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Legislation, Policies and Standards

City of Seattle Web Presentation and Accessibility Standards Version 3.0

Authored by the Internet Board, approved by the Technology Board,
October 2, 2012.

Table of Contents


The following principles and standards provide guidance for Web and mobile design. The primary goal is to provide a consistent user experience. Standards appear under a set of design principles and link to supporting standards, best practices and background material.



Design pages and applications to be as consistent as possible across sites, applications and form factors


Minimize confusion and maximize ease of use by presenting a unified and consistent interface.

Implications & Tools

  • Use responsive and adaptive web design to present content across a full range of devices as consistently as possible.
  • Pages will display standard design elements from the COS Style Guide, including:
    • Navigation and menu elements
    • City and departmental branding
    • Backgrounds, color palette and graphic elements
    • Text presentation
    • Standard information like contacts, legal notices and copyright notices
  • Construct a COS Web Style Guide in conjunction with Web Content Management.
  • Consistency of page elements will reside in the Web Content Management system and other enterprise level libraries (single libraries for CSS, JS, XSL, etc.)
  • Any content not governed by Enterprise Web Content Management will adhere to the guidelines set forth in the COS Web Style Guide.
  • The look and feel will change over time but remain consistent across
  • Applications will comply with presentation and accessibility standards unless these objectives are not achievable due to vendor constraints or business necessities.

Maximize usability & accessibility


Pages and applications will be as user-friendly as possible. The City is committed to providing accessible services to constituents.

Implications & Tools

  • Conduct user testing.
  • Request/require usability testing documentation when contracting with a third party.
  • Use the WC3 Priority 1 Accessibility Guidelines.
  • US Access Board guidelines for compliance with Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.
  • Follow the guidelines in the Usability, presentation and accessibility toolkit.


Services and information should be as easy to find as possible


Make discovery of information and services as easy as possible for constituents. The wide range of City services and information makes this challenging.

Implications & Tools

  • Conduct usability testing that includes information access.
  • Request/require usability testing documentation when contracting with a third party.
  • Use metatags, page titles, HTML title tags and keywords to improve search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Use site analytics to determine which content is in highest demand and offer that content early in the site hierarchy.
  • Use information layering to progressively reveal more detailed content.
  • Delete or archive old content.
  • Follow best practices for delivering content via web, mobile web or native mobile app in the Communication Channel Criteria.

Respect privacy


Privacy and security of private information is both a right and a legal obligation.

Implications & Tools

All interactions with the public must comply with the City's privacy policy.

Build in security


Public-facing websites and information channels continue to be the main avenue of attack for hackers. The expansion of communications channels to social media, mobile, open data, short messaging and others multiplies the risk.

Implications & Tools

  • Become familiar with the Information System Security Policy, the City's official repository of security requirements.  
  • Submit all public-facing applications to the IT Project Portfolio.
  • The Chief Information Security Officer may require security review and testing before deployment.
  • If credit card data is involved, the application is in scope for PCI Compliance review and is subject to current provisions.
  • Adopt a standard means of conveying security to users once tested.
  • Partner organizations hosted on the City of Seattle platform are subject to City standards.

Comply with copyright, retention and public disclosure laws


The City strives to be transparent and open, complying fully with public disclosure and retention laws.

Implications & Tools

  • Include all legal notices & copyrights.
  • Do not use copyrighted material without permission from the holder and proper attribution.
  • Comply with the City's General Records Retention Schedule and Department Specific Schedules


Applications are part of and should present the same look and feel as


A consistent user experience extends across applications.

Implications & Tools

  • Vendor written applications should be adapted for look and feel wherever possible.

Coordinate and manage the use of emerging  and advanced web presentation technologies


Support and manage advanced web presentation technologies. See the COS Web Style Guide for currently supported technologies.

Implications & Tools

  • Identify expert development and troubleshooting support for advanced technologies
  • Test components thoroughly for cross-browser compatibility and usability
  • Provide alternative presentation of content as necessary to meet accessibility requirements
  • Contact the Citywide Web Team for the latest City guidelines for the use of these technologies

Provide context and consistent use for graphics and images


Graphics and images require consistent handling


  • Use descriptive "alt=" parameters within <img> tags for all graphics.
  • For any graphic that is a hyperlink, the alt tag should be a meaningful description of the destination site, with the phrase "Link to Web Page Name", where Web Page Name is the title of the destination web page for that link.
  • Be considerate of users accessing via slow connections by:
    • Optimizing photographs, web graphics, video and other media for faster download speeds.
    • Designing sites with links or linked thumbnails indicating file size to larger graphics.


Separate presentation, content and channel


Separate presentation, content and delivery channels to maintain flexibility and manageability.

Implications & Tools

  • Maintain HTML and CSS as separate files, not written in application code.
  • Maintain content via the content management system, separated from application code.
  • Design guideline variations may apply to blogs, social media, applications, etc.

Design for inclusiveness across the widest possible audience


Design for inclusiveness across a broad cross section of users by utilizing mainstream technology. This includes browsers, browser versions, screen resolution and other capabilities.

Implications & Tools

  • Design for browser agnosticism:
    • Use standard W3C HTML and HTML 5/CSS3, including compatibility with major vendors who do not yet fully support these products.
    • Design for a range of browsers and browser versions. The current rule of thumb is to include any product with a 5% market share or more.
    • Avoid proprietary extensions.
  • Design for device agnosticism where possible
    • Use adaptive design
    • Conform to platform conventions where it makes sense (e.g., Apple iOS design conventions for that platform, etc.)
  • When device and browser agnosticism is not possible, strive for equivalent display.

Invest for the long run


Constituents expect City government to be good stewards of tax dollars. Investments in applications and technology should match business needs, with a bias for value.

Implications & Tools

  • Favor mobile web wherever possible over native apps, since technology is heading in that direction.
  • Favor HTML5/CSS3 and web fonts, but allow for smooth degradation.

Match service delivery channels to user needs


Deliver information and services in formats best suited to user needs. Take advantage of the differences and unique capabilities of web, mobile web and native mobile apps.

Implications & Tools

  • Channel selection best practices for web, mobile web, mobile app [under construction]

Use standard City services where possible


Using standard enterprise services aids consistency of operations and reduces development time.

Implications & Tools

New technologies will emerge


New technologies will emerge and we'll want to use them. They will be incorporated into the existing framework.

Implications & Tools

  • Use subject to review by the iB, CISO and applicable governance orgs.
  • We won't use them until they are reviewed and approved.

Affected Departments

All City Departments


New web-facing applications will be reviewed under the MITIE process. Existing web and mobile pages and applications should comply with the principles and standards.

Document Control

Owner: Internet Board
Update Frequency: Annually, in December




Approval Date

1.0 – 2.5

Web Presentation & Accessibility Standards


January, 2009 (version 2.5)


Updated to reflect adaptive design, mobile and web content management

R. Kaye

10/2/2012 Tech Board approval


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