To outsiders it may sound like a superficial question, but one thing I keep getting asked around Government is "will the single-domain be orange?" – at least in reference to the sections for citizens which will launch in public Beta early next year.
Some people on the Directgov team feel a great sense of personal attachment to the colour that's used throughout their site – others have never liked it and see this as an opportunity to move on to colours new.
So I thought I'd take a few moments to discuss the pros and cons publicly and invite feedback. As a newcomer to Government I don't personally have any attachment to orange, so I'm hopefully coming at this from a relatively objective viewpoint.
The arguments for:
- For many users, Directgov has a good reputation. Some years ago a lot of money was spent on campaigns to establish and reinforce its strong orange branding, and over the years the brand has come to be recognised as the Government site for citizens. Our initial (not yet statistically significant) research hints that an orange site without the Directgov name is still assumed to be part of Directgov, and that brings a level of trust with it.
- The single-domain site – if the Beta is successful – won't replace everything at the flick of a switch, but will link to existing Directgov-branded transaction pages for some time. A user journey between two orange sites would be less jarring than if the single-domain site used completely different colour scheme.
- Single-domain would ultimately cater for citizen, business and Government audiences, and it's important for a user to be able to orientate themselves within the site. A colour palette of orange, lilac/purple and charcoal grey for sections aimed at those respective audiences is consistent with the existing branding for Directgov and BusinessLink, and are clearly three distinct colours even for people with the most common types of colour blindness.
The arguments against:
- For other people Directgov has a reputation for being difficult to use. For the single-domain to be orange doesn't suggest the clean break from this legacy that many desire.
- The colour blindness argument mentioned earlier is to some degree a red-herring – there are other palettes which would work equally as well, a few of which even look reasonable to everybody!
- Orange is not an authoritative colour, and has some negative associations which I'll come to in a moment.
Finally – and not exactly a point either for or against, but worth remembering – single-domain, like Directgov before it, is politically neutral. In terms of central government we'd be wise to avoid blues, yellows, and reds. Broadly speaking, that leaves the choice of purples (think: Business Link), greens, and oranges – though orange isn't the least bit neutral when it comes to devolved administrations.
We're not the first to ask these questions. A internal review of the Directgov visual identity two years ago concluded that orange was not an appropriate colour for Government. Research showed that associations with low-cost brands such as easyjet undermined the site's authority in the eyes of new users.
A recommendation to switch to a more "friendly, fresh, and approachable" green palette was put forward. The point was made at the time that green alone would not make Directgov look "official", although combining it with a crown mark would help. The work to implement these recommendations was obviously never completed, but the debate is not yet over.
So, will it be orange? The jury's out on this one at the moment, and you'll have to wait and see. I'd love to read your opinions in the comments below.