through this tool we were able to tell how far users scrolled down pages, which links they clicked on, and what content effectively made them stop and read.

Based on the user behavior data gathered, our team crafted a list of recommendations for layout updates. We created a “layer cake” effect where we alternated between highlighting content that users were looking for (typically trip planning materials) with content that achieved organizational objectives (mission-centric content and calls to action). While the data is still being evaluated, we’re thrilled with the short-term results of these efforts to the organization’s top conversion goals.

What’s Next?

U.Group’s advanced technology and creative design approach means we’re uniquely prepared to help our federal (and federal-adjacent) clients bring their digital properties into compliance with the law. As you can see, we’re not just taking this to heart for our federal clients—we’re helping all of our clients create user-first experiences.