European Commission: from 400+ websites to a unified, coherent web presence

European Commission: from 400+ websites to a unified, coherent web presence

European Commission

The European Commission (EC) wants citizens and businesses to know about their rights, perceive that the European Union is working to improve their lives and know that their voices are heard. By 2013 however, the EC had grown to be one of the largest and most complex online presences in the world with more than 400 websites, many in 24 languages. This complexity proved to be unsustainable, which led the EC to commission a framework contract for digital communication, with the objective to create a radically simplified, coherent, relevant and cost-effective web presence.

Internet Architects won this framework agreement as part of the larger NOVACOMM consortium, and worked closely with several Directorates-General (DGs) for 8 straight years between 2013 and 2021 on topics such as online strategy, user experience design, information architecture and front-end development. Given the decentralised nature of the European Commission and the numerous stakeholders involved in the complex rebuilding of the web presence, we followed a strictly inclusive and evidence-based approach.

Top tasks: unprecedented quantitative data about user needs

Together with DG COMM, we established the scope, priorities and structure of the new corporate web presence and undertook extensive research to identify the main needs of people using the Commission’s websites. This resulted in a list of 77 common user tasks, which we asked users of Commission websites to rank in terms of importance. The online poll was launched in May 2014 and resulted in close to 107,000 responses across 24 languages!

The research was based on the top task methodology by Gerry McGovern and his organisation Customer Carewords. This methodology allows us to see in precise, statistical terms the main reasons for visiting, i.e. the ‘top tasks’ of people when they arrive at the sites. The analysis of the results constituted a strong, evidence-based foundation for the future architecture of the Commission web presence.

Task-based information architecture

In line with our approach of following the evidence and involving stakeholders (both the DGs and the people using our websites), we created the top-level classification for the Commission web presence. The top level classification is the highest level of menu labels, giving access to all information provided by the European Commission.

Between September 2014 and February 2015, we carried out 6 test iterations, with people representative of typical segmentation profiles as evidenced by the top-task poll. A total of over 6,000 test volunteers were invited to take part. Each test iteration was followed by a collective review meeting with colleagues from the DGs where we presented the results and our analysis and took decisions before proceeding.

Performance management through customer satisfaction ratings

Together with the European Commission, we designed a strategy and approach for effectively measuring, analysing and reporting the performance of the web presence based on customer experience data (satisfaction, completion rate) and statistics (web analytics). The main indicator to monitor overall performance across all European Commission managed websites was satisfaction, for which we established a first baseline measurement in an online satisfaction survey (the Customer Centric Index or CCI) in parallel with the top task survey. In 2018 a followup CCI was done to see how user satisfaction had evolved over the years.

Making the European e-Justice Portal more user-friendly

The e-Justice Portal aims to be the ‘one-stop-shop’ for anything related to e-justice in Europe. The growth of the portal over the last few years has turned it into a very rich but most of all very confusing source of information. For this project we applied the ‘fast track’ of the Top Task Management Model to determine the most important user tasks. This resulted in a responsive prototype of how the European e-Justice website might look and work in the future. In the meantime, a beta version of the European e-Justice Portal is available to all interested stakeholders.

Contributing to the building of an EU-wide reusable design system

We supported the work on an organisation-wide design system and web guide for the European Commission and the European Union. This European Component Library or ECL is centrally built and enforced, is supported by an ongoing roadmap for development, offers supporting tools to designers and is technology agnostic.