A new navigation experience
on seattle.gov
A redesign of the global navigation of the seattle.gov to achieve a more intuitive user experience for the residents of Seattle. This involved letting go of the department driven information architecture to follow a more audience-oriented mental model.
Project at City of Seattle with a UX team of 4
Information architecture, prototyping and usability testing
Understanding phase
Identifying the root cause
The seattle.gov homepage is visited by 77,300 residents every week on an average. According to usability studies conducted by the city in the last year, residents have reported experiencing fatigue and confusion looking for information on the city website.
  • The website content is currently organized based on the internal departments existing in the city government.
  • The residents are unaware of the departmental structure within the city government and so the navigation experience is not intuitive for them.
  • Residents miss out on beneficial resources offered by the city because relevant information is not easily discoverable.
Current navigation
Current experience: Department based navigation
Structuring the navigation based on the mental model of the residents of Seattle will make it easier to find information and services on the city’s website and contribute to a good experience.
What makes a Seattle resident?
To rethink the taxonomy it was important to understand the resident’s mindset when they land on the website. Based on past research we know they came with a goal in mind and this goal differed based on the type of resident. To make sure we capture all needs we took a personified approach by consulting the personas previously created by the team for city residents.
City personas
Consolidating phase
Affinity mapping helped consolidate the information from our research and resulted in 8 high level themes which were the foundational categories of the new navigation architecture.
Search terms
Affinity mapping to define high-level categories
City IA
First draft of the sitemap
Putting the sitemap to the test
It was now time to test if our sitemap accomodated the mental models that the residents have when they come the city's website with a goal. We used userlytics to perform unmoderated usability testing with participants from each of our persona segments.
  • Card sorting x 10 participants
  • Tree-jack testing x 9 participants
  • Testing with low-fidelity prototype x 6 participants
Card sorting via Userlytics
My approach
Before each exercise, I suggested we ask the participants what each category means to them and what they think they might find in that category. This helped us understand their assumptions about the terminology detached from any bias that our card sorting/prototype might put forward.
Changes after feedback
  1. Government Help was the default choice for participants who did not know where to place a card. To be more indicative of its actual content of discount programs, it was changed to Government Aid.
  2. We realised that Data and Research did not have much chance of being used by the average resident and eliminated it as a high-level category.
  3. Learning and Education & Transportation & Development were two new categories I pushed to add as they were prime concerns for multiple participants when asked what they would expect to find on a city website.
City IA
Highlights of changes after multiple rounds of usability testing
By audience or by topic
While categorizing, the “by audience” approach seemed more in alignment with the city personas. However, we often ran into a situation where a resident could identify with multiple audiences. Therefore, we decided to go further with the “by topic” navigation model while the “Information by audience” as a subcategory instead.
Different navigation models
Final version
Latest sitemap for seattle.gov
We had to incorporate the new and much larger sitemap on the website. We hoped to enable the residents to accomplish their goal without being overwhelmed by excessive choice.
Updating the website design
Once we had a good hold on the taxonomy we started brainstorming ideas for appropriate navigation elements to improve the UI. We went through the first round of sketches to showcase our ideas and vote as a team. We concentrated on three key design areas in our sketches:
    The taxonomy that we had come up with had 8 top-level categories that had multiple sub-sections. To accommodate this structure, a mega menu was the top solution that each of us sketched iterations for.
    Since the taxonomy was fairly comprehensive, the team thought it would be a good idea to highlight the top tasks of each category.
    These pages would serve as the hub for a set of similar services that span across departments and are united by a goal or a particular audience.
Fleshing out the solution
Next, we recruited residents that qualified as any of the city personas to try out the new navigation. We ensured that each persona was represented in the participants. We conducted 12 moderated in-person usability testing sessions.
Usability testing session with a community advocate persona type
The mega menu is the primary navigation that houses the sitemap. Apply and pay, Information by audience are two categories with dropdown navigation outside of the mega menu.
In the mobile view, the mega menu transforms into a nested hamburger menu with all eight categories.

Mobile prototype
UXpin prototype as handoff for implementation
I created an aggregate page which collects all information on city resources for learning & education. These pages are also linked through the mega menu.
Aggregate page
A human-centered navigation
The results of the usability testing showed improved time on task metrics and a much more intuitive experience looking for information. After discussions with the departments and sharing the results the roadmap for the first implementation of the new redesign has been set.
  • Through this project, I got an opportunity to work on information architecture at a large scale.
  • I learnt to design for equal representation of multiple target users i.e Seattle residents with varying needs.
  • As a next step, I would track user interaction with the website and do further usability testing to iterate on the design.