Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Design System

Content principles

Customer Trust
We build customer trust by creating a user experience that is consistent, predictable, accessible, and usable. We maintain content that is timely, accurate, useful and simple to understand.

Operational Excellence
We build operational excellence by managing a platform that is efficient, responsive, flexible an intuitive. We enforce standards that aim for good stewardship, accountability, alignment, and effectiveness.

Workforce Excellence
We support workforce excellence by providing standards, training and analytics so website stewards can effectively manage content.

Diversity and Inclusion 
We encourage a diverse and inclusive workforce that allows each employee to contribute their full potential towards achieving MnDOT’s strategic vision. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion allows us to more effectively address the issues facing the diverse communities in Minnesota. 
Be mindful of harmful words when creating content. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does the language make you uncomfortable, even if you can’t quite articulate the reason? 
  • Is the language working metaphorically? 
  • If so, what are the implications behind the metaphor? Does it place a positive connotation on a group and a negative one on something else? 
  • Does the language imply “otherness” and exclusivity? 
  • Can it be substituted for something clearer or more literal? Think about what the term actually means and describe that. 

Be concise

To keep content understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:

  • Specific
  • Informative
  • Clear and concise
  • Brisk but not terse
  • Incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words) but human (not something generated by a faceless machine)
  • Serious but not pompous or emotionless—adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin

Avoid duplication

If something is written once and links to relevant information easily and well, people are more likely to trust the content. Duplicate content produces poor search results, confuses the user, and damages the credibility of our websites.

If users can find two similar pieces of content on a subject, they might end up calling a helpline or sending an email to the first address they find because they aren’t sure they have the right information.

There are thousands of federal websites. Collectively, they host hundreds of millions of pieces of content. What are you writing about? What are other agencies publishing? Are users across the country and the world seeing a coherent view?

Before you publish something, check that the user need you’re trying to address has not already been covered:

  • Search for the content using a popular search engine like Google or Bing. This is how most users will start, too. If content is already easy to find, duplicating it can lead us to compete with ourselves for search results.
  • Often, 18F team members write about a government service, tool, or program. Think authoritatively: What department or agency controls the thing you’re writing about? What information have they produced already?
  • Start significant projects with a content audit. Identify how any existing information is used and whether it will be helpful to your users in its current state. If it isn’t, what must change for it to help you address your users’ needs? Focus your work on those changes.

Keep refining

Content design is an ongoing process, and even published content isn’t really “done,” in a traditional sense — it’s not a static entity. To ensure that your content is helping users, you need to keep refining it over time.

When you’re creating content, it’s best to base your refinements on insights from users. This section addresses ways to test your content’s effectiveness and includes tips for archiving and deleting content without disrupting the user experience.

Testing and ongoing research

Set aside time regularly to make sure your content works for users. If you’re not sure where to start, check your web analytics to identify:

  • Pages with high or low traffic
  • Pages with high or low reading times
  • Common search terms
  • Common user flows within your site

You can also review:

  • User feedback from surveys, call center logs, and support emails
  • Recurring themes from channels like Twitter, Facebook, and tech blogs

You should make a habit of listening to users, too. Conduct usability testing sessions regularly to understand how people access, use, and interpret key pieces of content on your site. See Looking at the different ways to test content on the 18F Blog for more details.

Additional resources

Archiving and deleting content

You may occasionally need to archive or delete outdated content. Maybe it’s irrelevant after a recent policy change or redundant with other pages on your site. Avoid moving or deleting content without a good reason, because it can cause a lot of frustration for users. Changes to site structure may also slow down users who’ve learned specific navigation paths on your site.

As part of ongoing site maintenance, you should audit your content to keep everything updated and identify potential duplication. Depending on the size of your site, you may want to review everything on a yearly basis, for example, or look at one or two sections at a time.

Before you archive or delete anything, review your site analytics to understand how users are accessing the content now, and check in with the content owner or author to come up with a plan together. Be sure to consider cases that may not show up in analytics data too, such as:

  • Search engine results
  • User bookmarks
  • Links from external sites

Each of these can be addressed by ensuring you have redirects from the old URLs to the latest content.
When you’re looking at a particular page, think about the best way to meet user needs:

  • Who is this content for?
  • Is there a legal requirement for having it?
  • How often do people visit this page?
  • Are there any incoming links to it, either within your site or from popular referrers?
  • Are there other pages that cover this topic? Can you combine them? Which one shows up higher in search results?
  • Can you hide or archive the page instead of deleting it?
  • Was this content meant to expire quickly? Was the website the right channel for this type of content — or should posts like this move to a blog, newsletter, or social media account in the future?

If you genuinely need to delete something, give users a path to find what they need. This could include:

  • URL redirects
  • Ceding ownership of the content to another organization who can maintain it
  • Keeping content around and adding context that it is depreciated or no longer maintained
  • Making the content available elsewhere with an archiving service like the National Archives and Records Administration’s Government Web Harvests or the Internet Archive
  • Custom 404 pages to help users find what they’re looking for

Additional resources