Agencies have had websites for years, but with today’s focus on digitizing government, championed by the President’s Management Agenda, it’s clear that simply having a website, or even a mobile app, is not enough. Today’s consumers want sites that are intuitive, informative, and easy to use. This means that sites need to work the way users want them to work while allowing the owning organization to achieve their goals. Enter the practice of User Experience (UX) and the focus on User Interface (UI).
UX and UI: Separate, but equally important
While you cannot have good UI without UX—and vice versa—they are not the same. User Experience is the emotional result of a person’s interaction with a website or digital app. It is all about how the user interacts with and experiences a product. A more familiar term is CX, which stands for customer or citizen experience. This refers to the way a person feels about an organization after interacting with it. This may involve several user experiences – using the website, calling a contact center, or reading provided documentation. In the end, the goal is to leave the person pleased with their overall interaction with the organization — even if it resulted in bad news like owing more taxes. UX and CX are really the theology that leads to the implementation of UI.
User Interface is the design of a product or website. Ideally, UI is informed by UX; the product is designed with the way people should use it in mind. Important information or functional elements are put where people look. More than just functionality, the design, or interface, should provide a pleasant enough experience to make people want to use it. But the pendulum can’t swing too far in the direction of aesthetics. A beautiful website can still be painful to use. The end goal is to combine form and function by using the UX insights to build a successful UI.
Why does the government need UX and UI?
So, with these definitions out of the way, what does it all mean for government agencies? In an environment where modernization and optimization are mandated priorities, looking at IT from a UX mindset seems like a logical next step. UX does not require reinventing systems from the network down, but rather taking what is already there and presenting it in a new, more efficient way. This approach is certainly more cost effective than a rip-and-replace modernization.
UX—when done the right way—can help build trust between users and agencies. When a website or product is user-centric, it fosters trust in the site and its mission on a subconscious level, resulting in continued use and repeated visits.
One small change—a search box placement or a reduction in load times due to using smaller images—could drive more self-service and satisfaction than a complete revision of the site and its infrastructure. In fact, a recent report found that nine out of ten federal employees surveyed said their agency “needs to spend more time on improving the usability of technology, as opposed to the development of the technology itself.” What many agencies are finding is that if they don’t focus on UX, they’ll end up rebuilding the solution very quickly.
What does UX and UI look like in a government project?
For agencies looking to implement a UX approach, the first step is to understand the user. Exercises including persona mapping and journey mapping allow teams to look at their users not just in terms of the transaction they have with their organization but the path they took to get there and the emotion involved.
With this user-first mentality, it’s still important to focus on the agency mission. The mission and key messages of the agency cannot get lost in the effort to make the site user-friendly. Good user design strikes a balance between the needs of the users and the desire of the organization to communicate specific messages.
Today’s user expectations, both on the citizen level and within the federal workforce, demand that agencies take a more user-centered approach to the look and function of their applications. Fortunately, doing so is not a complete re-tooling of systems, instead it is a systematic and incremental process informed by real-world use of agency systems and data.
Andrew Griffiths and Josh Wilson are Managers and UX/UI Design Experts at Octo Consulting.