Creating a platform to connect Chicagoans to their local representatives and government resources.

Current City of Chicago website.

I was one of three student UX designers tasked with designing a microsite that provides a better experience for citizens of Chicago. We focused on improving access to information on local government representatives and the services provided. We had four weeks to research, rapid prototype, and conduct usability testing to design a creative solution for Chicagoans. This project taught me how to plan and execute detailed user research and use my findings to influence the direction of my design.

Understanding the landscape

Since I was the only team member not from Chicago, I started with research to understand how local government is organized and found that Chicago’s government is divided into executive and legislative branches. The executive branch is made up of the mayor, city clerk, and the treasurer. The legislative branch is made up of 50 elected officials called aldermen that each represent a ward, or district. We later learned, just how important these 50 elected representatives are to Chicagoans.

 

We grounded ourselves through domain research and learned that approximately

70 percent of homes have access to broadband internet in Chicago. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, in the west and south sides, fewer than 45 percent of homes have broadband. Those with limited internet access are far less likely to use online government resources.

 

We looked at online resources provided by Chicago and discovered that a lot of information was available, but scattered across multiple websites. The information was convoluted and difficult to understand.

The sheer amount of available information was overwhelming and impossible to sort through.

Through our research, it was clear that aldermen play an important role in local government, but it was shocking to find that the city of Chicago doesn’t provide aldermen with a website. Some affluent wards built their own sites, but disadvantaged wards didn’t have this option. They were left without clear access to ward specific information. This research was crucial to understanding the broad scope of our challenge. From here, we conducted interviews with Chicagoans to learn what challenges they were facing.

Digging deeper

11 Chicagoans told us about their current interactions with the Chicago website and their local representatives. We heard that people were frustrated, distrustful, and disillusioned with their government.

We synthesized information from our interviews and domain research and learned that both affluent and disadvantaged residents feel estranged from their government. These two groups felt the same, but were focused on vastly different end goals. The affluent group was more concerned with routine neighborhood maintenance like potholes, trash, and tree trims. The disadvantaged group was concerned with larger community concerns like gang violence, neglected property, and unemployment. These discoveries informed the two distinct user personas we designed to represent our diverse user base. I designed visual representations of these personas to help my team build empathy with our users.

Though our two user groups had very different goals. They both needed a way to find available local resources. However, neither of them knew where to start.

 

Knowing the importance of elected officials, it was essential that we talk to aldermen and staffers. We conducted interviews with representatives get feedback from experts.

We spoke to aldermen and staffers in four wards that spanned key regions of the city.

We learned that aldermen want to be contacted directly. This communication gave aldermen a chance to build relationships and stay on top of local issues.

Unfortunately, residents didn’t understand how to take advantage of this resource.

Defining the problem

It was clear that residents need a single way to learn how their alderman can serve their needs and what steps they can take to make their interests known. Uncovering this specific problem facing our users took time, but I learned that stating a problem succinctly, though sometimes difficult, removes any ambiguity and leaves room to explore creative solutions.

 

Our answer was FirstStop – a microsite that connects Chicago residents with their ward and alderman.

Testing and iterating

To differentiate ourselves from existing resources, we took advice from the government sites that were doing it right while keeping the unique needs of Mariana and Mark in mind. We conducted concept testing with Chicagoans to validate our assumptions about their mental model and desired content.

Using the feedback from concept testing, we aligned on what content and features to include in our final design.

As we built our screens, we focused on making the content conversational and approachable to address the lack of trust that users felt toward their elected officials.

I recommended the creation of modals to reduce disruption in the user flow. We used these modals to integrate short educational guides that broke complex information into digestible and relevant chunks.

We tested our prototype with five participants to ensure that our microsite measurably improved people’s experience accessing local services. We set a benchmark by having users complete the same tasks on both FirstStop and the City of Chicago website and improved time on task for two key user flows.

The users found the definition of what an alderman does

and discovered what ward they live in

However, FirstStop wasn’t measurably better on all tasks. Efficiency went down by 15% on the “Submit a Service Request” task. We addressed this problem, along with other minor usability problems, through slight adjustments to layout and affordance.

The final product

After four weeks of intense work, my team designed a user centered product rooted in solid research. We presented our final design to a panel of guest critics who praised the execution of the solution and our approach to the design process.

[Click here to watch a video demonstration of FirstStop]

If we had continued on with FirstStop, we planned to conduct further usability testing on the “Submit a Service Request” flow. We also recommended the addition of a community forum to address the needs of disillusioned users like Mariana.

 

I’m super proud of what we accomplished in such a short amount of time. The hard work taught me how each tool we use as designers compounds on the next to build a user-centered solution. I learned to recognize and take advantage of my teammate’s unique skills and strengths. I found patience and trust in my team that allowed us to learn from each other and grow in confidence as designers. I left prepared for future work with real clients.

Our final product taught the user about their government while putting the most relevant and important information at the forefront.

FirstStop

Proposed FirstStop microsite wireframes.

This last number was especially significant. All testers failed this task when trying to find their ward on the City of Chicago website.

ShedWool

While you're down here, check out my other work.

siripreston.com

© 2017 by Siri Preston // All rights reserved.