Government portals | Web design sins

A Page on the Web, published in the Solicitors Journal, March 2001

Government portals

Last month’s review of UK legal portals would not be complete without covering government sites. While designed for the citizen rather than the lawyer, government portals provide access to so much information vital to lawyering that they are an essential legal research tool. Of the following portals only LEXicon is primarily designed for lawyers.

Run by the CCTA Government Information Service, this is a comprehensive site for access to all government departments and agencies. There are also links to hundreds of related organisations. Listings are arranged both by organisation and by topic, including in particular the Law and Justice topic.

Direct Access Government

The ‘DAG’ site is created by the Government Better Regulation Unit to provide direct access to a wide range of government regulations and documents and many of the forms commonly needed.

Although thousands of useful documents are maintained here, this site is tedious to navigate. If you’re keen for quicker access and up for a bit of detective work, go directly to the FTP site at


LEXicon, from the Court Service in association with Butterworths, gives access to selected legal information online. It has been designed for the judiciary of England and Wales. Links are grouped under UK, European, International and Human Rights and then categorised by type.

UK Online: Citizen Portal

This is a new Government portal site offering easy access to all government information for the citizen. In terms of resources, essentially this points you to relevant indexes on the and DAG sites (see above). There is also a feature pointing you to government resources thematically via ‘Life’s Episodes’.

Designed to annoy

Flash intros

Picture this: Variously shaped objects move in from the edges of the screen and combine to form a nicely designed logo. Gradually some text appears – with luck, the name you were expecting. Finally a button appears inviting you to Enter. This is the Flash intro, one of the worst curses of current web design. Of Flash, web usability guru Jakob Nielsen says: ‘About 99% of the time, the presence of Flash on a website constitutes a usability disease. … In most cases, we would be better off if these multimedia objects were removed.’

Flash degrades websites by encouraging design abuse, preventing interaction, distracting attention and delaying user gratification.

Don’t blame the designer for this. The bosses thought it looked nice at the boardroom presentation … but then they never used the website.

If faced with a Flash intro as a user, there’s not much you can do save watch out for a ‘Skip Intro’ button. If you’ll want to revisit the site, be sure to bookmark the next page rather than the base page.

‘Your browser does not support frames’

Assuming you are not stuck with 1995 technology you should never as a user encounter this message when accessing a web page. However, check any listing of websites found with a search engine and a surprising number will display some such text. This is because the default page on a framed site need not contain any text, just a definition of which frames go where. The above message remains the default ‘no frames’ text for frameset pages in many web design templates. But search engines index these pages, so your frameset page should include no frames text equivalent to that which appears on your home page. As well as displaying meaningful text in the search engine results page, this will also improve your search engine ranking.

Check this out and fix it if you’re a website owner of a framed site.

‘This site requires IE4 or above’

Now that Bill Gates has all but won the browser war, this message is increasingly common if you use any browser other than Internet Explorer. Most users faced with this message will simply leave the site immediately.

But that extra percentage of the market is important to you, so insist that your site is compatible with browsers at least as far back as 18 months old. Currently that includes Netscape 4.x.

‘This site utilises the latest technology’

So starts a gem I encountered recently, which continues ‘… and is all driven from a Microsoft SQL Server 7 database, with a layer of Active Server Pages that calls the data.’ Not a design sin, this attitude does though demonstrate a remarkable lack of marketing sense. Why should the user care?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your users will welcome your interests, whether they be technology, horse racing, bungee jumping or whatever.

2 thoughts on “Government portals | Web design sins

  1. Also any flash added to a site should run independently, and not demand that the user should interact in order to view info on the site

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