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Design and Government

When Designing Working for Government…

You can learn a lot about how to do your job better from the graphic design process. Yes, as Govloop’s newest Graphic Design Fellow I admit I am biased, but humor me. I think I am onto something here. Creating good visual design isn’t necessarily about being a great artist, a CSS ninja, or any other trendy term (often found on design websites). It’s pretty simple actually: Before good designers start a project they think mostly about two things, “Who will see this?” and “How can I design it in a way that will enhance their experience?” Whatever “this” may be in design: A logo, a landing page, or a printed brochure, a good designer thinks of these two questions from the brainstorming phase through publishing.

And yes, I will confess that to understand how visual stimuli is interpreted by people you need practice, lots of practice. Pretty much everyone can identify bad design, but good and great design are more subjective. I realize I am late in the game on this one, but Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think” is a web design reference that points out many obvious components designers sometimes forget when composing a site. Admittedly, it’s easy to fall behind in the web world, even Steve’s site could use some major TLC. While designing it is natural to think about what appeals to you, but great design happens when you go to the metaphorical “end of the line” and think of others first.

Recently I read fellow Govlooper Abhi Nemani‘s blog and I loved the term “Citizen Experience” he coined in place of the frequently used buzzword “User Experience.” What a great way for designers and developers to think of their audience. Far too often when developing products or systems people think of their “user’’ as a nameless, faceless entity that is different from themselves. Abhi also mentioned UXWEEK he attended San Francisco, and questioned “How often do web applications elicit hugs?” Anyone who has had a seamless web experience, or been pleasantly surprised by an amazing info-graphic (and is as nerdy as me) would say these experiences are totally hug-worthy.

I have heard many people say “I am not a designer” or “I am not creative,” but the truth is that if you navigated your way to work this morning and through this site right now, you have the same potential as anyone else to create good design.

Good design means thinking of your “citizen” from the phases of brainstorm to birth, which should be government’s mantra when approaching tasks.

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Lisa Wilcox

I think you summarized it quite well.

I know people who call themselves designers but do nothing from the standpoint of UX. We need good looking sites that are as you put it “hug-worthy”

Vivian Cullipher

I think you make an excellent point on needing to prioritize the user’s/citizen’s experience when interacting with a government product. It’s much too easy to view our content from our own point of view and completely forget that an end user doesn’t often know our internal, cultural quirks or language (among other things!). I also want to add that a good designer must also consider the purpose of the piece. It’s great if the user comes away with an enjoyable, positive experience, but unless that’s the end goal, the designer must also consider what tangible and intangible actions the product is ultimately trying to elicit. For instance, is the viewer substantially more aware/educated/informed/prepared? Motivated to do something? More emotionally connected to the issue or organization? Is a crisis addressed, averted, or mitigated? Unless the goals are clear from the get-go, even a good user experience can fall short of fulfilling the purpose that was the catalyst behind the project. But of course, that purpose must also be fulfilled by working through a user’s perspective, reinforcing your point.

Chris Cairns

Great article. You’re absolutely right that you don’t necessarily have to be a designer in order to create a good user experience, as long as you assume the role of your audience in the design process.