Saturday, June 30, 2007

Stiff Upper Lips

With news that the British government had decided to raise their threat level to "critical" or imminent attack status in the face of terrorist plots for urban mayhem in London and Glasgow, I thought that a visit the Britain's government websites to see how much they were using this risk communication strategy in the brand identity of their overall website design would be in order. Actually, there were no signs of any color coded icons in pages. However, even in the security anxious United States, government websites have often stopped sporting the threat level. For example, the White House, which once carried the threat assessment prominently on its home page in 2003, no longer has the color bar on its opening screen.

I saw some other notable web design features in my tour of government agencies. Of particular interest was the fact that social media strategies were showcased on the site for the Prime Minister, who has already launched a YouTube channel to document his public appearances. It would be interesting to see what YouTube political critic James Kotecki makes of the British approach. I suspect he would say that it lacks a direct address to the viewer, which is an important YouTube rhetorical convention.

There is also a virtual tour that takes visitors "behind the most famous front door in the world" for 360-degree views of rooms and perusal of seemingly magical objects that are highlighted, as they might be in room exploration games or interactive narratives. Unfortunately these objects aren't truly clickable, and their information is stored in a separate index from the one that engages visitors in the spatial environment of the virtual Number 10 Downing Street. You can also be led on an online video tour through the building by historian Simon Schama.

As you can see from the purple and orange samples that I have presented here, another remarkable feature of the British government's sites was their lack of explicitly patriotic colors from the national flag or other icons of national authority. Also noteworthy was the bilingualism with Welsh content of the main government portal page,, which is the equivalent of in the U.S.

Finally, no tour of the virtual state in Britain would be complete without a visit to one newsworthy recent addition, the page for the British Secret Intelligence Service, known to James Bond aficionados as MI6. The Security Service or MI5 is, of course, the main portal of information about the current terrorist threat.

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