During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic we discovered some approaches and insights that proved effective for users of Canada.ca. We’ve compiled some of these learnings and invite web teams to think about how they might apply them to a future crisis situation.

Effective crisis communication

  • In a crisis, people are less able to process, retain, and apply new information. Web content needs to be designed with these additional limitations in mind.
  • Conditions and policies change frequently, requiring frequent updates while keeping content digestible. Presenting relevant content in plain language and all in one place is key.

The following resources provide tips on how to make content concise, clear, and accessible.

Provide answers, not information

  • In a crisis situation, people are overwhelmed and face an avalanche of new information.
  • When seeking answers to questions on Canada.ca, they need to feel confident that they’ve found a complete answer that is relevant to their task or situation.
  • Interactive content simplifies the task of finding answers and guides users to what they need to know in order to complete a task, without needing to “forage” for information across multiple pages.
  • Be ready to coordinate and provide links to provincial resources. Here’s an example of how that was done for COVID vaccinations:

To learn more about how to use answers instead of information, read:

Creating a structure so people can find content

  • Just because information is available doesn’t mean it will be found or read.
  • Using familiar terms in links and making navigation pages easy to scan helps users find what they’re looking for more quickly and accurately.
  • In a crisis, people are more likely to visit from their phones. Design the navigation for mobile, rather than favouring desktop.

For more information about creating structure to help people find content, read:

Collecting and responding to data

  • Needs change quickly as the situation changes. Since the answers people are seeking change quickly, teams should be using data about what people are looking for in daily decisions.
  • Web teams are working on shorter timelines - prototyping and testing with users can still be effective on a smaller and shorter scale with iterative changes, even on a day-to-day basis.
  • Teams should have a process in place to synthesise user needs, page feedback, call centre issues, analytics and even media reports, and then to act on new insights by updating web content.
  • Having feedback mechanisms in place means adjustments can be made iteratively to better align content and page design with users’ mental models.

To learn more about collecting and responding to data, read:

Efficient workflows and effective prioritisation

  • Plan a speedy, layered approvals system ahead of time for inevitable changes and improvements.
  • Ensure approvers are aware in advance that iterations will be happening based on feedback, analytics, and call centre data.
  • An approval system is even more important when multiple departments are involved, which is often the case during a crisis.

To learn more about efficient workflows and effective prioritisation, read:

Things to remember

  • Web is a “doing” place for most, focus on tasks
  • People don’t read, they scan, use short meaningful section headers
  • People look for easy to follow directions or steps, otherwise they give up, call or email
  • Small screens need less content, mobile traffic is often greater than 50%
  • Don’t duplicate content, the Government of Canada (GC) web space is integrated, so collaborate with others or link to existing content
  • Follow GC standards for web design at design.canada.ca