White House on fed websites: Keep it simple, stupid


I’m at the General Services Administration’s Government Web and New Media Conference today, listening to administration officials talk about open government, social media, and how to best use technology to reach the public. And one point keeps coming up: When it comes to websites and other programs, keep it simple, stupid.

OK, so White House CIO Vivek Kundra and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson didn’t use those words exactly. But their message was clear: The public is increasingly using iPhones and other mobile devices that have trouble with overly-complex webpages. And if the federal government wants to reach citizens through those avenues, simplicity is key. But as Kundra said, that’s not as easy as it sounds:

What becomes really, really important all of a sudden is to figure out, how do you simplify the interaction? A lot of people confuse simplicity with a lack of engineering rigor. It’s actually the opposite. The simpler interaction is, on certain platforms, more complex. The underlying architecture, the engineering. And part of what we’re trying to do is drive toward that vision.

A little later, Johnson echoed Kundra’s point. She said that when agencies build websites and other tools for customers, they should remember exactly what those customers need and not shoehorn in fancy new features when something simpler will do:

I have two children, and when they were younger, I had to think twice about whether it was a toy that they wanted, or it was something that they needed. I think we get quite enamored with our technology toys, but we really need to pay attention to what our customers need. What we need more is a back-and-forth conversation, not a lot of really sophisticated toys that really swamp the user.

I want GSA to lead by example in all this. I want us to have the best website. I want a really, truly, GSA for Dummies website, where people can find what they need, without having to tackle a lot of complicated paths.

What do you think? Have federal websites gotten too complicated and taken with whiz-bang bells and whistles? Are those wonderful toys hampering your ability to reach all corners of the public?


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