A Cultivated Census

In my blog a few days ago (about the poor design and usability of the New Zealand online Census), drew bundles of feedback and criticism from various quarters.

Comments I received via email and on other websites included:


” I have to agree with the blog – a simple URL is a lot easier to remember and communicate”

“We found some significant issues with the site”

“New pages open without warning”


“I think much of the comments made were superficial”

“Zef’s site failed verification”

” I don’t feel that the census site was that challenging at all. “

Well, despite all this I stand by my original blog – and most user-centred web designers and usability experts I’ve spoken to agree with me.

So I’ve eaten my own dog-food…

I’ve created a quick’n’dirty paper prototype of how the census could have (and should have) been improved.

Disclaimer: This was done in an hour (I’ve shown just a sample of screens) – it simply follows best practises for online forms… Can you see the difference?


[Original Census] This is what people see when they visit the current census start page (stark and kinda 1999-esq.)
This is what people see when they visit the current census start page (stark and kinda 1999-esq.)
Cultivated Census : Includes an introduction, questions and answers, and an E-Govt compliant footer…

Next Screen (I’ve called it ‘Step 1’)

[Original Census] You are shown this screen if you choose 'census in English'...
You are shown this screen if you choose 'census in English'…
Cultivated Census : I think my design would have made more sense – it orientates the user and ensures they understand the requirements…

Next Screen (I’ve called it ‘Step 2’)

This is where they ask you for your ID numbers…
Cultivated Census : My design is similar, but different – at least you know which step you're on!

Next Screen (I’ve called it ‘Step 3’)

Here they ask you what form you want to fill out…
…then the form appears in a new window.
Cultivated Census : By Step 3 my users would have already been well on the way…

Error Messages

Cultivated Census : Here's an example of how you could display error messages (no pop-ups or dialog boxes in sight!)…

I skipped a couple of screens here, as I couldn’t face filling out the online census again! (My ‘Step 4’ would have provided a preview of the census form, allowing users to track back if they’d made an error).

My Confirmation Screen (‘Step 5’)

Cultivated Census : Once you complete a form the online census doesn't really tell you what happens next – my approach would have given users a clear idea of what to expect next…

What do you think of my alternative designs? (I’m especially keen to hear from people who completed the actual census online – how was it for you?) Post a comment below…

2 responses to “A Cultivated Census”

  1. Zef Avatar

    Just to prove that Government agencies ARE capable of doing a good job I recommend a visit to http://transact.landtransport.govt.nz/ – here the process of registering your car is a breeze – and a fine example of how webforms should be approached (for both task-flow and visual design).

  2. Sam Avatar

    i much prefer your version. the census form didn’t load for me. took too long so i gave up :-/