This post was originally published on the 18F blog. At 18F, we have employees across the U.S. Over time, we’ve cultivated our best practices for distributed teams and design methods. Yet, doing research as a remote team is still really hard. Here are some things that we’ve found make it easier. Six icons showing different types of video conferencing. Use tools like you would in real life Being a remote team doesn’t mean you should forgo any of your research rituals.
At the beginning of 2017, the ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) released a report that benchmarked 300 federal websites in four areas: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security and accessibility. Some sites fared better than others, but the report highlighted that our federal sites have a ways to go (DigitalGov included) in these areas. Looking at these four metrics is important as they directly impact our customers’ first perceptions of the quality of our government’s digital services.
Ask most government employees their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and they can rattle off their results. But if you ask a government employee about their conflict style, it’s much less likely they can talk about their tendencies and predilections around tension. Conflict is inevitable in the workplace, but is conflict something your product team proactively talks about? Building empathy towards users is always a part of the UX process, but it’s not always common practice to build empathy towards our teammates.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Meals on Wheels America have created multilingual educational resources about financial scams that target the elderly which can be easily distributed to seniors in the communities they serve, and downloaded or ordered in bulk for free by the general public. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Education & Engagement division offers a variety of financial education resources and tools. Our Office for Older Americans specifically strives to find the resources that best meet the needs of older adults in America age 62 and older.
This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the innovations and research happening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Wounded warriors who dream of returning to playing hockey, climbing mountains or simply brushing their teeth with ease can look to 3-D printing innovations at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to help them return to daily living. The five-person team at the 3-D Medical Applications Center can print just about anything, from prosthetic attachments to surgical simulation models and custom cranial plates.
When I was in the private sector, around the year 2000, I worked for an information technology (IT) consulting company as a project manager and developer. On one project, I provided support for early mobile devices given to medical students. I worked in a small office around the corner from the cardio-respiratory simulator (CRS). The CRS was a life-sized human dummy that could simulate several conditions including a heart attack, a collapsed lung, and other heart and lung issues.
Whenever I hear someone complain about the process of a design critique, I’m always a bit surprised. Blame it on the fact that I’m a design school graduate, where critique is a mandatory part of the educational experience. I consider learning to give and receive feedback as one of the most relevant and useful pieces of my education. But translating the rules and reasons for critique from a classroom to the workplace can take a bit of practice.
When people think of government software, they often think of COBOL and PowerBuilder 5, with manual software deploys every three to six months on a fixed number of machines in a government-run data center. This perception is sometimes justified, but sometimes entirely wrong. Regardless, the perception makes many developers reluctant to work for the government because they worry about the frustrations of getting stuck in the bureaucracy instead of being able to iterate rapidly, ship products, and deliver value.
VA Innovators Network Program Selected as FedHealth IT Innovation Award Winner This month, FedHealth IT announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Innovators Network Program was selected as a 2017 recipient of the FedHealthIT Innovation Award. FedHealth IT recognized 25 Federal Health programs that have demonstrated exceptional performance as a result of their willingness to take risks and deliver real and measurable results. Nominated and selected by peers, all recipient programs have shown an extraordinary commitment to driving innovative ideas in effort to enhance federal programming for Department of Veterans Affairs, Military Health, Health and Human Services, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Keeping the customer’s needs front and center is important when developing new digital tools. We recently developed a set of user personas as part of our work to establish a more robust—and data informed—understanding of the individuals that engage digitally with the National Archives (NARA). User personas are fictional, but realistic representations of key audience segments that are grounded in research and data. We recently applied customer data from a variety of sources including website analytics and online surveys to inform the creation of eight personas that represent our digital customers: Researchers, Veterans, Genealogists, Educators, History Enthusiasts, Curious Nerds, Museum Visitors, and Government Stakeholders.
We’ve recently added two powerful tools to the U.S. Web Design Standards development workflow that allow us to preview, test, and publish the Standards code more quickly and easily. Fractal Fractal is a powerful and flexible framework for building interactive component libraries. It’s similar to Jekyll (which we use to publish the Standards site) in one key respect: It operates primarily on simple file naming conventions. Organize your files in a specific way, using the content and data formats it understands, and it will generate a web site automatically.
Last week, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unveiled their new website at FEC.gov. This new site is the result of a years-long collaboration with GSA’s 18F and features completely revamped tools for exploring campaign finance data. It provides user-centered content for understanding the reporting and compliance requirements for people participating in federal elections, redesigned tools for exploring legal resources, and more. Why it matters On the agency’s “About the FEC” page, it says, “The FEC was created to promote confidence and participation in the democratic process.
If you’re a program manager or a federal web developer you’ve probably been given a seemingly simple task: Create a basic website as part of a new initiative at your agency. The hardest part is often not crafting the content or designing the prototype, but getting the security and privacy compliance in order to launch and maintain the actual website’s compliance status. For that work, you might have to hire a contractor or put extra strain on your agency’s web team.
According to the World Bank, approximately one billion people worldwide live with a disability, making up the world’s largest minority. Designing from an accessibility-first standpoint has the potential to benefit all stakeholders, not just people with disabilities, because accessible design typically delivers a better user experience. Currently many websites and digital platforms are inaccessible, which makes them difficult or impossible for people with disabilities (including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological) to use.
This post was originally published on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog. They say that life can be summed up as the process of a series of doors closing. By that, they mean that opportunities for taking different paths start to disappear as you move through life. It’s a logical sentiment, but there’s an obverse to it. When you’re young, all those doors are open. Doors as far as you can see.
We hope you are finding it easier to get the information you need on USDA.gov following the launch of our site redesign in March. We’ve already welcomed over 1 million visitors to the new site and we are pleased with the positive feedback we’ve received thus far. Our redesign makes it easier for you to get the news you care about quickly and get on with your busy life. Now, you can explore “USDA in Action,” an area designed to quickly share what’s happening across the department.
Spring is a beautiful time of year in Washington, D.C. The temperature warms up; the cherry blossoms are out; and we frequently have an update of Congress.gov to share. In 2015 we added treaties and web-friendly bill text, and in 2016 we expanded the quick search feature. Today there is another round of enhancements to the Library of Congress website for tracking Congressional activity. The big new item in this release is the ability to download your search results to a CSV (comma separated values) file.
As mentioned in our recent Q&A with the team at NASA, the U.S. Web Design Standards team is sitting down with various agencies that are using the Standards. In this second post in our series, we met with the team at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and learned how they used the Standards to train, develop, and design their various websites and applications. Standards team: Why did you decide to use the U.
How do we choose color in digital design? In print, we have the Pantone fan and what you see is what you get — as long as your printer is color calibrated. With computer monitors, one does not get such precision, even within one office. So how much time and effort do you spend on color selection? What you select could be your agency or office standard for the next five, ten or one hundred years!
On visiting The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, it is impossible not be taken by the sheer scale of the Inka Road. Qhapaq Ñan, or the Road of the Inka, is a 25,000-mile long road system that fed the rapid expansion of the Inka Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries. It connected distant towns and settlements in the Andes, snaking up and down mountains, bridging impossible valleys, and traversing lush agricultural fields and terraces.
We’re excited to launch a complete redesign of USDA.gov featuring stronger visual storytelling components, a more modern user-experience with easy to find services and resources, and to top it off, a completely mobile-friendly design. Through careful planning, thoughtful design, and a primary focus on user experience and usability, we’ve taken the best of government and industry expertise and put it into creating our new website. This has been a year-long project, but to do this right, we wanted to make sure we tapped into every possible resource.
The U.S. Web Design Standards were created by the government, for the government. They’re currently implemented on hundreds of government sites, with an audience of more than 26 million monthly users. They’ve also been recommended by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for all government agencies to ensure a consistent look and feel of their public-facing digital services. Over the coming months, the team will be doing a series of blog posts to share information about the how different agencies are using the Standards.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a report, Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites, that looks at the performance, security, and accessibility of the top 297 government websites. ITIF is a think tank in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation in technology and public policy. Over the past 90 days, government websites were visited over 2.55 billion times. According to the Analytics Dashboard, 43.
Mythbuster’s Guide to Accessibility: What We’ve Learned About 508 Compliance That All Technologists Can Use
As government technology improves and accelerates, the U.S. Digital Service has the opportunity to improve the most critical public-facing services across agencies. The services and products we create need to be accessible to everyone. Too often, we’ve seen others neglect accessibility because of some common misconceptions that make things difficult. In this post, we’ll debunk these myths, so you can easily create universally accessible content. Myth #1: Government accessibility is harder than it is in the private sector.
The U.S. Web Design Standards are a library of design guidelines and code to help government developers quickly create trustworthy, accessible, and consistent digital government services. Last month, we announced the 1.0 release of the Standards, a milestone that signals the Standards are a stable, trustworthy resource for government designers and developers. By using the well-tested and easy-to-implement code from the Standards, developers can quickly create new websites or have a leg-up in updating existing services to have a modern, consistent feel.
The Road to Launch Version 1.0 You may have noticed a new, cleaner, and more modern look to some government websites over the last year—these are the web properties that were early adopters of the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards from 18F, the digital services agency which is part of the General Services Administration (GSA). The Standards are located at https://standards.usa.gov, with helpful links to the individual UI components, design principles, and page templates.
DigitalGov University (DGU), the events platform for DigitalGov, provides programming to build and accelerate digital capacity by providing webinars and in-person events highlighting innovations, case studies, tools, and resources. Thanks to your participation, DGU hosted over 90 events with 6,648 attendees from over 100 agencies across federal, tribal, state, and local governments. DGU strives to provide training throughout the year that is useful and relevant to you. One of the most resounding comments from digital managers last year was people wanted to be able to attend all of our classes virtually.
One of the great challenges in designing a product — digital or otherwise — is stepping outside yourself and climbing into the minds of your users. You love the wonderful new app you’ve designed, but will it appeal to others? Fortunately, the field of user experience design (UX) gives us tools to understand our users through surveys, interviews, card sorting, and user testing. The Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Policy and Analysis has another tool to consider for your UX toolbox: IPOP.
December 9, 2016, will be the 110th anniversary of Admiral Grace Hopper’s birthday. Admiral Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming who created the first compiler and whose ideas lead to the creation of COBOL. An apocryphal legend also credits Admiral Hopper with coining the terms “bug” and “debugging.” The GSA’s IT Digital Service Team will celebrate Admiral Hopper’s birthday with a beginner-friendly hackathon. The Grace Hopper Day Hackathon is the perfect hackathon for beginners.
When: Friday, December 9th, 2016 Where: NARA Innovation Hub, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Register: On Eventbrite The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Digital Service team is excited to be hosting our next agency hackathon on December 9, 2016. Join coders from across the region as we come together in celebration of Grace Hopper’s birthday. Admiral “Amazing Grace” Hopper was one of the first programmers in the history of computers. As the creator of the first compiler for a programming language, it is largely due to her that programmers use “if/thens” instead of 1s and 0s today.
Around Q3, I was looking for way to test the HTML and CSS of an online application that was to be public-facing. At first, my office’s plan was to connect mobile devices to the network owned by federal employees on a volunteer basis for testing. All of a sudden, a new policy came down that stated, “devices that were not purchased by the agency could not be connected to the network.
This has been an exciting and successful year for Congress.gov. We accomplished a major milestone when we retired THOMAS in July. Over the course of 2016, we completed a number of enhancements to Congress.gov. In April we expanded quick search to include the Congressional Record, Committee Reports, Nominations, Treaty Documents, and Communications. In May we launched several new RSS feeds and email alerts and added saved search email alerts soon after in June.
Infographics are a useful tool for communicators to share complex data and information in a quick, easy-to-read format. Infographics can be beautifully designed works of art, pulling in a reader through storytelling and visual entertainment. And like art, infographics can be large, epic works, or small treasures. While a massive infographic immediately arrests due to its overwhelming data content and creative approach, sometimes it can still fall flat by just being plain overwhelming.
A few weeks ago, Progressive Web Applications, Part 1: the New Pack Mule of the Internet _introduced PWAs and the technologies behind them. We shared that article to the MobileGov Community of Practice and asked about the pros and cons of this approach to winning mobile moments._ What Are Some Benefits of PWAs? PWAs bring a host of advantages over the traditional native mobile and Web methodologies including:
As any experienced retailer will tell you, the customer experience begins at the store entrance. Note the friendly Walmart greeter, the approachable minimalism of an Apple Store, and the calculated whimsy of Anthropologie. Store designers understand that a customer’s decision to make a purchase is often made within seconds of entering. The same holds true for visitors entering a museum. And while most museums are not expert peddlers of merchandise (though some museum stores certainly are), the savvy ones value the entrance experience and work to iterate and improve.
One year ago this week, we launched vote.gov (also known as vote.usa.gov). It’s a concise and simple site with a single mission: direct citizens through the voter registration process as quickly as possible. It was created by a joint team of USA.gov staffers and Presidential Innovation Fellows, all of whom work within the General Services Administration (GSA). Did it work? Yes. In fact, it worked so well that Facebook made it the destination for their 2016 voter registration drive.
****A mule is the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and a horse. This new species is stronger and better equipped than the species from which it comes. Overall, mules tend to be healthier, more sound, and live longer than horses. They are favored over horses in mountainous terrain because the mule has a reputation for being more surefooted than their equine cousins. Finally, mules do not require expensive grains, eat less and don’t tend to overeat as horses do.
Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. It’s our job, after all, to nurture the ongoing process of creating, updating, and testing. But, there are those sites or pages that never seem to make it to the high-priority list. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site. Our Web team recognized that the Intranet was in need of attention.
Our goal for a more veteran-centered and innovative VA is shared. Our approach to innovation is collaborative. Our approach to innovation is driven by listening, understanding and responding to the experiences and stories of the Veterans we serve. We were huddled on squeaky chairs in the social room of a transitional housing facility in Los Angeles. It was early fall of 2014, when Chris gently picked up his trumpet, raised it to his lips, and began playing.
The Smithsonian’s mission statement is wonderfully simple: “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The “increasing” is arguably the straightforward part – the Smithsonian has amassed a collection of over 138 million objects and specimens, and the Institution’s curators and scientists obsessively add to the world’s knowledge base, publishing papers, creating exhibitions, and sharing their expertise. But how can all this informational goodness get passed along to teachers, our nation’s most powerful “diffusers” of knowledge?
A few weeks ago, the State Department held its first conference dedicated to user experience design, UX Exponential. The conference organizers invited me to speak, and in this two-part series I hope to summarize (as best as possible) the presentation I gave, “Foster The People: Building Empathy with Stakeholder Interviews.” In the first post of this series, I covered what stakeholder interviews are, why they’re valuable, and how to prepare for them.
Today, I am happy to announce the newly optimized DHS.gov website. Over the past year, DHS has worked behind the scenes to update and modernize our flagship website, making it faster and easier to use. Some of the specific differences you’ll see are: Compatibility for both desktop computers and mobile devices (phones and tablets) Cleaner, easier-to-read site format and presentation Faster and more accurate site navigation using our internal search function and external search engines (like Google and Bing) DHS.
Recently, Regional Administrator Sara Manzano-Díaz of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) introduced a web-based leasing tool, the Automated Advanced Acquisition Program (AAAP), to 60 lessors and/or brokers at the Dow Building in Philadelphia. The AAAP tool was designed to consolidate and streamline the leasing process, making for a more efficient, transparent process that also gets the best deal for the American taxpayer. Ms. Manzano-Diaz said that the AAAP will transform how the GSA Mid-Atlantic Region conducts its leasing by transitioning the system to an electronic platform that will serve as the primary procurement vehicle for GSA to acquire office space.
I first came across the redesigned IdentityTheft.gov on Reddit, of all places. Someone had posted a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) newly redesigned site and wrote: I hope this never happens to any of you as the entire thing can be really stressful. The identitytheft.gov website is a true breath of fresh air…You can talk to an actual person. They also have this extremely easy wizard to click through your situation and it will auto-generate a “Recovery Plan” including dispute letters, steps to contact law enforcement, putting credit freezes, and basically protecting yourself.
At USAGov, we always put our customers first. In the wake of our rebranding efforts, our desire to create a positive user experience across the organization has pushed us to turn a scrutinous eye toward Kids.gov — a site focused on providing information and resources to parents, teachers, and kids. In a cross-organizational effort, individuals from the marketing, user experience, and performance measurement teams have joined forces to “reenvision” the site’s content and presentation to better suit the public’s needs.
Summary: Improving the way you engage with the White House through our online petitions platform In July 2015, we announced a big change in the way we would answer petitions on We the People. We committed to responding to you within a 60-day timeframe, whenever possible. We assembled a team of people dedicated to getting your policy questions and requests to the right people so you get the most informed response.
About a year and a half ago, the Federal Citizen Information Center—today called USAGov—embarked on a very ambitious task: integrating our content operations. We blurred lines that defined silos and adopted a bilingual content approach to offer a more consistent experience, regardless of language preference or point of access to our information. See more about our rebirth. As we were figuring out our new content model, we saw the need to reinvent our style guidelines to reflect our new organization.
In the five months since we launched the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards — the U.S. government’s very own set of common UI components and visual styles for websites — over a dozen websites have used components of the Draft Standards on their sites. Recently, we talked to three federal web designers about their experiences using the Draft Standards, which were designed with accessibility and flexibility in mind: Maria Marrero is the User Experience Designer for USA.
How do you reach audiences with important health information and leave users asking for more? Is it enough to create responsive websites written in plain language or to design apps with health tips optimized for handheld devices? While those ideas are a step in the right direction, we do not live in a world where, “if you build it, they will come.” With a slew of devices and an ever-increasing array of information sources, the most desired commodity in today’s crowd communication channels is attention.
Once simply an idea, remote data gathering is now a very important reality in UCD (user-centered design) work. However, there are some challenges, particularly when your agency serves the entire nation and all of the groups in it. Identifying and finding solutions for these issues will help you best use this important tool. One of the most difficult problems is that you don’t have physical access to your users. In some cases, this is just the way it is—it’s basically impossible to try and observe everyone doing everything.
Government product managers sit at the intersection of three circles—business, design and technology. We play a key role in user experience (UX), because we are tasked with understanding users to build a product that is desirable and viable. This product could be a paper or online form, a website or a mobile app. Product management is different from project management. Product managers are the defenders and voice of the product’s customers, while a project manager is more concerned with balancing costs, scope and schedule issues.
Standing on the corner, waiting in the rain, I swear I’ll never, ever, use that app again. Why? Because the bad user experience (UX) design was preventing me from determining when the Metrobus would arrive. UX is everything from the visual design to the navigation structure of the website or mobile app. This month, DigitalGov is focusing on UX design. Good UX design is based on understanding how people perceive and process information on everything from websites to mobile apps.
As DigitalGov focuses on user experience this month it is good to remember one harsh truth: You cannot have a good user experience with bad content. It is important to keep a “content first” strategy in place during any website redesign or new site development. It is so easy for the various disciplines involved in designing a site to lose sight of the content and of each other. I’ve been there, and I am sure most of us have.
GSA unveiled a refreshed GSA.gov website yesterday with a more crisp design layout, improved usability, and features geared more toward mobile users. Increasingly, website traffic is coming from mobile users. With this in mind, GSA unveiled a newly refreshed GSA.gov website on Nov. 16. “Our ultimate goal for the refresh was to continue our work to get important government information into the hands of users–no matter how or where they’re accessing the information,” said Sarah Bryant, Director of GSA’s Enterprise Web Management Team within the Office of Communications and Marketing.
Josh Clark, one of the pioneers of touch Web design, and author of Tapworthy and Designing for Touch, published an excellent article on A List Apart analyzing How We Hold Our Gadgetsthat has a wealth of data and graphics about this interesting and emerging design challenge. Below are 5 notable lessons from the post: 1. Portrait (vertical) orientation dominates over landscape (horizontal) usage with a 60-40 split. This is often driven by the app or content experience and will probably continue to grow more divided as many applications now aren’t even offering landscape orientations anymore—including Facebook, Flipboard, Instagram, Pandora, even Netflix (on Android, however, along with video playback, Netflix’s library browsing mode can still be viewed horizontally).
Recently, I shared some suggestions and personal lessons learned for agencies either shopping for a new CMS or preparing to revamp their content strategy and workflow. Let’s take things one step further and focus on arguably the most important parts of your CMS: the content creator or user. Arguments can be made that content is the most important, but the user creates that content, so either way we have a tight first and second most important ranking.
Joanne is a young Army Veteran who is looking to make use of her GI Bill Benefits and apply for federal student loans to attend college. In trying to access the federal programs which will allow her to afford college, Joanne must navigate the websites of multiple agencies. She finds dozens of government websites which all seem relevant to what she’s looking for. Joanne is confused. Are these programs related to each other?
This August, Aaron Gustafson, Web Standards Advocate at Microsoft, industry thought leader and speaker, and an author who wrote a leading book on adaptive web design, spoke to the government tech community at the U.S. General Services Administration and provided many magnificent insights into mobile strategy, design and tech development for reaching the widest audience possible across devices. Gustafson’s insights are especially important and impactful for government agencies because he focuses on the full-gamut of technologies audiences use—not just the latest mobile phones, OSes and apps—so his work and perspective can help inform government agencies on how to grapple with the technology needs of very diverse constituencies.
Several months ago I discussed the concept of a world without Web pages and the importance of structured content and thinking about content, not pages. This week, I’m taking that discussion further by discussing the importance of modularity in Web design and how that complements our efforts to create more structured and reusable data. Break It Down One of the critical aspects of our current efforts in structured data and adaptive content is the reductionary process.
The short answer is: it depends on your goals. If you Google “focus group,” you will have a host of positive and negative feedback, but the truth is that it depends on what your needs are. What Is a Focus Group? Focus groups are an inexpensive way to identify people’s preferences, motivations, thoughts, feelings and attitude towards a product or service. In a typical focus group, approximately 6 to 10 people spend 60 to 90 minutes voicing their opinions about your website or application.
When the Employment and Training Administration’s CareerOneStop team embarked on a redesign of the site’s online career, training, and job resources, they didn’t dive right into the technical work. Instead, they embraced a user-centered approach that focused on the user experience (UX). Focusing on UX means taking a step back to learn about users’ core needs and preferences. The team asked real users several questions about the site.
I used to teach 8th grade science in inner city Denver in the 1990s. After that, I supported special education students and their teachers in North Carolina. Around that time (mid-late 1990s), the Internet wasn’t really designed for kids –most of the electronic materials I came across for the classroom were on CDs and such. After learning more about design, Information Architecture, and now user experience, I began to realize that while digital services for kids looked really good on the outside, on the inside they were awful.
At the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), our new open data policy will begin making more Agency-funded data broadly accessible to the public. It completely changes the way we do business, and it also means that in the coming years, the amount of data we host on our open data website (known as the Development Data Library) will dramatically increase. So the question is: when we’re done overhauling our website, how will the user make sense of all that information to find exactly what they’re looking for?
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.
How do you define user experience (UX)? That was the question posed to more than 100 people at the GoodGovUX event at the Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia, on February 24th. Attendees learned how government can improve the user experience of digital products, from intranets to forms to good ol’ fashioned websites. GoodGovUX co-founder Keith Deaven collected responses from the crowd, which was a diverse mix of people working in private industry, federal, and local governments.
User Experience (UX) is the comprehensive experience a person has when using a product or application, and usability is the ease of use (or lack thereof) when using it. Many of us have discovered the vast advantages of evaluating usability on our own; however, getting others to jump on board is often a different story. The most difficult part of integrating an effective UX program in your organization is getting the initial buy-in from developers and stakeholders.
Mobile user habits are a moving target, and designers have to adjust accordingly. Creative Bloq offers their Top 5 Trends in App Design for 2015 gathered from trends in changing hardware, increasing popularity of apps and the increasingly personal nature of mobile devices. Bigger Screen Sizes. As we noted in last week’s Trends on Tuesday post, the smartphone sales increase in 2014 was partially due to the growing numbers of “phablet-sized” smartphones.
Being able to design a website that users love is not too far away from being able to read their minds. While designers can’t read minds, that doesn’t stop them from using their website’s top tasks to make it seem like they can. A website’s top tasks include 5-10 tasks (depending on the scope of the site) that the majority of the website’s users want or need to do on the site.
So you’ve done a couple of usability studies, and a few people are starting to “see the light.” Now you’d like to take it to the next level and help your organization embrace user-centered design (UCD) as the philosophy that drives all your digital projects. But what is best way to do this? How can you change your organizational culture so the UCD seed you’re planting will take root and flourish?
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. For me, the necessity resulted from long product development cycles paired with short windows for user testing and little room for iteration. The “invention” was the discovery of a powerful set of tools for prototyping that are available on just about every office computer. I found that you can use “Developer Tools” in Microsoft Office’s Excel, Powerpoint and Word to not only draw the basic outlines of a wireframe but also build a functioning prototype that simulates many of the features you want in your final product.
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.
In the mobile world, every second matters. Mobile users are a finicky bunch. They want their information anytime, anywhere and quickly. As members of the MobileGov Community of Practice have noted last year, mobile user experience is about emotion. If that emotion is not happy, you will lose the user. For this month’s DigitalGov user experience theme, we decided to talk about how speed can be a key to a user’s happiness.
Bob goes to a popular federal government site, using his assistive technology, and starts reading a teaser for an article. Just below the teaser, there’s an embedded video on the page. He presses the tab key, trying to navigate to a link for the full article, but suddenly he’s trapped—he can’t tab past the video. He’s stuck, and he can’t access the content. Frustrated, Bob leaves the site.
Making tables, charts and graphs mobile friendly is like squeezing 10 pounds of sugar into a 5 pound bag. Mobile Gov Community of Practice member Debra Fiorrito from the Defense Accounting and Financing Service recently highlighted this challenge in her responsive Web design implementation. The challenge also came up during a call with the Federal Mobile Crowdsource Testing Program when discussing photo carousels. David Fern, from the Social Security Administration, Clair Koroma, from the Department of Health and Human Services, and Beth Martin, from the Federal Aviation Administration, researched the topic to see what current approaches there are and found eight ways organizations are making charts and graphs mobile friendly.
Editor’s note: Building off the great discussion started around Customer Experience, we’re looking at the difference between User Acceptance Testing and Usability Testing. If you develop software, you’ve probably heard of User Acceptance Testing. You may also have heard the term Usability Testing. Same thing, right? Nope. And confusion here can cause big problems. Last year I was developing a mobile game for Android—think Whack-A-Mole meets mutant veggies. Eight months into the project we decided to do some user acceptance testing to find some bugs before launch.
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).
Trying to measure usability can be a head scratcher. How easy something is to use depends on where you are, who you are, and a number of other factors. Luckily in the world of usability, there exists a post-test survey known as the System Usability Scale, introduced in 1986 by an engineer named John Brooke, who was trying to solve this very dilemma. The SUS is no stranger to federal agencies.
Last March, the openFDA team shared their still-in-progress API to potential users as part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)’s API Usability Program. FDA created openFDA to allow researchers and developers to search their vast trove of public data, including information about adverse events (reports of undesirable experiences associated with the use of a medical product in a patient) submitted to the agency. The API Usability Program brings together developers from agency APIs and the private sector to evaluate how the API can be improved to be more user friendly.
The PTSD Coach mobile app from the Department of Veterans Affairs, provides veterans and users with information about PTSD and professional care, along with self-assessment tools and aid in finding support opportunities. The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times in 74 countries around the world, received numerous accolades and has spawned versions in both Australia and Canada. Designed for users that are both in treatment and not, this application is a poster-child for the benefits of user testing and paper prototyping.
After an agency-wide redesign of program websites that targeted the public and prioritized a common “look and feel,” the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement at the Administration for Children and Families had a visually appealing website. The problem: Key stakeholders—state and tribal child support agencies, employers, and other partners who deliver program services and access the site daily—complained they could no longer easily find needed information. Their feedback prompted us to facilitate a UX-minded focus group to recommend improvements that met both users’ business needs and the redesign goals.
Most people relate the term “heat map” with something they see during the weather forecast on the nightly news, those colorful maps that vividly illustrate how hot it’s going to be during an impending heat wave. The word “heat map” may not usually however, conjure up images of a widely used Web usability tool; but for those who manage Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, that is exactly what the phrase brings to mind.
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.
In a few short years, the number of mobile apps has exploded, and the time spent on apps continues to increase. However, one thing hasn’t changed: the number of apps individuals use. The average smartphone owner uses 22 to 28 apps in a month, according to new data from Nielsen. Here are a few highlights from the report: U.S. smartphone users age 18 and over spend 30 hours, 15 minutes using apps each month, 65 % more time than they did just two years ago.
Over the years, the staff intranet at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had become increasingly difficult to use. Old, irrelevant content routinely bubbled to the top of search results, and essential employee tools were hard to find. NARA staff agreed that the site was due for an upgrade: fixing NARA@work was voted a top priority for 2013 in the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey. NARA managers, from the Archivist of the United States on down, supported the effort and helped recruit staff to participate.
While many people tout the death of the home page, it’s still an important piece of the user experience on USA.gov. In 2013, 30% of all sessions on USA.gov included the home page—that’s 8.67 million sessions. The numbers for GobiernoUSA.gov are even higher—79% of all sessions included the home page. According to Jakob Nielsen, “A homepage has two main goals: to give users information, and to provide top-level navigation to additional information inside the site.
The annual Consumer Action Handbook, from GSA, is a guide to making smarter decisions with your money. In both its print and online formats, it includes a compilation of buying tips from across government agencies, updates on the latest scams, and a robust consumer contact directory. But the most popular part of the book is the sample consumer complaint letter. The letter template is printed in every edition of the Handbook.
Ask, and you shall receive. That was the strategy behind the new homepage from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new CDC.gov homepage debuted last month with a responsive design that offers a “one-site-fits-all” experience based on feedback from you, the public. Before setting out on their journey of Web redesign, the CDC team sorted through satisfaction survey and traffic data from more than 10,000 users who came to CDC.
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.
At the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) we have a long history of using data graphics in our reports and congressional testimonies to explain our findings. From photographs, tables, and charts in the 1950s; to computer-generated data graphics in the mid-1980s; to the complex interactive graphics we’re just starting to use this year, our graphics have been critical in helping decision makers understand relationships and see trends in federal data.
Let’s face it: Some of us work to live. Some live to work. And all of us look forward to pay day. If you work for the Department of Defense, the Executive Office of the President, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, chances are that you are one of 6.
Incorporating usability testing throughout the entire design process, especially before launch, allows you catch glitches and/or make design changes prior to anyone seeing it live. When more than minor adjustments need to be made to your site, it’s much better to have completed them before the public sees it. For Christina Mullins, a Contracting Officer at the Public Building Service in the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Region 3 based in Philadelphia, usability testing was a new frontier, and one that quickly proved valuable.
For a small shop with a small staff, limited time, and a small budget, redesigning a website (and testing that redesign for usability) can be daunting. At least it seemed so to us when we redesigned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Ocean Service website in November of 2013. We met the challenge by keeping things simple. One solution was to adopt the popular, open-source Twitter Bootstrapframework, which is very flexible and well documented.
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.
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.
E-books are great for one thing: reading on mobile devices. Their reflowable text adjusts to fit the reader’s smartphone, tablet or e-reader in the type size the reader chooses. They are essential for reading on smartphones, and better than pdf’s for all but the biggest tablets. But e-books are not great for design. They’re generally single column, with images “anchored” within the text flow. Graphical enhancements are very limited, and are supported differently (if at all) on different devices.
If you could only communicate through a business-card sized screen, what would you say and how would you say it? In which ways could people respond to your message? These are some of the questions constraints lead us to ask, and the reason why constraints are so great at spurring innovative thinking. It’s pretty common to start a project in “the sky is the limit” mode as we starting thinking of all the things we can do to create amazing user experiences.
Responsive web design has been a beacon of light in the darkness of mobile strategy for many federal agencies. Many agencies have implemented it and many others are exploring this approach to Mobile Gov. There are still many other questions about responsive web design and it’s time to provide some illumination. Next Thursday, February 6, we are providing an opportunity for agencies to talk about these questions. At our Responsive Web Design Workshop: Why, How and What’s Next?
The Department of State has updated their mobile website m.state.gov with responsive design. The site auto-detects mobile devices and displays the State mobile site by default. State’s mobile site provides the latest foreign policy information from the State Department. Included are recent stories from the Secretary’s travels, the daily press briefing, country fact sheets, human rights reports, and more. Responsive design is becoming a popular means of creating a single site that can display nicely on a range of device sizes.
After having the same look and feel on our website since 2010, Commerce.gov is embarking on a fresh redesign to put the user in the driver seat. Drawing on anonymized user input, we have made some significant changes and are excited to announce the launch of our new site – Beta.Commerce.gov. First, you’ll notice that we’ve made search front and center. Our search feature was visited by one in seven users, and we’ve made it even easier to find and use.
Mobile First is the idea that web sites should first be designed for mobile devices, including only those tasks/items that website visitors use most. Then as screen real estate increases, add in tasks/features as needed based on user priority. This means the site will work (to some degree) on that shiny new web-enabled gizmo sitting under your neighbor’s Christmas tree 4 years from now. Allows websites to reach more people (77% of the world’s population has a mobile device, 85% of phones sold in 2011 equipped with browser) Forces designers to focus on core content and functionality (What do you do when you lose 80% of your screen real estate?
There has been a shift in consumer behavior during the last few years, a move toward immediacy and convenience, and with the responsive redesign of USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov, consumers can now have access to the same information and services when they need them, and on any platform and device. The number of mobile users is growing rapidly. In 2012 USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov received more than 2.5 million visits from mobile devices, not including tablets.
Mobile Gov Experiences are agency stories about creating anytime, anywhere, any device government services and info. This entry is a story shared by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched a free, educational iPad app called “Solve the Outbreak,” which lets users play the role of Epidemic Intelligence Service agents – the “Disease Detectives” who are on the front lines of new outbreaks wherever they occur.
_ Mobile Gov Experiences are agency stories about creating anytime, anywhere, any device government services and info. This entry is a story shared by AIDS.gov._ _ _ AIDS.gov implemented an innovative model for responsive design by combining the former AIDS.gov and m.aids.gov to a fluid site accessible on computers, smartphones and tablets. View the webinar on AIDs.gov’s responsive design. Why We Did It Testing showed that more and more people were trying to access the website via mobile device but not all mobile devices were receiving the m.
Some agencies are turning to responsive design to support device-agnostic content delivery which was called for in the recently released Digital Innovation Strategy. Last week, GSA’s Mobile Program Management Office held a responsive design webinar in conjunction with DigitalGov University outlining agency experiences with responsive design. Agency experts covered responsive design technical approaches and strategy and you can listen to the whole webinar below. One topic interesting to listeners was why agencies decided to implement responsive design.