Website design: what the ACA designers missed, and KY got right

October 29, 2013 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: Home, journalism, web journalism.

Website design – specifically that of the federal government’s new insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) – has been in the news lately.

Of course, it isn’t the design so much as its lack of functionality that’s become a political football.

It should have worked better than it did. It should have been tested more thoroughly than it was.

So, what was wrong with it?

Jakob Neilsen’s Nielsen Norman Group, web design researchers, has a critique of the site that is as enlightening as it is devastating. (Actually, it’s just a critique of the account setup of the site, which is even more devastating.) There are lessons in it for all of us who work with the web. The critique is written by Jen Cardello and says the website broke 10 usability guideline the NNG preaches over and over again.

It’s pretty simple stuff, but the designers blew it on a number of points, including:

  • Not letting users use their email address as a user name
  • Making users go through too many steps.
  • Not telling users what the process is before they start
  • Creating confusing password requirement.
  • Not giving users good information on how to correct errors.

At the state level, Kentucky gets high marks for starting early, keeping things simple, and testing-testing-testing before it launched a website that works. has this to say about Kentucky’s site:

Dylan Scott of TPM writes:

. . . Kentucky’s game plan for a successful website launch could be read as a counterpoint to the mistakes that the Obama administration made in building its own website. The recipe for success in Kentucky was: A pared-down website engineered to perform the basic functions well and a concerted effort to test it as frequently as possible to work out glitches before the Oct. 1 launch.

That’s about it. The formula for a good, functional website that you want people to use is

  • Know what you the site to do.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Test, and then test some more.

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