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February 14, 2024

How to Deliver Great Digital Experiences Using UX and Human-Centered Design

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Thelma Van, UX Innovation Product Designer at Excella sat down with long-time govtech reporter John Gilroy on the Federal Tech Podcast to talk about all things human-centered design.  

In case you missed the episode, here are a few tips Thelma shared to help federal agencies deliver better digital experiences: 

Getting Started with Human-Centered Design 

Thelma suggested that the first step federal agencies should take is to invest in developing a user-centric design infrastructure.

“You hear that word invest and immediately people think of cost, or they think of money, but really what I’m talking about is key infrastructure in order to optimize user experience… That means investing in things like research, understanding your users, determining who you are building these sites for, who are the personas that are using the site? … That’s one way that agencies can really begin to think about implementing UX inside of their agency.”  

A critical piece of human centered design is defining and understanding the problem you need to solve. User interviews are an important step in this understanding. The interview pool does not have to be huge to make an impact. “There are studies out there that show that even just talking to five people can drastically improve usability,” says Thelma. Step number two is to synthesize the information and feedback from the interviews. “A lot of times you’ll see a gap between interviewing and understanding the problem,” Thelma tells John. The next step is to translate the gaps in information or usability into actual functional requirements that developers can build. 

The Need for Speed 

John mentioned that if a user is waiting about three seconds for a website to load, the odds are the user will get impatient and leave the page altogether. Making user experience as fast as possible is just as important as providing solid information. If users leave the site, they’ll never benefit from the information that was thoughtfully curated for them. Thelma agreed with the need for speed, “That is a critical pain point. Optimization is fundamental to the user experience…” 

The Problem with Paperwork 

The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) emerged from an executive order back in 2021. Improving the way that citizens go about filling out government forms is a high priority.  Ensuring people have the correct forms for their needs, forms are filled out correctly, and are easy to understand can cost the government a lot of money.  

Thelma relayed that this is a common challenge federal agencies face and speaks from experience on projects working to reduce paper and streamline citizen experience:

“When we were interviewing people, they were talking about their lack of awareness of completing the wrong form. They didn’t know a form was deprecated … and that’s one of the main issues with paper forms … and then it went into a black hole, they didn’t hear anything, and so really, that’s a burden on the user, but also on the agency because now they have to reach out to contact and let this person know you filled out the wrong form.”

Securing Cross-Functionality 

John also brought up that oftentimes people forget about cross-functionality in cybersecurity. Thelma agreed and explained that sometimes people forget about being cross-functional and there is real danger in forgetting that during the design process:

“Designers will define problems on their own, they’ll bring it back to the team and they’ll come back with an entire process, wireframes, [or] prototypes… on their own, and that is a real danger.”

Thelma then explains that cross-functionality in the design process needs to involve not only the designers, but the stakeholders and wider team members, from the start. “Involving everyone, from the start, so that everyone is understanding the problem, means you result in a shared language and shared understanding of what that problem is,” Thelma says.  

AI and Human-Centered Design  

To close out the discussion, John asked Thelma about the role that artificial intelligence plays in human centered design. Thelma explained that there are two ways we can look at AI in human centered design. The first way is to look at human centered design as informing AI products. This means actually identifying pain points and where AI can actually solve problems and where we can actually optimize and use AI as an accelerator, not to replace the human. The other way to view AI in human centered design as a tool for research and in synthesizing information that has already been collected. Designers can leverage AI tools that already exist to run analysis or quickly identify themes in their research. 

Visit our resource page for information on human centered design.

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