Metro

City hopes new website will make accessing services headache-free

A screengrab of the pilot design of a new Boston.gov.

Paying a parking ticket, filing for a moving van permit, and figuring out which documents you need to bring to City Hall to apply for a marriage certificate can feel like daunting tasks when sifting through the tiny text and boxy design of Boston’s official website.

But city officials hope to eliminate some of the stresses that come with taking care of those errands online.

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Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office on Wednesday will celebrate the launch of the city’s revamped website, capping off a nearly year-long project — one that officials say will never truly be complete as input from constituents continues to trickle in.

The new site, boston.gov, will feature a new “B” logo and URL, and offer a more navigable interface to make accessing city services headache-free.

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“The website should act like a helpful human. This is one of the big differences between the old site and the new site,” said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of information technology. “Oftentimes, when you looked at something on the old site, it would feel like you were interacting with some sort of lawyer-robot that was speaking to you in government-speak, using very formal language. We are trying to move away from that so your experience is akin to a person.”

The new site was built by a team in the Department of Innovation and Technology, led by Franklin-Hodge and Lauren Lockwood, Walsh’s chief digital officer.

The city, which spent an estimated $1 million on the makeover, partnered with two local companies to tackle the project. For the aesthetics, they hired IDEO, a Cambridge-based innovation and design firm. On the technology front, the city tapped Boston-based Acquia, officials said.

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“There’s a huge upgrade to the technology on the website,” said Lockwood — including moving the site to the cloud.

Lockwood said the city’s desire to rebuild the website had been incubating for awhile. But the innovation and technology team didn’t pounce until last August. A pilot design has been available online since January.

Leading up to the launch, the department worked closely with users and focus groups to understand how people felt about the original website, cityofboston.gov.

The department heard repeatedly from users that everything they wanted was there. But finding the right information, and deciphering the bureaucratic jargon on each department’s page, was often frustrating, they found.

“One of the things that will become very apparent is the friendly tone in the writing,” Lockwood said. “We are trying to introduce a conversational tone, and a lot of human reason in what we are saying.”

Some of the other differences users will notice when accessing the site will be the overall look. The city’s website in its current form is bogged down by large paragraphs of text, disjointed color schemes, and disorganized content.

The new site has a simplified color scheme, information is spread out, and there are helpful “guides” and “How-To” pages for some of the most searched city services. The goal is to reduce the time it takes for residents and visitors to get something done.

“We want people to feel good when they come to interact with us. We want people to feel like we are welcoming them. We want people to feel like they are entering into a place where they receive surprisingly friendly and helpful service,” said Franklin-Hodge.

Another upside, officials said, is that boston.gov can adapt to whatever device a person happens to be using.

“It’s better on a phone than it is on a desktop,” said Lockwood, adding that the site will still cater to those who may not have iPads or smartphones, and only have access to a computer.

Paying that parking ticket will still be an annoyance. But at least it can be done with relative ease, officials said.

“Our goal is that you walk away saying, ‘You know, that was pretty painless,’” said Franklin-Hodge.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.
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