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Obama Renovates Whitehouse.gov

Written by Hirsch Fishman on January 20th, 2009

There are many things that get handed over to the incoming president at noon every Inauguration Day: the keys to Air Force One, the Oval Office, and… the password to Whitehouse.gov?

Yes, you read that correctly.

Barack Obama ran for office using arguably the most technologically-committed campaign ever. The new look of the White House website is no surprise when you keep that in mind – although I must say that I actually was a bit surprised to hear about it. Considering everything else that is being talked about this inauguration day, honestly, who was even thinking about the White House website?

The Obama Administration's new White House website, January 2009

Thoughts on the new design

The new look of the White House website picks up where his campaign and transition websites left off. In fact, if you go to Change.gov now, there is a note saying that the “transition has ended and the new administration has begun. Please join President Barack Obama at Whitehouse.gov” – so you do get the sense of continuity from one phase of his election and presidency to the next.

Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House and a contributor to the White House blog, writes that the new website is “just the beginning of the new administration’s efforts to expand and deepen the online engagement” that many Americans used to help play a role in the election.

I think what I’m most impressed with the most is how Obama’s calls for transparency and communication in government were carried over to the website. What those two things translate most readily into in web design terms is what I talk about all the time – a commitment to site usability.

What’s done well

What are some features on the new website that make it very usable and that I really like?

  • Intuitive navigation – The top navigational bar has only a few simple choices, and the drop-downs that appear when you hover over a link provide links to all sorts of information about his agenda, the administration, the history of the White House, the government, and how to stay informed. They’re simple to use and look great – what more could you ask form.
  • E-mail updates – This is a standard feature on many websites, but this is downright genius the way it’s incorporates here – not to mention groundbreaking. But it comes as now surprise to see the administration use this, considering Obama’s use of other technologies during his campaign, such as text messaging.
  • Functional footer – This is also a commonly found design element nowadays, but again, it’s use here really fits well with the openness and accessibility that the website and administration are both trying to convey. It makes it even easier for people to find the information that they’re looking if they don’t want to use the drop-down menus at the top – again, a hallmark of usability.

Of course, the snazzy Web 2.0 design really does wonders in tying eveything together, and the web designer in me can’t help but wonder if it’s running on WordPress!

What could be fixed

I know I’m probably being a bit too nit-picky here, but there are a few small touches that I would have done differently:

  • Styling the text links – The text links are the same color as the text, and aren’t underlined either, so it’s hard to tell what is a link and what isn’t. I would have done this a bit differently, since styling them properly helps with both usability and accessibility – something I detailed in another post I wrote on the subject.
  • Page title tags – The page titles on pages throughout the website are very basic: “Contact Us” is all it says for the “Contact Us” page, for example. I’m sure that the White House website doesn’t have search engine optimization forefront on their mind, but it wouldn’t hurt to include some more information in them. People who use tabbed browsers would be appreciative of that!
  • Breadcrumbs – Once you get into the sub-pages on the website, there is a well-styled breadcrumb bar that appears at the top of the footer area. I just wish that they would have done the same at the top of the page where it would be more visible.
  • Form fields – Eye-tracking studies have shown that it’s best to put the labels on top of input fields on website forms, but the Contact Form on the website has them reversed. I would switch this up and it will look a lot better.

It’s a great start

Overall though, this is a great website that I’m very impressed with. I’m curious to see how the website grows and changes over time as more content is posted to it – pending legislation and executive orders, for example – and new features come online – such as the RSS feeds, which aren’t quite ready yet.

From a marketing angle, I think it very accurately reflects the message that the new administration wishes to convey about itself. And as I’ve written elsewhere, if the design of a website is able to help convey the right message about an organization, then that truly a great website.

About Hirsch Fishman

Hirsch Fishman is the owner of Addicott Web and is a professional web designer who specializes in building Wordpress websites for small businesses and organizations. Originally from upstate New York, he has lived in New York City and Chicago, and currently resides in Raleigh, NC.

4 thoughts on “Obama Renovates Whitehouse.gov

  1. Ezra

    What an upgrade – and a blog with rss! It’s nice to see the Obama team continue the reliance on the internet that carried them through the campaign. And he’s going to need all those email addresses in 4 years anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sends out occasional emails while in office much like he did during the campaign, so when he runs for reelection people won’t think “oh, he only writes to us directly when he wants our money.”

    Another interesting thing I read, the old whitehouse.gov purposely had code in there to make sure it wasn’t crawled by search sites, and the new one removed all that. More here – http://www.kottke.org/09/01/the-countrys-new-robotstxt-file

    1. Addicott Web Post author

      It’s funny you mentioned how he’ll need all those e-mail addresses in 4 years when the next election comes around, because if you go to http://www.barackobama.com, it’s still an active website and still being updated even. So it looks like they’re definitely planning on keeping that around for the next go-round, which totally makes sense.

      That’s a really interesting link about the robots.txt file from the old website – what a difference!

    1. Addicott Web Post author

      I wish I had thought to take a screen shot of the previous version, but fortunately someone else did, which was a really smart move. They took the screen shot yesterday morning right before the website was switched over to the new version, so you get a great idea of what the most recent version looked like.

      I downloaded the image to my server, and you can see it here; I found it on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/admorales/3212591263/.


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