Building A Better Hometown

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about towns in New Jersey lately. While I’ve never lived anywhere else but my childhood home (besides dorming for college), I’m trying to be proactive about my future. In the next two years or so, I have aspirations to move in with my partner. After being together for nearly five years – it’s about time. During the mindless hours on my computer at night when I should really be asleep, I find myself frequenting Apartments.com and Zillow in the hopes of finding a place that we could one day call home.

Now, apartment searching sounds like no big deal but in reality, it is a grueling process in which you need to make sacrifices, compromises, and cry a little bit in order to sign that lease. Though it might sound like a dream, I’m looking for a pet-friendly, in-unit washer/dryer, AC, updated kitchen, two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. As I selected filters, I could see my choices dwindling. It was disheartening to see one option after another be removed. It’s at this point that I begin to lament my budget and the fact I live in one of the most expensive real estate locations. Damn you, New Jersey, for being smack dab in the middle of New York City and Philadelphia!

With the last couple of clicks, the final listings appear and I notice that there’s something that I’ve neglected to pay attention to, LOCATION. Being so desperate to find a place that works had made me forget about one of the most important factors. Then the thoughts start whirring through my head…Will it be a good commute to my job? Is it close enough to our families? Is the area good? Where will we go food shopping? I don’t know half of the towns I’m looking at, so in an effort to familiarize myself I Google the township website and am absolutely horrified at the results.

No, the towns weren’t riddled with crime or anything bad, but their websites were awful. At first glance, it seemed like the pages hadn’t been updated since 2002. It was as if a word document had been coded and thrown on the Internet. The onslaught of hyperlinks, subpages, and out-bound links made it nearly impossible to learn anything. I found myself clicking in circles trying to find basic information – and half of the pages were dead ends. Shaking my head, I exited the site and instead opted for a Wikipedia article which did a better job of educating me about the area and community within it. If I, a great online researcher and avid Internet user, couldn’t find what I needed to on this website, how could anyone else?

Examining My Hometown

Out of curiosity, I decided to look at my hometown’s township website. While it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other websites I looked at, it still had a lot of issues. There were so many sub-pages, weird linked PDFs and outbound links, it made the website confusing. Not wanting to constantly be directed off-site, I found myself opening each different thing in a new tab because trying to get back to where I was, took nearly a year and a day. Maybe I’m being the slightest bit dramatic, but when you’re on the search for information every second seems precious.

In an effort to identify how the website could be structured better, I mapped out the information architecture of the Hillsborough website and provided solutions for it. Check out my exercise here. By simplifying the results and using the main navigation pages to house actual content, it made finding information a lot less stressful. To take things one step further, I created the framework for an app that Hillsborough could use to help parents within the township keep up with community activities, news, and their daily lives.

The app honed in on aspects like a feed where residents could share photos and videos to, a section identifying healthcare and childcare, and an option to look at open real estate. These simple adds help make the app more than just a mobile-optimized website. Through a value-add lens, Hillsborough can repurpose and retarget current content to be served in a way that is more appealing to today’s residents and parents. The restructured website and app promote more actions within the environment to promote ease of use and user confidence. With a minimized amount of sub-pages and unnecessary information, frequent and new visitors can find what they’re looking for, faster.

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