Category:
Dashboard Interface Intelligent User Interface
Duration: Duration icon 10 min read
Date: Duration icon Mar 21, 2024

Building The Public Service Portal for the 21st Century With User-Centric Government Design Strategies

UI Design for Government

Government or public services imprint on almost every part of our daily lives. From tax filings and social security to public transportation and law enforcement, countless interactions occur every day between the government and its people. 

However, despite the importance of the government’s role in our lives, these interactions are often marred by clunky websites, convoluted processes, and a general lack of user-friendliness. This is where UI/UX design can offer a solution to bridge the gap between citizens and the services they rely on. To provide optimum service as envisioned by the policymakers and focused on making government work for everyone. 

DHCS Map Viz for Government Project

Some ways in which poorly designed systems lead to negative user experiences

  • Hinder inclusivity: every country is a melting pot of different age groups, genders, cultures, languages, and ethnicities. A design sensibility that doesn’t factor in every type of citizen will eventually shut them out of the system. This is also true for differently-abled citizens who will need a digital product designed from their perspective.
  • Lower accessibility: A poorly designed public service portal/product will prevent users from accessing the services. Whether through poorly executed security procedures, unclear navigation, or network issues, several government digital assets often need to be made available to citizens who might benefit from them. 
  • Frustrating navigation: One of the most common problems with government-backed apps and websites is the navigation. While the look and feel are usually uninspiring and predominantly functional, the real problem is often the confusing layout and navigation, which leaves users annoyed, lost, or completely unable to get the information they need.  

Reducing the uptake of services: If the users don’t like using the government’s digital design, they will only log on and engage with it when necessary. This avoidance naturally reduces their chances of using other services that might be very helpful to them in the future.

Why UI/UX Design Matters in Government Agencies

Government agencies serve diverse populations with varying levels of technological proficiency. A well-thought-out UI/UX design ensures that their digital platforms and services are accessible to all citizens, regardless of age, ability, or technological literacy. Effective design can streamline processes and ensure equitable access, increasing trust in government institutions.

(Here is an example of how we worked with California’s Community Healthcare Department to develop bespoke data visualizations to address healthcare disparities and inequities across the state.)

Challenges in Government Design and their Solutions 

While the benefits of UI/UX design in government are evident, several challenges need to be addressed as well:

Limited Resources

Public sector agencies have vast scopes and tight budgets. They have to ensure that their resources cover their entire mandate and that the maximum number of citizens benefit from their services. In this scenario, websites and apps are often not prioritized. There is little appetite to spend extra on digital outreach, and these monetary constraints limit investment in design expertise and infrastructure. Even when the problems and flaws are apparent, the approach is usually restricted to band-aid solutions to fix immediate problems.  

Solutions:

Leveraging Open Source Resources: Use existing open-source design frameworks and templates to reduce costs. Engage with pro bono collaborators such as University departments and public-minded experts to enhance the UI/UX design of digital government assets.  

Inculcate Design Thinking: Embed design concepts in the DNA of the agency by starting training programs, research, and more. Showcasing the many benefits of UI/UX design, such as increased efficiency, cost savings, etc., builds a case for higher budget allocations.

Legacy Systems:

Most government agencies were the first to incorporate digital technologies into their process; however, over time, these have become old-fashioned. Lack of resources has made it hard for them to keep pace with new solutions. Users accustomed to the current apps and websites find dealing with legacy systems boring, frustrating, and time-consuming. On the other hand, for the agencies, working on outdated systems with patchwork fixes can be complex and resource-intensive.

Solutions:

Phased updating: There is no avoiding shifting to newer infrastructure and software. Public agencies must recognize this and use their budgets to implement design solutions smartly and in phases. Focusing on critical areas first is, of course, advisable, and can help with prioritization, but citizens’ expectations grow every day and the government must attempt to keep pace.

Modernization Initiatives: Serious and stringent advocacy for budget allocation must be undertaken by department heads. By communicating the urgency of the need to modernize legacy systems, there is a good chance that UI/UX design gets prioritized.

 

Complex Bureaucracy: 

Government processes involve a varied set of people, departments, and established regulations. Unlike a private sector business where the decision-making is relatively flat, government departments can be slow to change. 

Sometimes, internalized institutional inertia and resistance to change from veteran members can prevent government agencies from embracing new design methodologies and technologies.

Solutions:

Building Champions: A quick and sure-shot way to manage red tape is to find design advocates within the agencies. First, you convince them and then they, in turn, become champions of user-centered approaches.

Start with Small Pilots: To convince decision-makers, executing smaller pilot projects that demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of agile design approaches can be helpful. Showing a proof of concept can help get buy-in from stakeholders more easily and quickly.

Change Management: Get in-house buy-in by opening dialogues within the organization that highlight the benefits through successful case studies and best practices from other agencies. 

Compliance and Regulations:

Government services handle sensitive data and are legally bound to stringent regulatory requirements and compliance standards. These must take precedence over web design for the government and require a careful and detailed UI/UX approach to ensure that user experiences and journeys on websites or apps are not constrained. Often, this level of detail is missing from budget and time-constrained product development.   

(Here is an excellent example of building accountability in public service departments. We helped POGO design one of the most critical government spending oversight platforms in U.S. history.)

Solutions: 

Cross-departmental Collaboration: Establish clear guidelines and standards for design compliance from day one. Make sure accessibility, security, and privacy considerations are kept at the center of any new product development right from the outset and not treated as an afterthought. Work with other departments, such as legal and finance, to get their perspectives embedded in the design.

 

Shifting Priorities: 

Design can be affected by politics and shifting agendas that a change of guard brings. New people and new policies shift the objectives of departments making it necessary for the people in charge to shift their roadmaps, resources, and attention.  

Solutions:

Setting Long-Term Vision: To ensure the longevity of the design vision, it should be connected to the larger strategic goals of the department. This effort and linkage should be documented right from the beginning to make sure that people who take over have a clear roadmap to carry on the work.

User Engagement and Feedback:

A vital part of any UI/UX project is the feedback loop. Testing the design and getting useful insights and gaining insights from them is a crucial piece of the design process. However, government agencies often face roadblocks in this process, due to security and privacy reasons. Discomfort with racial or demographic profiling may discourage many minority voices from engaging in the feedback process on their own accord. This incomplete or inadequate testing process often leaves public services with apps and websites that do not adequately meet user needs.

Solution: 

Prioritize testing across the board: Push the team to include and implement easy-to-do user research methods, such as surveys, suggestion boxes, or online forums, allocate some time to doing in-depth interviews, and bring together a small group for usability testing. The goal is to encourage ongoing engagement with real users and solve problems before they snowball.

Functionality first mindset:

When serving millions is the goal, aesthetics often become the first casualty. This is why most public sector design tends to be dull and uninspiring. In a world where users are continuously interacting with beautiful digital imagery, a no-frills style design style for digital assets is an off-putting experience for users.      

Solution:

Think visually: decision makers within agencies must include visual aspects in their mandate for their websites and apps. Design for products doesn’t need to be practical; it can be pretty, too. 

(Find out more about the UI/UX design trends that will dominate 2024)

The Impact of Design Thinking In Government on Citizens

Effective UI/UX in government services has a direct and positive impact on citizens:

  • Access to clear and understandable information can empower citizens to access the services they need to better their daily lives. With information, they make informed decisions and pursue their options with confidence.
  • Streamlined processes reduce wait times, reducing users’ drop-off rates. This translates into citizens engaging more with public systems, using the services they need, and getting what they want faster.
  • User-friendly platforms improve the overall user experience. Happy citizens will visit service portals again and interact more with public agencies.
  • With deeper and more positive interactions, citizens develop trust and are motivated to participate in public life.

How to ensure long-term user-centric design thinking in organizations

We have discussed common roadblocks and their solutions in granular detail above, but here are some high-level and holistic ways in which organizations have to approach design thinking in government settings.

  • Take a top-down approach – Change usually occurs when the leadership is seen to be firmly behind the idea. Ensure decision-makers are given the information to invest in UI/UX wholeheartedly.
  • Assign responsibility and accountability –  Ensure that design overhaul or UI/UX integrations are part of someone’s KRA. Putting a department or a team member in charge is one way to ensure the work gets done
  • Involve experts – It is unlikely that in-house teams will have the required design or UX skills. In this scenario, government agencies must enlist reputable local website or app design firms or individual contractors to assist them.
  • Digital infrastructure – Consider the software, hardware, and manpower requirements for providing user-centric services right from the beginning. This can be crucial to keep budgets realistic and avoid long-term problems.
  • Involve your customers – Finally, but most importantly, collaborate with customers to develop the product. Traditionally, user testing is seen as the final step, but keeping consumers involved from day one can ensure that the development of the app or website is moving in the right direction from the start.
Pogo Government UI

Conclusion

Embracing a user-centric approach is not just a matter of good graphic design for government —it is vital for building more equitable and responsive governance systems in the 21st century. There is little doubt that digital products, whether websites, apps, or just graphic design elements in various formats, require a more thoughtful approach to make them user-centric. To improve citizen engagement in the digital age, design must prioritize accessibility, efficiency, inclusivity, and collaboration that meet their evolving needs. 

Get in touch with our UI/UX design team to find out how you can align your digital portals to the needs of your users.  

Fuselab Creative is an industry leader for design in a government setting.

Fuselab Creative is an industry leader for design in a government setting.

Design thinking has always been a hallmark of our process, and helps us deliver human-centered strategies when coming up with our design solutions.

Government UI/UX Design
Marc Caposino
CEO, Marketing Director

20

Years of experience

7

Years in Fuselab

Marc has over 20 years of senior-level creative experience; developing countless digital products, mobile and Internet applications, marketing and outreach campaigns for numerous public and private agencies across California, Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. In 2017 Marc co-founded Fuselab Creative with the hopes of creating better user experiences online through human-centered design.