A brand new website for Croydon Council

Friday, 20 March 2015, 16:24.

Croydon is the most populated borough in London, stretching from Upper Norwood in the north to Coulsdon East in the south, with some areas filled with high rise buildings and other areas being the very definition of leafy suburb. It is a bustling, vibrant place and has a huge range of services to match. The team at Croydon Council really understand the challenges of providing user-friendly online services and we have been helping them to achieve that aim over the past few months.

A better, open source, content management system

The previous Croydon website was built on an old and unsupported Content Management System (CMS). It was too slow, difficult to update easily and content didn’t display properly on mobile phones and tablets. As more and more people access the site from their mobiles, this is becoming more and more important to fix.

The new website was built using Drupal which is a really powerful open source CMS. Because Drupal is open source, it is built, used and supported by an active community of developers around the world. As a result there are thousands of add on modules which can add further interactivity to the council’s website and give it the flexibility to meet users’ future needs.   

Testing with users

Originally, Croydon and TSO had intended to replicate the look and feel of the previous website when it was moved over to a new CMS. Feedback from users on the old site was generally positive, which many felt did a good enough job.

However, we quickly realised that we had an opportunity to go one step forward and not just make the current design responsive (so that it works on mobiles and tablets much, much better than it did before) but also to see how we might bring it right up to date and be something that both looks better and performs better.

To achieve this part of the project we brought in two fantastic partners; Metataxis and Red Bullet. Metataxis are experts in how information is managed and have a long history of making significant improvements to how people are able to engage with information on websites. Red Bullet are a top design agency and designed the previous site when it was refreshed a couple of years ago. This meant they were able to draw upon their previous history and knowledge of the site as well as bringing in fresh thinking.

We went through a stage of User Experience (UX) testing. UX involves us speaking with real users of the site to find out how they navigate the site, what they like and don’t like, as well as testing things out so we can actually see how they complete tasks. Metataxis went through the Croydon website with members of the public, starting with a larger group to test the existing site and do some benchmarking against other similar sites.

This testing threw up some really interesting points. For example, participants liked the ‘warmth’ of the old site but the clean design of some of its counterparts; liked the colour schemes of the old site but the layout of others; and regularly highlighted a simple fact - that content is king. It was no good after all having something which looked great but was difficult to understand.

This UX research was used to inform the drafting of the brand new site, influencing everything from colour palettes to layouts to whether or not pages should have breadcrumbs (lots of debate was had on that particular subject). Based on the findings wireframes were produced - a rough draft version of the site that was used for more testing with users. These different phases of testing mean that we could continue to make improvements at each stage.

The old Croydon website was huge – at the beginning of 2014 it had almost 6,000 pages of content. That’s a lot of words. Since then the web team at the council has worked hard to reduce this number in order to focus on the things which are most important to local people. This helps to make it easier to navigate and search the website so users can find the things they need more quickly.

We launched a Beta site just before Christmas with all the content, design and functionality in place. This meant that we could get a wider audience of users to test the site and help us find any bugs that needed to be ironed out before the site went fully live. Our developers worked behind the scenes to fix any bugs so that it was ready to launch.

The new www.croydon.gov.uk website

       

The new website went live for all users on 26 January. The new site looks very different to the old, retaining elements people liked about the previous site and introducing new elements users liked elsewhere. We’ve kept the layout clean and simple and limited the amount of text in large chunks on screen.

You’ll notice that there are a number of large buttons on both the homepage and on pages lower down the site. These all link to the most common tasks that people come to the site to do and will make it much easier to do things quickly. They also work well on touch screens, which is an important factor.

We’ve made each of the sections easier to read and also included latest news feeds and events at the bottom of the page to keep people up-to-date with the latest developments in the borough. Some of the changes, like the banners and icons, are obvious while others are more subtle but still really helpful (one particular favourite is the breadcrumb trail on pages which always floats at the top of the screen – really helps you find your way around!).

Overall, we think you’ll agree that the new design is much cleaner, clearer and easier to use, whatever device you are using and the Council has received positive feedback from site users.

Putting in place strong foundations for the website is an important part in the Council’s plans to continually develop online services and enable residents and business to do business with the Council online. In close partnership with Croydon Council, we will be building on these foundations extensively over the coming months, looking for ways to improve the user experience and help users do more online with the Council than ever before.

We would still love to hear feedback so that we can continue to improve the website. You can email us with comments or suggestions, or indeed simply to find out more, at glen.ocsko@tso.co.uk