Hey, Government Teams — UX Designers are Looking for You!

We believe that government teams can have many types of Best Friends Forever too —
Like DevSecOps, Product Management and Procurement!

The delivery of nearly every government service relies on technology to be effective. As a result, it is crucial to understand how technology is serving the people that engage with those services. Government services don’t get to select their end-users, they have to be used by everyone. Narrowing the gap between the technological implementation of those services and the real, human experience of using them is essential. It’s more important now than ever for government teams to have user experience (UX) designers on their teams.

User experience design focuses on bringing a human-centered perspective into technology work. The partnership of UX design and government work is a wonderful match, as both domains focus on how to better deliver services to the humans that need them.

A sample of the value that UX designers can bring to a government service are:

  • Uncovering the human needs that drive technological experiences. through a detailed understanding of the users of a system.
  • Creating prototypes of an experience as a cheaper, easier way for government teams to test out the delivery of a new service or technology.
  • Facilitating collaboration opportunities for teams to use design thinking in their service and product delivery process.

While many of the underlying concepts of UX design are often familiar to people in government, most government teams don’t know where to start finding UX designers for their teams. A sense of newness or unfamiliarity with the UX field can make it tough for teams to recruit and retain technology talent. On the other end, this lack of hiring infrastructure can make it challenging for UX designers to be successful on government teams once hired, especially if they are moving into the public sector for the first time.

However, there are a wealth of opportunities for UX designers in the public sector and no shortage of UX designers seeking to make a difference in the everyday lives of people. To bridge this gap between government teams looking to hire designers and designers looking to join these teams, the Colorado Digital Service, a team within the Governor’s Office of Information Technology, put together this resource from the perspective of a designer who is passionate about working with a government team and what they would need to be successful. The Colorado Digital Service is collaborating to help grow the existing UX capabilities within the Office of Information Technology.

If you are a government team seeking to add a UX designer to your organization, reference the following to understand what a designer is looking for to be successful on your team. The list below is ideal, non-comprehensive, and should not be a barrier to hiring designers for your team. However, it should be used to help evaluate what a designer may be looking for as they join your team and how to best prepare your team for the expectations of that designer.

This is a part of a multi-part series to help government teams understand how to make UX designers and human-centered design better work in the civic tech space. Follow us to find out more.

Preparing for a User Experience Designer on Your Government Team

As a government team hiring a user experience (UX) designer, you are ready to engage your users and incorporate their needs into your priorities and solutions. You are willing to commit to supporting your UX designer in creating effective design strategies, completing a variety of user experience design work, and improving existing software quality to produce better experiences for the people using your product or service.

As a government team hiring a UX designer, you may have some knowledge of, interest in, or experience with user experience design or research and how it can be leveraged in a government setting, see samples from 18F and the UK for reference.

As a government team supporting a designer expect to:

  • Onboard incoming UX designers into project work in the organization, specifically helping to connect designers to key partners like subject matter experts, business analysts, product managers, engineers, and more.
  • Actively engage with the design process on a regular basis to ensure that design work is aligned with organizational goals.
  • Provide adequate mentorship for designers to grow in subject matter expertise (example: connect UX designers with child welfare case managers to learn how a case progresses from intake to investigation).
  • Create space for including insights uncovered by designers into existing work and encourage government team members to engage with the findings.
  • Acquire and provision necessary tools for UX designers to complete their work — inclusive of design tools and development environments.
  • Appropriate funding to remain competitive for salary compensation and to ensure this position can be maintained in the long run.

At a minimum, government teams should be prepared to have:

  • Knowledge of the end-users that will be impacted by a project, whether it be stakeholders, residents, or other internal teams.
  • An organizational strategy, vision or goals that inform the priority of how to best deliver technology solutions for a public-interest problem.
  • A collaborative mindset that encourages a focus on the problem first rather than the solution.
  • Willingness to change organizational culture to strengthen a human-centered perspective in the delivery of services and products.
  • The ability to draft projects that provide enough lead time for designers to run ahead of technology teams to appropriately gather information on the best path forward through techniques like user research or prototyping.

Teams who are ready to mature their existing UX practice should be looking to:

  • Have regular engagements with living experts or end-users. Preferably, these engagements would have a mechanism to compensate experts for their time and contributions to a given project if they are non-governmental employees.
  • Build on their previous experience working with a UX designer in the past and scale successful design practices.
  • Build in UX as part of the foundational knowledge of or use of modern software development practices such as Agile/iterative development.
  • Deepen their understanding of the differences of UX disciplines and their designer’s experience in each, as applicable for government needs. These disciplines range from user research, visual design, interaction design, service design and more.

UX design and government teams can have a partnership that is rich and yields meaningful innovation that serves the needs of the public. For example, by embracing UX research as part of the procurement process the State of Colorado was able to select a better vendor to meet real user needs. Read the case study in which the State of Colorado procured a case investigation and contact tracing system in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As government teams look to hire and retain more design talent, it’s important to keep in mind the needs of the designers themselves. As outlined above, those needs include support from subject matter experts within a government team, partnerships with technical teams, leadership investment in human-centered design, and competitive pay. While planning a position for a new UX designer on a government team, hiring teams should keep these in mind to make the most of their postings and future relationships with a designer.

Our team, the Colorado Digital Service, is passionate about the sustainable outcomes a focus on UX, and the hiring of UX professionals, has on the delivery of government services. If you have questions about UX design, how to hire designers, or want to hear more from the designers on our team, contact us. Find more opportunities to work for the State of Colorado on our careers page.

This article was written by Ploy Buraparate and Stephanie Cain.

Interested in following along the work of the Colorado Digital Service? Submit an interest form to stay connected. You can also check out our work at our Colorado Digital Service website, GitHub, Linkedin, or Twitter.

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A team of engineers, designers, product managers, and procurement specialists serving limited tours of service in government. colorado.gov/digitalservice

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Colorado Digital Service

Colorado Digital Service

A team of engineers, designers, product managers, and procurement specialists serving limited tours of service in government. colorado.gov/digitalservice

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