You don’t need to be a user interface designer to spot a bad-looking site. Hell, anyone who spent any time on the internet in the days pre-Facebook might remember bland, white webpages, tiny font, and links upon links upon links like a black hole slowly sucking you into the great whirlpool expanse of incomprehensible electronic morass.
The standards have improved since then, or at least they have for most sites. Government websites have long been notorious for lagging behind the rest of the world in both usability and appearance.
A 2017 report from Information Technology & Innovation Foundation found that a grand total of 92% of 297 of the most popular government websites failed to meet basic standards for an even passable site. The study used four basic criteria to judge these sites: page load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility.
These government sites at the time failed in multiple ways. A little less than 60% of them were mobile friendly. Just 36% loaded relatively fast on mobile devices since they don’t automatically compress images or loading first-visible parts of the site first. Only 58% were accessible to users with disabilities, especially for those with eyesight-related issues.
The last time Gizmodo pressed this topic was in 2014, and though some of these sites have received an—ahem—“update” since then, you don’t have to look far to find an awful-looking, slow, convoluted webpage with UI choices that seem like they’re actually designed for an alien being with six tentacles instead of thumbs, who only sees in gamma radiation, and who hates legible fonts.
The government has had some problems with creating new sites in the past, like the infamous rollout of Healthcare.gov back in 2013. However, the federal government has seen some relative success with government sites in the pandemic. Both vaccines.gov and covidtests.gov show there are enough heads within the executive branch to get a jump on some of these rougher-looking sites, bringing them up to standard.
For this list, we’ve stuck with federal sites because going through the immense number of bad state and local government sites would probably drive the bravest individual to utter madness. Feel free to drop us a link to what you, dear reader, think is the worst government site you’ve seen. Click through for some of the worst one’s we’ve come across during our reporting, in no particular order.