Over the last few years it's become more and more common to see government websites embrace modern design and open source. It's now rare to find a new U.S. federal website that isn't built on open source.
You can see the WhiteHouse.gov team building on Drupal and contributing code to the community. You can see the whole of Healthcare.gov built on Jekyll and actually hosted on Github for anyone to fork.
I wondered whether that same was true of government at the state level. So, I took a look at all the websites for all 50 U.S. states ...
It may be a surprising winner, but Arkansas.gov was clearly the most impressive state website.
In fact, Arkansas seem to have been a positive example for several years. Back in 2011 they won the best government website award from the Center for Digital Government.
In May this year they redesigned the website again, using Expression Engine and a heavy dose of Bootstrap. Here's their official overview of the redesign.
What's equally impressive is that they completed the task for less than $200,000 and didn't even spend any tax dollars.
The Large Search Box
While researching all the state websites, one trend stood out ... if a state website has been built recently, it features a huge search box.
My guess is that so many citizens are researching so many different topics that a search box is the most efficient navigation. A lot of the bad state websites try to solve this problem with enormous dropdown menus or very over-crowded pages.
Good try, but ...
There were several websites that tried to be cutting-edge, but just ended up being awkward.
Mississippi have just relaunched their website but ended up with a bad version of the Windows 8 design.
South Carolina has some nice features on their site, but also a confusing series of dots and hover boxes that's similar to Bing.com.
The Florida site probably gets my vote as the worst state site in the nation, if only because that monstrosity is advertised on every single license plate in the state!
Final thoughts and more reading
This overview focused on design only. It would be interesting to see a usability on these websites, getting real citizens to try and research information from them.
I wrote this blog before checking the opinions of others, but if you're interested there are organizations that give formal grades for state websites. The Center for Digital Government does annual rankings. Utah has won a lot of awards and links to many of them on their website.