From a "look and feel" perspective, the healthcare.org homepage is straight-forward enough. The header and footer and other elements are fine. The stock photo-y smiling woman looks happy and healthy.
However, even though the site seemed harmless enough at first glance, the bad design and user experience really stood out once I started trying to actually use the site to get coverage information for me and my family.
Design, as Apple's Jony Ive has said, "is a word that's come to mean so much that it's also a word that has come to mean nothing."
Good design, when you start talking about something like a website, can quickly get very subjective and mean drastically different things to different people. But with something like Healthcare.gov I'd define good design as simply: does it solve the core problem? Meaning, does Healthcare.gov give quick and easy access to affordable health insurance options to every United States citizen? Unfortunately, no, not the way it's currently been designed.
For example, a well designed Healthcare.gov wouldn't push applying online and by phone as the main call to action on the homepage. It would instead focus first on driving the user to browse generic health plan pricing information to see if there's a plan that's right for them. By encouraging people to signup before they browse it's almost as if Healthcare.gov is trying to hide the pricing information.
And if a normal user does decide to brave the signup process, they're then told to "choose a username that is 6-74 characters long and must contain a lowercase or capital letter, a number, or one of these symbols _.@/-".
I had to reread that sentence several times in order to understand exactly what kind of username the system would accept. Yet another hurdle for the user to overcome.
But it's once you get through the signup process that you really start running into the problems that have been mentioned in the news the past several days: extremely long load times, the same questions asked over and over again about your social security number, your spouse's information, etc., poorly worded questions asked as seemingly random times.
Healthcare.gov exemplifies yet another case of the technologies being used and the bureaucracies being dealt with shaping the way the user has to travel through the system. It should always be the other way around. If you don't think of your users while building your product, don't expect them to think much of you once it's released.
Unfortunately, I got so frustrated while trying to use the site that I quit halfway through. I now have a half-finished application sitting on my Healthcare.gov dashboard. I'll probably wait a few months for them to try and fix a few of their problems before I try to finish it.