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When the Audience is Citizens

How UX can lead change in civic design

What does it mean to design for an audience of citizens? We will explore how we can use our UX skills to be leaders in improving design for civic life. This workshop will bring together people with experience with those who are interested in putting their talents to use in this area.

Workshop by Whitney Quesenbery (WQusability), Josephine Scott (GE Capital), Christina Melton (TechSmith)
3:00pm to 7:00pm on Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Position Paper:
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About the Workshop

At some time, each of us has been critical of the civic or democratic experience and how government addresses what we might see as design problems. We also know that designing for civic life is both the same and different from commercial or social media projects.

In this workshop, we will explore the design implications of these differences and how we can use our UX skills to be leaders in improving civic life. This workshop will bring together people with experience in civic design projects for governments, along with those who are interested in putting their talents to use in this area.

This workshop will build on our projects working on US elections and accessibility and case studies from other participants to explore better ways for UPA and other UX professionals to contribute to civic design projects more effectively. We will use our tried and true facilitation techniques to unlock our problem-solving creativity and express our vision for improving the democratic experience.

We see a number of differences that affect this work. These themes and our own experiences that will be the starting point for the workshop. We expect, however, to build on this starting point as we prepare for the workshop, taking in other position papers, and during the workshop itself.

  1. The number of users is very, very large. Most of us would consider a 1% error rate pretty good for an online interaction. But an error that affects just 1% of voters could mean that 20,000 people won't have their vote counted in New York City alone. You might get 6000 comments on a public draft review process. A redesign of a small civic service will affect hundreds or thousands.

  2. The audience is very diverse. Civic design has to work for a very broad audience: it serves not only people who have smartphones, or use the web, but people who don't speak English fluently, don't read well, have no home and are at society's margins. 

  3. Accessibility is required. It might be morally right to make any product accessible, but it's required by law for civic design . This argues for a universal design approach, to eliminate the need for a special "accessible" version.

  4. The legislative and regulatory timeframes are looooong. If Internet time moves fast, work in civic life may seem glacial in comparison. Work on public projects can be frustratingly deliberate and punctuated by 90-day comment periods and pauses for legislative recesses. Keeping focus in this environment is difficult, so you are forced to think carefully about your goals and process .

  5. Stakeholders aren't focused on design. The stakeholders interested in an issue include elected officials and government staff, advocacy groups of all kinds, political parties, vendors, and the public. It may take skill and diplomacy to help stakeholders understand that user experience will benefit them...and everyone.

We hope to leave the workshop having *Met other people working on civic design projects and hear about their experiences * Explored the special challenges of working in this space through a design workshop and other brainstorming exercise * And, excited about the possibility for putting our skills to use to improve society.