To improve your digital systems with user experience (UX), you need people. And to get people in government, you need position descriptions. While DigitalGov has collected a wide variety of position descriptions, I thought I would create a post specifically on UX positions, and explain the difference between these jobs. Yes, there is overlap. But this is still an excellent place to get started. I am indebted to the helpful heroes at USAJOBS for scouring through their vast job database to find these examples.
Anything built should be built right. It doesn’t matter if it’s built of wood, carbon nanotubes or code. So it’s encouraging that the practice of User-Centered Design—getting customer feedback at every stage of a project—is catching on with APIs as well. When we think APIs, we mostly think of developers and not designers. But the experience of those who want to use your APIs isn’t just dependant of the strength and elegance of your API.
In one sense, almost any type of user research is crowdsourced—you’re talking to people and using that information to improve your system. But in a true sense, crowdsourcing is more than just collecting information, it’s collaborating on it. We want to have real conversations, not one-time emailed suggestions without followups. So here’s a few tidbits on crowdsourcing User Experience (UX) for your site, mobile app, API or whatever else you’ve got cooking:
The cream of the crop of the top of the mountain of ALL of the surveys I run has to be the Federal User Experience (UX) Survey. It’s the second time I’ve had the privilege of running it with Jean Fox, research psychologist extraordinaire from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When I start thinking about learning what all of my UX colleagues are doing, and designing solutions for them based on real data, I start clasping my fingers together like Mr.
There are many buzzwords thrown around in the digital government universe, but the most impactful ideas are rooted in one action: engagement. Whether it is a tweet, a mobile app, or a community of practitioners, every digital program or service requires interaction between an organization and its customer. Engagement is also the foundation of all user experience initiatives and is this year’s theme for World Usability Day. In light of today’s global celebration of UX, the DigitalGov team is highlighting five important facts about UX work that is done in the U.
One challenge with digital government: it’s hard to see people. If you work at a U.S. Post Office, you interact with your customers, talk with them, and even see what they are feeling by looking at their faces. You can understand their experience fairly easily. In the digital world, technology decreases physical distance but increases the personal distance between us and our audience. Often we have to make sense of piles of data and user comments to determine if people even like what we offer or find it valuable.
Why does a Cancer institute need a User Experience lab? Simply put: To learn about their customers—people living with cancer and those who care about them—and build the best possible products with them in mind. “Cancer has a journey and we wanted to create a lab to capture the substance of that journey, understand what is needed and help design technologies to support people affected by cancer,” said Silvia Inéz Salazar, an Informatics Research Laboratory Manager at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
When it comes to Web and software design, the pen(cil) is often mightier than the Design Suite. What I mean is: Tech is cool, but don’t fall under its spell. It’s often when you remove the technological layers between you and your thoughts that the best ideas sprout. You’ve heard of great ideas that started on bar napkins, right? One way that low-tech beats high-tech is when it comes to conceptualizing early-stage design ideas.
Making Web content and video accessible to people with disabilitiesis the law. Ensuring a video is accessible requires planning. Taking steps from day one will save you time and money. To verify that a video is accessible you’d need to incorporate three elements: Captioning Audio descriptions An Accessible video player Why Accessibility Matters Many government agencies are taking advantage of the popularity of online video to further their missions and meet the Presidential mandate forincreasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government information to serve the American public.
When you watch a video on your computer, the window that displays your video is called a “video player.” It usually has start, pause, and other buttons. You might not be aware that you’re using a player at all—you just watch your video. A fully-accessible video player (e.g. Section 508-compliant) can be used by a person with disabilities, including, for example, someone who may be paralyzed and can’t use a mouse.
What are Audio Descriptions? Audio Description, also called descriptive video or video description, is an additional audio track that describes and gives context for essential visual information. Audio Description makes videos and multimedia accessible to people who have “low vision” (very poor vision), or who are blind, by capturing what is happening on screen into audible descriptions that are played during natural pauses in the audio track. Here is a video that explains why audio descriptions are important to include.
What are Captions? In a video, captions collect all audio information and describe them using text. They include not only spoken content but also non-speech information such as sound effects, music, laughter, and speaker identification and location (for example, audio spoken off-screen). Captions appear transposed over the visual elements in a video, and are synchronized so they appear at the same time as they are spoken or generated.
You’ve probably noticed the trend toward more visual content being shared across social platforms—pictures, infographics and how-to videos seem to be popping up everywhere. We certainly noticed that trend across several government social media properties, so when USA.gov was preparing to launch our campaign introducing the 2014 Consumer Action Handbook (CAH), we wanted to create highly-visual social content to see how it would do in comparison to standard text and link social content.
What if a single piece of paper could make your mobile app work 20% better? It’s hard to imagine something as unimpressive as paper influencing our 21st century smartphones, but it’s true. Well before we get into the design and coding phases, we can show customers a mockup of an idea of what our product might look like. It’s called a prototype (or a wireframe)—it’s a model of a design that’s still in development.
We won’t build the government of the 21st century by drawing within the lines. We don’t have to tell you the hard work of building a digital government doesn’t exist in a vacuum or a bubble. Show us social media without mobile, Web without data and user experience without APIs. You can’t? That’s right—in reality, digital government intersects and cuts across boundaries every day in order to deliver the digital goods.
Imagine this: You just found a great online tool that can help you do your federal job 100% better. You’re all ready to download it and start conquering the world when someone asks, “Have you checked the Terms of Service?” You’re not sure what they’re talking about, what a Terms of Service is, or why you need one. Let’s answer this and more in our Terms of Service Flowchart (click the image to the right to download your own PDF copy of this chart for reference) and our Terms of Service FAQ:
APIs and User Experience go together like gummi bears and ice cream. An API is a product just like a car, a website or a ballpoint pen. It’s designed to help someone do something. Products are either designed well—they meet expectations and deliver value—or they are designed poorly and create frustration and confusion. Inevitably, bad products are abandoned without a thought, like an old T-shirt with holes in it.
User testing isn’t just for websites—it’s for any product that has an audience. Which is everything, really. And that includes print materials, signage and infographics as well. Focusing on the User Experience is especially vital for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is committed to effectively communicating about products that affect the public on a daily basis. Brian Lappin works for the Risk Communication Staff at FDA. His team supports the agency in making sure that all types of communications—video, graphic and Web—are easily understood.
For a children’s site, Kids.gov is pretty old—it was launched back in 2001. And it has the unenviable task of trying to keep pace with the rapidly changing online habits of youngsters. So in 2012, Kids.gov Director Arlene Hernandez thought her site was due a usability test with its two main audiences: kids and their parents. Hernandez already had a good deal of data on the current design based on Web traffic and emailed feedback.
We all know listening to your customers is important. Not just reading their comments, but talking to them, actually getting in a room with them, and having them test your product. But if basing a whole-scale redesign around one series of user conversations makes you nervous – it should. That’s because sometimes when we listen, we only see a bit of the bigger picture. It’s only when we get customer feedback, tweak the design, and THEN ask customers a second time that we really validate what customers want.
We were hoping for 30, but we got more than 100 user experience professionals and novices on Jan 28, 2014, for our User Experience (UX) Summit at the General Services Administration. The event was sponsored by the User Experience Community of Practice and the DigitalGov User Experience Program. Here’s what we discussed: The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) Three speakers shed some light on the vitally important PRA process: Bridget C.
I’m the kind of guy who loves tests. Not SATs, or BMI tests, but usability tests: connecting target customers with a government website and watching how they interact with it. Our DigitalGov User Experience Program (formerly known as First Fridays)has taught dozens of agencies how to conduct these vital tests, and we even created a monthly group to talk about how to run these tests, and make them better. We call it the User Experience Community, and all federal employees who are interested in usability testing are welcome to join.
When redesigning a site, it’s easy to place menu items, text and other content wherever you can make them fit. It’s harder to take a step back and ask the strategic question: Is this the best place for this? A good rule of thumb is to never make any changes randomly—base your decisions on user data. The DigitalGov User Experience Program team evaluated Business.USA.gov on June 1, 2012, and their usability recommendations were adopted by the Business.
Many technical websites have a hard time explaining information to the general public. This happens because users don’t understand the industry-specific or scientific terms. Fortunately, solutions to these problems are fairly easy—changing menu and navigation item text, or adding a line of explanatory text on key pages or complex graphics. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped conduct a usability test on the Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov mobile site in February 2013 that resulted in three top usability problems and solutions.
If you want a better user experience on your government website, there’s a simple secret: early planning. Good designers know that it’s much more difficult to make changes to something after it’s built than before. This is true for designing just about anything, whether it’s a website, car, or new kitchen. So if you’re in the early stages of designing — or redesigning — your website, here are some easy, “almost-no-budget-needed” steps you can take to ensure your users will be happier (or at least less frustrated):
If you want to make a website more efficient and user friendly, then it’s not enough just to have your most valuable information on the site. People are busy—they want to find what they’re looking for, and they want it fast. You don’t always need to redesign an entire site to make things easier to find. Sometimes, a few small changes can do the trick. The DigitalGov User Experience team looked at Army.
Don’t include Internet music, video, or graphics in your video unless you understand the copyright. Yes, this is a pain, but companies take copyright very seriously and regularly file both takedown notices and lawsuits against offenders. Numerous laws like the Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA) discuss in great detail the “ins and outs” of using web–based media. Here’s a few important points on understanding copyright: Assume All Material is Copyrighted Nearly all the material on the Web is covered by intellectual property laws.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has some really valuable information for the public that a lot of people search for on ATF.gov. It’s important that the information is easily and quickly accessible. Government agencies reach a wide audience with their information, so making sure everyone can understand your content is important. The DigitalGov User Experience Program performed an expert usability evaluation of ATF.gov in December 2012. The team identified the following three major issues that could quickly be fixed to make the site more usable.
What do kids know about Web design? As we found out, quite a lot. Recently our DigitalGov User Experience Program teamed up with the Kids.gov team to get some big time feedback from some pint-sized testers in a hallway test. We tested with almost 20 kids ages 6 to 14 at our GSA office, made possible by “Take Your Child to Work Day.” We also tweeted some results under the hashtag #kidsgovtest
More and more people use search as their primary means of finding what they are looking for. When users get confused by the search results, or can’t immediately find what they are looking for, they’re going to get frustrated. They may even leave the site for good. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test Regulations.gov on October 5, 2012, to find three high–priority, fixable problems that could make the user experience much easier and more pleasant.
When designing a site, remember that your terms and icons are like signposts that show people where your links and pages lead. Make sure that you use words and pictures that are easily understood or people will have trouble using your site. Small changes like underlining links or adding arrows to indicate expandable information can vastly improve the usability of your site. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test SaferBus, the U.
When users interact with a website to find information, it is important that we help them find their way by using plain language, clear terminology and visible help text. On December 7, 2012, the DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test the U.S. General Services Administration’s Contract Vehicle Navigator website. This Navigator site helps contracting officers find contracts that best meet their needs. Through usability testing, three key problems were identified.
A website with too much information on the homepage, or any page, will overwhelm users in less than a second. They will be unable to find a starting point to accomplish what they came there to do. If users are not able to locate the information they need and/or are unable to get past the homepage, they will go to another website to look for the information they are seeking.
One of the most vital parts of any website is its starting point. When a visitor arrives on the main page of your site, they should be able to quickly tell what the main tasks are and how to perform them. Visual cues and plain language are the best ways to accomplish this. The SAM.gov site was created to consolidate several acquisition and bidding systems in one central location. It’s a large site, and with so many potential tasks available, it’s important that visitors are able to quickly figure out where they need to go.
Acronyms and jargon are fine when you want to communicate quickly to an internal audiences or to like-minded readers. Once the scope of your audience widens, however, these elements can make your pages harder to understand. The IRS recognized that its pages about tax planning for retirement were reaching an audience beyond tax professionals, and asked the DigitalGov User Experience Program to help test for usability and user experience.
After conducting a usability test and listening to customer feedback, the Weather.gov team and the DigitalGov User Experience Program identified these three issues as both important and quickly solvable. Problem 1: Terminology and Labels Confusing The terminology and labels used were either too technical or too abstract for users to understand—a far cry from the plain language style required in government. On the homepage, users encountered map tabs for “Graphical Forecasts” and “National Maps”.
Many government websites are informational in nature – you don’t sign up for things or buy anything. Instead, you look for something – a name, a ruling, some contact information. Informational sites – and scientific sites in particular – can be a challenge to design. With so much information, how do you make the important content stand out? The National Science Foundation’s NSF.gov site conducted a usability test with some help from the DigitalGov User Experience Program.
Not all usability changes are dramatic. Sometimes a few small tweaks can make a site significantly easier to navigate, or make important but hidden content pop off the page. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test Insite, GSA’s intranet, on September 21, 2011. GSA took the feedback from their usability test and made some changes to the existing design. While seemingly small, the changes made a huge difference in the usability of the site for GSA employees.
Websites allow newer government programs to establish a visual identity that introduces them to users and conveys the importance of their work. On April 18, 2012, the DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test GSA’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) site, which at that point was less than six months old. Three immediate needs were identified. Problem 1: Purpose of Program Not Clear The homepage text was filled with jargon and acronyms, and provided no clear guidance for the user to understand why they should engage with FedRAMP.
Any government product – whether used by millions or a very specific audience group – need to be as easy to use as possible. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) collects and dispenses revenue related to energy production on leased federal and American Indian lands. As a result, their audience has very definite information needs that need to be met quickly. The DigitalGov User Experience Program tested the ONRR site in August 2011.
Government videos need to follow two main laws: People with disabilities must be able to fully experience them, and They must adhere to privacy laws 1. Making Video Accessible for People with Disabilities (Section 508) Federal employees are required by law (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) to make the materials they create usable for people with disabilities. Section 508 applies to video as well. There are three main requirements for making a video 508 accessible.
[ ](https://s3.amazonaws.com/digitalgov/_legacy-img/2013/12/b8-stock-footage.jpg) If you’re creating video, stock footage can be your best friend. If you need shots of people walking around, a photo of Chicago, the sound of footsteps or a Latin soundtrack, someone else has already probably already created it and made it available for free! Also known as B–roll, stock footage is extra material that may or may not have appeared in previous productions. Be sure to read about copyright, to ensure you don’t grab licensed video or music by accident.