Importance of UX at CfA

CfA Fellow Jeremy Canfield recently published a short piece in UX Magazine, “Why UXers should Code for America,” on the importance of interaction design and user-centric development:

Despite its name, the Code for America Fellowship isn’t just for coders. In fact, most of what we do for our government partners doesn’t involve much code at all. User research, experience design, information architecture, visual design are critical to our work. Unlike traditional vendors, we don’t build to specifications. We work with governments collaboratively on developing a rough idea into a real product, all in just a few months.

The Code for America process borrows heavily from UX design. We spend months of our fellowships interviewing users and stakeholders in our partner cities, trying to determine the root causes and context of their problems, and then we create user personas and stories based on those interviews from which we design and develop the applications. Then we sprint, test, and iterate. And iterate.

There are tensions. Because we are a fellowship organization attempting to build once and share widely, our apps must be not only easy to use, but also easy to reuse. This means more than just making our code open source or providing good documentation; we are not just designing the software that our cities will run on, but attempting to build or find communities that will support it. Put another way, we have the challenge of designing not just for ease of use, but also for ease of participation.

Are you interested in reshaping the citizen experience? We’re trying to bring designers into the fold, both for the 2012 fellowship, but also to find ways to engage people who may not have the ability to take a year off for a fellowship (though it’s probably easier than you think). Here are some things you can do now:

When I started my fellowship at Code for America, I was asked what my greatest wish for my fellowship was. My goal, simply stated, was and remains to make government beautiful. As our founder and executive director Jen Pahlka has said, designing for government is incredibly hard; government has to design for quite literally everyone. I can’t think of a better challenge for UX designers.

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UX is so key. And the more I’ve read and met folks – it’s actually a really really hard skill set to find. It’s kind of odd as government (and most gov’t contractors) don’t have the UX position – usually just have a web manager or designer. But UX is a much different skill and impossible to find.