California Department of Justice
SERVICE DESIGN, UX DESIGN
The problem: In an era where the criminal-justice system is under increasing scrutiny, the California Department of Justice makes vast amounts of data available online. But the site is difficult to understand and use – thus undermining the DOJ’s goal to “understand how we are doing, hold ourselves accountable, and improve public policy.”
Scope: UX/UI, Information Architecture, Content Management, Promotion.
Deliverables: Research, Sitemap, Wireframes, Revised Copy, Social Media Plan.
Team / Time Frame: Three UX designers. Three-week sprint.
Our approach: For interested laypeople, we made the site's resources more visible and accessible, and the tone less “government-ese,” while maintaining its non-partisan stance. For researchers and journalists, we improved accessibility to the various powerful ways the site can filter and present data for their specific needs.
The DOJ has implemented some of our proposals, before a new administration withdrew our planned second phase.
“What’s this website even for? How do I use it?”
The existing home page squanders its space and its opportunity to project its powerful mission, resources, and tools. It puts off new visitors, and it doesn’t serve returning visitors.
Our redesign surfaces what you'll find here: a treasure trove of data, accessible and customizable. It emphasizes OpenJustice’s currency, relevance, and engagement.
Home Page - Before and After:
- Replace and shrink standard-issue photo.
- Convey what’s on the site through copy and infographics.
- Display sample issues and data visualizations.
- Bring search and sharing to navigation bar.
- Add timeliness through Twitter feed and News & Events section.
- Move government letter (who reads these things?) to Resources section.
- Shrink and rationalize footer.
“Where am I? Where else can I go? How do I get back?”
On the existing site, getting oriented is practically impossible, especially for someone arriving in the middle from an external link.
Our clear, comprehensive wayfinding gives a context for the entire site, encouraging newcomers to browse and discover, and reminding experienced users of the wealth of resources available.
Navigation - Before and After:
Before: Navigation is spread across three places, it repeats some levels and omits others altogether, and the terminology is inconsistent. Even someone who begins at the beginning will have a hard time retracing their steps.
Proposed: The new navigation keeps primary, secondary, and (when needed) tertiary navigation visible at all times. In-page hyperlinks are now more visible and more easily scrolled. Nested drop-down menus show offerings and save steps.
Mapping a Revised Site
As we redesigned the navigation, we redesigned the information architecture for clarity and for future growth, splitting the three existing sections out to five and adding pages to support a new emphasis on community engagement. And we made some of the terminology more accessible here (as we did throughout the project).
We added landing pages for the four major sections. A newcomer can click on a tab in the primary nav bar; land, learn the purpose of that section, see the contents of an entire section; and proceed. The landing pages also help visitors find their way back out from pages deep in the site.
“I’m overwhelmed at how much is here and all the ways to use it.”
As our UX team gradually wrapped our heads around how much OpenJustice has to offer, the DOJ team gradually came to appreciate how hard it is for users to figure it out!
The existing structure of Data Stories and Data Explorations (shown above) divides the site into two main methods by which people can access and filter the data. These methods correspond to different levels of sophistication of the users, from novice to expert. But they separate the two different ways of looking at the same data into silos with very different structures.
For the next phase, we would have proposed a structure based on the various topics of data on the site. A user would come to the site for a given topic, and then delve into the topic using different means, according to their level of sophistication. So all the topics would be easily available, and the methods for delving into each topic would also be easily available.
Expanding Reach: SEO and Social Media
Early on, our team looked at Google Analytics and found that traffic to the site is surprisingly low (some days as low as 19 visitors!). We soon discovered that the site was lacking in SEO terms, an easily remedied oversight.
Visitors tend to bounce quickly and not return. We proposed monitoring whether the improved orientation, navigation, and architecture indeed encourage people to stay and explore the site.
Analytics showed that visits tend to spike after the announcement of a significant update to the site. For example, the Firearms section became the site’s most popular after a press release about new data on the subject. That indicates the power of public relations.
We take that to mean that people are interested in what the site offers, if only they can find out about it.
In turn, we sought to leverage the power of people who do come to the site, by encouraging people to share stories or information graphics through social media, or by embedding them in blogs or news stories. We added icons in the header, icons and embed codes on each graph and chart, and a Twitter feed on the home page. We also presented a media plan with guidelines on posting, partnering with key influencers, blogging (with tags, keywords, and metadescriptions to direct people to the site), media engagement, and measuring results.
Finally, the Community section presented ways for people to learn how to use the site more effectively, to attend DOJ-sponsored hackathons and events, and to share their own data sets.
These steps all underscore OpenJustice’s mission to “strengthen public trust, enhance government accountability, and inform public policy.”
I had the pleasure of working with my UX teammates, Natalie Rutiezer and Tracy Reppert. Each of us brought our particular backgrounds to bear, and we supported and honed one another’s work as a team; I focused on navigation, information architecture, and content management.
We met often in San Francisco with Special Assistant Attorney General Justin Erlich and his aide, who had an impressive depth of knowledge on this sprawling and worthy topic, and an eagerness for us to expand its reach. We also traveled to the DOJ in Sacramento to meet with OpenJustice’s developers and data scientists (who tame and synthesize data from over 1,000 agencies around the state!). They were a pleasure to work with – knowledgeable and motivated; welcoming of our ideas and appreciative as we solicited theirs. Their knowledge of past releases gave us a context for why things were as they were, and their response to our work-in-progress helped us tailor it to be reasonable and achievable.
In the midst of our project, a key event happened: the Attorney General, Kamala Harris, was elected to the US Senate. With turnover in the Department, our brief contract came to an end, along with the opportunity to complete our proposed changes.