Best government website of all time?

29Mar06

Quite possibly.

BLM Paria Canyon website

Sure, it’s over-application of web technology circa 1999, and it’s design only a mother could love (the same mother that sends out the family newsletter with at least one typeface for every family member and pet — including each of Uncle Milton’s ant farm ants). But the Bureau of Land Mangement Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness website is downright rad. Why?

1. Cheeky charm. It even has its own adorable green lizard mascot, the Paria lizard. The guy wears sunglasses, dances, and also knows all about wilderness backpacking in the desert.

2. Visual language. Almost every page is festooned with cute, cartoony graphics that not only decorate the page, but reinforce the ideas described in text. Images not for an aesthete designer’s sake, but for a user’s. How could you not remember that “river and pool levels range from ankle to neck deep” seeing a cartoon lizard try to keep his head above water? Plus, the nature photographs are quite nice, enticement to care about the site’s subject if there ever could be any.

3. The lizard appears in animated GIFs — that, rather than being annoying as heck, subtlely draw attention to important warnings and topics (watch out for lightning on Coyote Buttes). Hey, if something on a web site should get called out, it’s information on how to avoid death. And the running lights on the Broadway-esque marquee? If one could ever induce nostalgia over animated GIFs, this is it.

4. The fun quiz. The quiz is informative and uses humor to call out some of the key facts about a place and activities activities there where, yes, people can die. Beats preaching and innudating people with severely worded warnings or repetitious messaging that people learn to ignore.

5. It has useful interactivity. The gear checklist/calculator gets people to do the important figuring they’d otherwise be too slack to do themselves. “Pack your pack”. It’s even more useful than the twentieth AJAX-y animated fade effect that you saw today. An all-purpose backpacking gear checklist like this would be great.

Paria lizard6. It feels hand-crafted. It brings the word, with all its positive connotations in the physical world, over to the web. Someone clearly spent a lot of time and effort putting the site together. It’s a not pre-fab design from a template or another instance of the latest web design trend. It’s custom made for one thing, and it does it really well.

The BLM site answers all the questions you might have about visiting Paria and walks you through the process of figuring out what questions you should ask. It offers all the information needed without ever feeling overwhelming. Let’s call it “anticipatory access” to information: Whether it’s a family road tripper or hardcore backpacker, the site address any questions folks might have about Paria by answering them just as they come up in people’s heads.

Ok, so maybe the competition from other government websites isn’t so stiff. But what style…

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3 Responses to “Best government website of all time?”

  1. 1 Em and Ad

    Nice find Spice! Ad and my favorite part of the site is the hidden affordance on the main frame of the home page on the bottom left hand side. 🙂

  2. As Em and Ad pointed a few months ago, the site has since been taken down, replaced by a more proper, soulless, less informative, and more difficult to navigate government web site.

    In a true step forward, the most prominent feature of the new wilderness information page is a notice that you will need a browser that supports 128-bit encryption (IE6.0+, Firefox 1.5+, and Safari 1.2+ are fine). Hail progress.

    All good things…

  3. But wait! Many of the pages besides the landing page still exist on their site — the links from this post to the content pages of the old BLM site still work. From there the internal links on those pages provide access to most of the original site. Providing a glimpse of that happy lizard in his home, I think this spare blog may have just proved to me the value of its existence.


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