What's Missing From the U.S. Digital Services Playbook (And What They're Getting Right)

August 13, 2014

This week, the U.S. government launched the U.S. Digital Service to improve the federal government’s digital interactions with citizens. Headed by an ex-Google executive, the Digital Service published a fantastic manifesto of 13 digital plays to guide their creation and development of new online systems.

We’re glad to see the government doing something that is so right and so needed – and catching up to the British government that’s had it’s own fantastic list of 10 guiding principles for more than 2 years.

Here are the 13 Plays from U.S. Digital Services Playbook:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

At OHO, we’re proponents of all of these items and approaches – they represent a massive step in the right direction. Since I focus on the strategy and user research portion of our business, I see some areas I hope the U.S. Digital Services team could go further in thinking about users and user experience design.

  1. Think about motivation. I think it’s worth explicitly calling out motivation as a goal for user research. While the sentiment is partially inherent in some of the checklist items, users always have a choice to finish or not finish a task online. In our experience, understanding a user’s motivation is key to driving towards completion.

  2. Think about affinity. It’s one thing to make the software usable, it’s another thing to make it loveable. How can we move beyond simply making usable software into a product that people have an affinity for using. I think the playbook is pointing in this direction in #2 – design for start to finish – in thinking about the entire user experience including offline materials and customer support.

  3. Confirm and extend personas with data. Play 12 is all about data and measurement, but it’s mostly technical and performance oriented, except for A/B user testing. We recommend using analytics to understand and validate personas developed from qualitative research. Task completion data (or drop-off data) should be used to set the direction and scope of future design decisions.

  4. Explicitly call out the business goals. Perhaps this is just the difference between government and private sectors, but I’d like to see more explicit business goals and metrics against those goals. Typically our clients set goals around increasing revenue, decreasing costs, or increasing efficiencies. These goals, along with a strong missional tone, are present but not explicit in the playbook. The data and measurement refers more to technical performance than business performance.

Read more about our reaction to the launch of the U.S. Digital Services.

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