The US government must invest in digital design

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Imagine if, when The President addressed the nation in those chilling early days of March 2020, he had announced the launch of a user-friendly digital hub for citizens to access critical government services related to Covid-19. The site and corresponding iOS and Android apps would seamlessly integrate the latest Covid data and content from multiple federal agencies, hospitals nationwide and private sector companies. It would be accessible to all Americans – supporting 62 languages, and people with visual impairments or limited internet access would have a phone number they could call to speak to a knowledgeable representative with no wait times. You can easily find the latest data on confirmed cases, study interactive animations about the spread of the virus, find the times and location of your nearest testing site, schedule a test, apply for an SBA loan, and check the your loan approval status in The Queue. The hub will integrate with state and local websites to keep you up to date with the latest terms from your governor and county officials. Today, you would be able to schedule a vaccination appointment for you and your family through the site. Throughout the pandemic, you’ll check the site daily, building your confidence in the government’s response efforts and its ability to protect your safety.

A site with these features is not at all technologically out of reach. And yet, the federal government has provided no such resource to the American people.

As the vaccination effort continues across the country, reports of buggy and confusing websites unnecessarily slowing down the process have appeared. The rapid distribution of emergency medical supplies, small business loans, stimulus checks and unemployment benefits has also been delayed by the government’s continued use of outdated technology and confusing digital resources. Our nation’s inability to invest in federal and state information technology has severely limited our ability to respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis. That’s why the country needs a new federal officer in charge of the US citizen’s digital experience – a Director of US Experience.

The world’s most successful technology companies have shown us how vital the role of design is in the innovation process. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to build a successful digital business without design and customer experience at its core. You won’t find a corporate roadmap that doesn’t have it, except, apparently, the US government’s.

Market research firm Forrester tracks customer experience and satisfaction in the private sector and federal government. Not surprisingly, government consistently underperforms the private sector. The average customer experience (CX) score across federal agencies was just 61.1 out of 100 in 2020. In other words, the percentage of people who thought federal services were easy to use was equivalent the percentage of customers who enjoy the in-flight experience in aircraft. .

A prime example of this was the Centers for Disease Control website, CDC.gov/coronavirus, which required users to painstakingly click through 115 navigational links when searching for answers. It was one of many inconsistent, visually complex, and difficult-to-navigate government websites that left Americans uncertain, confused, and fearful. The negative effect of the inefficiency of these sites has been compounded by the late, decentralized and uncoordinated response of the administration to the pandemic.

Design and user experience are not political priorities for most agencies, but they should be. Now more than ever, digital services are essential to our national infrastructure. These are essential tools to continue our response and recovery in the face of economic and health crises. The Internet is the main source of information for most Americans. In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control website received over a billion page views, more than 10 times the amount for the same month in 2019.

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