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Introducing the new Suffolk County Council website

We’ve launched a new version of suffolk.gov.uk. Find out what’s changed, what we’ve improved and how you can give us feedback.
The new Suffolk County Council website on a laptop

We relaunched suffolk.gov.uk on Thursday 15 December 2022.

This is our main website, used by over 100,000 people a month to access local government information and services online. 

We've rebuilt the site to fix a number of problems and improve the experience for users. 

What's changed?

Our new website is:

  • faster - pages load much quicker
  • more accessible - improving the user experience for everyone, but especially for disabled people 
  • simpler and easier to use - with new features to help people search and navigate information
  • more reliable and secure - minimising site downtime and security risks 
  • bolder, clearer and more visual - with more images, icons and options for content formatting and page layout
  • designed for the future - using technology to ensure people can access our content whatever digital device or method they're using

You can read more about the improvements we’ve made below.

Speed

Site speed is important. People get frustrated when they have to wait for webpages to load.

Our old site was very slow. But you should find the new suffolk.gov.uk loads much quicker. This is due to both the new technology we're using, and the changes we've made to our content.

Accessibility

About 1 in 5 people in the UK have a disability. This could include sight, hearing, cognitive, mobility or sensory access needs. Inaccessible websites exclude people from local digital services and aren't compliant with legislation. 

Regulations state public sector websites and mobile apps must meet specific accessibility standards. We've designed our new site to comply with Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

We’ve rebuilt suffolk.gov.uk from the ground up so it's far more inclusive for people with access needs. In particular, the site works better with assistive technology such as screen readers used by blind people.  

A bling man testing our new website using a screen reader
Derek testing our new website with a screen reader during user research

We’ve also added an accessibility toolbar called Recite Me. You can open it by clicking the “Accessibility tools” link or icon at the top of the page.

You can visit our accessibility page to find out more about what you can do with the toolbar, including: 

  • making the font size bigger or smaller
  • changing the colour theme for better contrast
  • changing the language of the page
  • using features to remove distractions and help you focus

Simpler and easier to use

We’ve made it easier to find what you need, no matter where you are on our website.

You’ll see that whatever device you use the header stays at the top of the page, and follows you as you scroll. That means wherever you are in the page, you can search or navigate to find what you’re looking for.

Site search

Our new site search will start suggesting pages as you type. You can then click or tap through to the page, without having to visit a search results page as an extra step.

Screenshot showing our new website search auto suggest functionality
Screenshot of our new site search

Navigation menu

Our navigation menu – the square black button in the top-right of the header – presents you with two different ways of finding what you need:

  1. You can select one of the most viewed pages in each section of the site using the Services tab (or visit the main section page, e.g. 'Roads and transport').
  2. You can look for a task using the Pay, Report or Apply tabs, for example 'Report a pothole'.
Screenshot of our new navigation menu
Screenshot of our new navigation menu

Reliability and security

Our website doesn’t process sensitive data, but the old version of the site was outdated and vulnerable to risks such as web form spam attacks.

We've rebuilt the new suffolk.gov.uk on a more modern, secure platform, which we’ll be able to keep up to date.

Our new platform will be more resilient to sudden increases in usage. This means that there’s less chance of the site becoming unavailable when you need it.

Bolder, clearer and more visual

We know people visit government websites to access services, not for fun. Our users want to find an answer or complete a task, then get on with their day. But we also know that design can play a role with how people feel about the experience of doing these things.

For our new website we've introduced:

  • bolder headings
  • clearer page layouts
  • more options to format content
  • more images of Suffolk’s people, places and services
Sculpture by Maggi Hambling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk
Sculpture by Maggi Hambling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk

When we tested this approach, people told us the site looked more “modern” and “clean”. They said it felt more “reassuring”, “trustworthy” and “human”.

Looked modern, easy to navigate, great use of pictures. I liked that the search bar follows the page as well as the top things searched for being at the top. Simple, clean, easy to read.
User research feedback

Icons and images can also help people with access needs. Many of our users have cognitive or learning disabilities, or they might not speak English as a first language. Visual imagery can help them work out what to click on. We've used Font Awesome icons to act as cues for different topics and tasks. 

Designed for the future

The way people use the internet continues to evolve. About half of our users now access suffolk.gov.uk on smartphones and tablets. In future, perhaps we'll see a growing number of people using smart devices, digital assistants, virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) to access local government services. 

In response to this we've: 

  • redesigned our site to better respond to whatever device and screen size people are using
  • committed to technology that means people can access our content on new digital channels as they emerge

Our website relaunch project wasn't ever just about launching a new version of suffolk.gov.uk. It was also about investing in a new digital content platform, where we could develop and manage multiple Suffolk County Council websites or apps. The platform we've committed to is called Contensis

Creating the new suffolk.gov.uk 

The project team with Zengenti, suppliers of our new digital platform Contensis
The project team with Zengenti, suppliers of our new digital platform Contensis

Throughout 2022 our project team worked alongside Zengenti, the company behind Contensis, to design the new Suffolk County Council website.

We also redesigned the site working with users:

  • externally including groups representing people with access needs
  • internally including councillors, staff networks and other colleagues

It’s important that our website is inclusive, and meets everyone's needs. To understand our users and their needs, we carried out user research and analysed data, including:

  • customer surveys
  • online feedback forms
  • usability testing sessions
  • user interviews
  • focus groups
  • analytics software (such as Google Analytics)
  • accessibility testing tools (including Siteimprove, Wave and Lighthouse)

Testing with users 

Simon testing our new site on mobile as a blind user
Simon testing our new site on mobile as a blind user

The best research you can do is testing designs with real users. In particular, we wanted to test with local residents and people with access needs. During our research and testing we met with members of organisations including:

James from the project team doing user research with Danish from Suffolk Refugee Support
Danish (left) from Suffolk Refugee Support doing user research with James (right) from the project team

We also recruited local residents to user research sessions through social media (our Facebook and Twitter).

We carried out user research both virtually (using Microsoft Teams) and in person. We worked with people in small groups and on an individual basis, visiting them at home to observe them testing the new suffolk.gov.uk designs.

Joan testing our new website with her tablet during user research
Joan testing our new website with her tablet during user research

Working with colleagues

While most of our website visitors are members of the public, people who work for Suffolk County Council are also users of the site. So we carried out several weeks of in-house design demos and feedback sessions.

We received feedback from councillors, colleagues and our Staff disABILITY Network. We were encouraged by how positive the feedback was, while also noting critical comments we could use to improve.  

Months of designing and testing the new suffolk.gov.uk led to many findings and recommendations, which we’ve used to bring about the improvements highlighted above.  

Dave from the project team gathering feedback from colleagues during a staff event
Dave from the project team gathering feedback from colleagues during a staff event
Andy from the project team gathering feedback from colleagues during a staff event
Andy from the project team gathering feedback from colleagues during a staff event

The future of suffolk.gov.uk

Websites are never finished. During this project, there were things we weren’t able to include before we relaunched suffolk.gov.uk. For example, we were planning to rebuild our Nearest School Checker tool as part of our main site, but ran out of time.

New websites are also never perfect. We’re asking for feedback on the new site, and people will surely tell us about issues that we’ve overlooked.

Starting from today, we’ll continually improve the experience of using suffolk.gov.uk, including regular updates to introduce new features and fix issues. We’ll continue to base our changes on data, including research with people in Suffolk.

Dave and Andy from the project team meeting Derek for user research
Dave (left) and Andy (right) from the project team meeting Derek for user research

Give us feedback

You can help us improve our website. Tell us what you think, including any suggestions or problems you find.

Your comments could end up improving the experience of everyone who uses suffolk.gov.uk.