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Review Of City of Palo Alto (CA) Version 3 Web-Site

Review Of City of Palo Alto (CA) Version 3 Web-Site

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Published by wmartin46
Review of the City of Palo Alto (CA) Version 3 web-site Beta.
Review of the City of Palo Alto (CA) Version 3 web-site Beta.

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Published by: wmartin46 on Jun 27, 2012
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06/06/2013

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James KeenePalo Alto City Manager 250 Hamilton AvenuePalo Alto, CA 94301Cc: City CouncilSubject: Review of Beta Web-siteCity Manager Keene:This document contains a brief review of the so-called “Beta” web-site. The previouslysubmitted bugs/suggestions are included for completeness.Wayne MartinPalo Alto, CA
-----Palo Alto Web Site Design CritiqueOverview
Since WEB-sites tend to incorporate elements of art, engineering and “usability”, it can bea little daunting to critique a WEB-site without the design specifications for the originalwork. If no such specifications exist, then we are left with what is more likely-than-notsomething that might seem “ad-hoc”, rather than “well designed”.Web-sites are supposed to provide information, in one form or another to interested parties.This requires that the site actually have the information people might be looking for, andthat all information/data is “findable”. For an entity like a City government, web-sitedesign should start with constructing a data dictionary, at least for the most important fivehundred, or so, items of information that people are likely to be looking for. This datadictionary should be organized, according to some scheme. One approach would be to usethe City’s Org Chart as the backbone for the navigation scheme. Even if some other scheme is adopted for navigating the site, the City’s Org Chart should be readily available.Clearly, “findability” and site navigation are interlinked.Without a City-provided data dictionary, evaluating a web-site for a entity with perhapsseveral hundred “major” services and perhaps several thousand “minor” services/data, isalmost impossible. There simply is no obvious way to determine what is missing. In thecase of the Beta Web-site, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a specification, or adata dictionary, that is available to the public to use in evaluating the site. We just don’tknow what the City was trying to accomplish with the new site that was not beingaccomplished by the older site.Web-sites should be attractive to the eye, not overly “busy” (seemingly “stuffed” with toomuch information making it difficult to find things easily), and have a rational, and
 
obvious, navigation methodology. Given that the whole point of user interfaces is to“elevate” information/knowledge about the underlying data/information on the server, web-designers should always be involved in trying to put as much information on the screen as possible, while avoiding the problem of making the presentation too “busy”, or distracting.Unfortunately, these two missions are always in opposition with each other.
Redesign Goals
Projects under the control of professional software managers would not likely commit to asignificant redesign of any software project without a clear specification on the part of themanagement, or client. If such a document exists for the re-design of the Palo Alto CityGovernment web-site, it does not seem to be referenced in the Splash Screen. Withoutsuch a design document, it is not clear what the people doing the re-design were thinking,and hence, how close this effort came from its putative goals.If design documents for this re-design do exist, it was a mistake not to make them public,via the CMR process, or “hanging” them on the Beta web-site for people to review/vett. If design documents do not exist, this failure should be noted and a commitment by the CityManager made to NEVER start a large software project with adequate design documentsagain!It would also have been very helpful to have a menu tree as a part of the externaldocumentation for the site. The menu tree can be determined by “walking the tree”, butwhy should people have to do that, when the people in charge of the project could havemade this information available to all?
Web-site Internals
Most large pieces of software generally are divided up into a “front-end” and a “back-end”.The “front-end” deals with data input/validation, and the “back-end” deals with theexecution of the user’s input/requests. “Back-ends” tend to be more complicated, and ofteninterface to a database manager.This kind of “front-end”/”back-end” architecture also tends to reflect what we sometimescall a “client/server” architecture. This definition is very loose, but allows us to partitionthe responsibility of the code between different groups, if that proves beneficial. Thisability to partition large projects across different operating departments is convenient, butcan also result in a lot of “cohesiveness” across the product as a whole, unless there is astrong “product” manager who is able to determine that contributions of the variousoperating departments are not designed/coded well enough to provide a meaning user experience for the site as a whole.After staring at the V.3 web-site, and trying to use some of the “content” that has obviously been contributed by the operating departments, it’s clear that there are many “rough edges”in this product, and that the level of commitment to making the user experience meaningfulis not uniformly found throughout the site.
 
This is another of those places where a written specification would help to establish thegoals of the site, and to help evaluate each of the components.
Main Menu System Evaluation
The following is the current level-1 horizontal menu options:Top/Horizontal Menu Bar (Left To Right)VisitingDoing BusinessGovernmentServicesCommunity PartnersI Want ToThis set of choices seems reasonable. Not certain how useful tying up valuable screen real-estate for “Community Partners” might be; hopefully, there is hard statistical use data that justifies these choices.The “Government”, “Community Partners” and “I Want To” menu items are not drop-down menu selectors like the “Doing Business” and “Services” menu. These three usemost of the top of the screen, using multiple columns, to display level-2 menu items. Thisapproach increases the number of items that can be offered, although the approach tends to break the paradigm of single-column menu selectors that is typical of this sort of interface.This is not a big deal, but it is a little psychologically disconcerting because so much of thescreen is utilized. The User has to spend more time finding an item, but there are moreitems to find. If one of the goals of this re-design were to increase the “findability” of various items of service offered by the Palo Alto Government, then perhaps that goal wasachieved. However, it’s not clear that that change could not have been effected on the V.2web-site.
Left Side Vertical Menu
Most Popular Building PermitsOpen City HallCity Agendas and MinutesLibrariesBeta Feedback Bidding On Projects

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