As a designer at the U.S. Digital Service, I have led design teams at FEMA, USCIS, and the Small Business Administration. In each project, I wear many hats - researcher, product designer, bureaucracy hacker, teacher. I spend most of my time trying to implement design process and make working with users unavoidable. There are a few principles I follow on each project:
Make the research meaningful - most of the stakeholders we work with have never done user research, or seen the impact it could have on their projects. By measuring impact, whether it is how many users can perform a simple task online, or how many jobs are created as a result of our service, stakeholders begin to buy-in to the research process.
Empower the team - at the Digital Service, we work on “tours of duty” meaning we cycle through projects fairly quickly, and federal employees and contractors continue the work when we are gone. I spend my time clearing blockers and trying to empower these teams. I help them set up sustainable design practices and a realistic research cadence. I hire new teams, create a design contracts to ensure that the right talent is set up to do the job.
Re-use as much as possible - similar problems exist across agencies. Every big modernization program consists of web forms, and systems to process benefits. I work with colleagues across agencies to understand how they solved similar programs.
Focus on accessibility from the outset - too many teams rely on only the most basic accessibility testing, or avoid it entirely. It is the government's responsibility to serve all citizens, regardless of their abilities. I work with my teams to ensure users of all abilities can use our software.
Some of the ways USDS made an impact in 2017
Read about USDS projects in the July 2017 Report to Congress