Design for America: good graphic design shouldn’t take a decade


In March, the Senate Finance Committee redesigned their website. It had been languishing with the same design since 2001. Here’s what it looked like for the most of this decade. Here’s what it looks like now. Amazing progress! The problem is it took almost ten years to get to this point.

I can’t say why it took so long but it got me thinking. Does it matter that the website looked so bad for so long? What’s more important? Good graphic design or good data?

For me, it’s a false choice.

I’m equally interested about the graphic design of government as I am with the content and data government produces. My concern about the design and presentation of data is two fold. Firstly, bad design often means a bad user interface. A confusing user interface makes it difficult for users to access or understand the data they’re trying to get. Secondly, people are attracted to good design.

So, what’s the problem here? It’s that there are staggering discrepancies in the quality of design across government. These discrepancies end up distracting users from the information that’s truly interesting. As a journalist I’d often have to go the the Senate Finance Committee’s page and I dreaded it each time. Now I want to spend my whole day clicking around the site! The redesign brings their page up to the de facto design standard of other committee websites.

That almost decade long lag time is one of the major reasons why Sunlight Labs is sponsoring the Design For America contest. Let’s stop waiting for government to redesign itself and instead give the process a huge shot of adrenaline. Adobe, along with Google, O’Reilly, TechWeb, Palantir and the Gov 2.0 Expo have graciously sponsored this contest so we have up to $40,000 to give away for the winning designs.

The submission deadline is May 17th so roll up your sleeves and Design for America!