NASA‘s site looks very scientific; blues and dark grays give it a space-y feel, yet also make it very masculine, which is potentially deterring for girls. The audience clearly is geeky young men.
There is a lot going on; links are organized in tables, which, while orderly, also serve to clutter the page. The white-on-dark gray color scheme hurts my eyes and makes me want to leave ASAP– the space program doesn’t affect my daily life enough to stay.
However, before leaving, I decided to test its usability by finding more information on the space shuttle, which was easy enough because one of the many icons on the homepage links directly there. Still, what I found after clicking that link was just current news– no basic information on the program. My needs were undershot.
One thing of note, however, is that the site has a multimedia tab in the header bar, making it easy to find its RSS feeds and podcasts. NASA is the only site of the three government entities I analyzed (I’m not counting my 4th site, Gavin Newsom, in this because he is a candidate, not an organization) that recognizes the fun in what they’re doing (probably because they have the most potential for fun out of any of them): they have educational interactive features.
I imagine government branches don’t have the budget to invest in slick design, and because there is no economic competition for three of them (NASA, the FDA and the Seattle Public Library), they don’t need to woo their audience with fancy features.