IRS.gov, Part II: Presentation

In my last entry, I gave a brief overview of what I saw as the main problems with the IRS website: www.irs.gov.  Today, I’m going to go into more detail about the first of these issues: presentation. Using the home page as an example, I can see a couple of big issues:lack of white space and lack of color.

White Space Is Your Friend

Website styles come and go, but one trend of the last few years has been the use of more white space—or “breathing room.”  White space helps the eye to separate different sections of a web page and to group things together.  Because they don’t use enough white space, everything on the IRS home page runs together:

IRS.gov Home Page
IRS.gov Home Page

Now look at the same page with more white space between each section:

IRS.gov Home Page with Spacing
IRS.gov Home Page with Spacing

The extra spacing helps your eye see each individual section as separate, and it helps you mentally organize the information you are seeing so that you can more easily figure out what you seeing, and find what you are looking for.

Give User's Neurons a Break by Using Color

I can understand that the IRS wants to go with a traditional blue and gray palette, but there is more than one shade of blue.  Using only two main colors means that everything looks the same: navigation, featured content, tools, search...everything. Color can be used to subtly but effectively to differentiate between content types:

IRS.gov home page with a little color
IRS Home Page with Color

This page is exactly same but it has more color.  The lighter, brighter blue makes the navigation pop.  The color is echoed in the four sections that are also part of the navigation: Forms and Publications, Online Services, I Need To, and Filing and Payments.  The other non-navigation sections are highlighted using the navy blue that is also used for branding.  The "Special Interest" buttons are highlighted in red and shadowed to make them stand out more and to make them actually look like buttons.

No doubt a skilled web designer could improve this page even more, and there is still a lot of work to do with navigation and architecture, but even the simple changes of adding more white space and color improve the usability of this page tremendously.

Next time, we'll talk about navigation and architecture.