Takeaway for Readers
- Government services should be intentionally designed
- Very few federal designers exist across government to help ensure that happens
Almost everything you use or touch in your daily life is intentionally designed. That includes the toothbrush you use in the morning, the shoes you put on your feet, and the outlet you plug your coffee pot into. And design extends beyond the physical objects you use to the services you experience, such as mailing a package through your favorite mail service, scheduling a haircut through a mobile app, or filling your car up at a gas station. The products and services that are well-designed feel simple, seamless, almost care-free. And they facilitate task completion.
Government service delivery should be no different. Each interaction or series of interactions should also be carefully and intentionally researched, designed, and delivered to allow customers to effectively, efficiently, and equitably obtain the benefits they are seeking and to meet mission objectives. However, creating and maintaining effective products and services doesn’t just happen organically or magically. It happens through better understanding of user needs through user research and applying those findings to business or policy objectives through a human-centered design process. Ideally, that means ensuring that human-centered designers are involved.
You may be thinking “what do designers have to do with improving DHS services - don’t they just pretty things up by selecting colors and fonts?” Certainly, visual / user interface (UI) design is one competency that some designers specialize in and yet it’s only one of many specialties now under the umbrella of research and design. Other competencies now include content design, interaction design, information architecture, UX writer, and more. The field has matured extensively over the last ten or so years. As Steve Jobs once stated “The design is not just what it looks like and feels like. The design is how it works.” And that gives us product design and service design.
Fortunately, designers are increasingly found across government, mostly on contract teams working on critical products or portions of overall services being delivered. The move to agile was one of the catalysts for the inclusion of designers along with a broader push to modernize government IT by government agencies such as the U.S. Digital Service and 18F.
The challenge is that while there are increasing numbers of designers of all flavors on contract teams across the government, there are still very few designers who are federal employees. By now, you may be asking yourself “Okay, but why is this a problem?” We’ll dig into that in Part 2 of this series….