A collection of tools to bring human-centered design into your project.

Discover

Methods to build empathy for the project and people involved.

Empathy map

What

Creating a visualization of user thoughts and attitudes to help align the team on a project’s needs and layout

Why

To cultivate a deep understanding of user needs and feelings regarding a product.

Time required

20-45 minutes

How to do it

  1. Create an empathy map split into four quadrants: “Says,” “Thinks,” “Feels,” and “Does.”
  2. Through user research, fill out the map to help visualize profiles.
  3. Use the map to inform your design process.

Additional resources

Traditional Empathy Map

Empathy Map: The First Step in Design Thinking - Sarah Gibbons

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Heuristic evaluation

What

A quick way to find common, large usability problems on a website.

Why

To quickly identify common design problems that make websites hard to use without conducting more involved user research.

Time required

1–2 hours

How to do it

  1. Recruit a group of three to five people familiar with evaluation methods. These people are not necessarily designers, but are familiar with common usability best practices. They are usually not users.
  2. Ask each person to individually create a list of “heuristics” or general usability best practices. Examples of heuristics from Nielsen’s “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design” include:
    1. The website should keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
    2. The system should speak the user’s language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms.
    3. Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue.
  3. Ask each person to evaluate the website against their list and write down possible problems.
  4. After individual evaluations, gather people to discuss what they found and prioritize potential problems.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA Implications, as heuristic evaluations usually include a small number of evaluators. If conducted with nine or fewer members of the public, the PRA does not apply, 5 CFR 1320.5(c)4. If participants are employees, the PRA does not apply. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

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Personas

What

Representations of users based off of qualitative and quantitative user research.

Why

To create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference

Time required

1-2 days

How to do it

  • Conduct user research: Answer the following questions: Who are your users and why are they using the system? What behaviors, assumptions, and expectations color their view of the system?
  • Condense the research: Look for themes/characteristics that are specific, relevant, and universal to the system and its users.
  • Brainstorm: Organize elements into persona groups that represent your target users. Name or classify each group.
  • Refine: Combine and prioritize the rough personas. Separate them into primary, secondary, and, if necessary, complementary categories. You should have roughly 3-5 personas and their identified characteristics.
  • Make them realistic: Develop the appropriate descriptions of each personas background, motivations, and expectations. Do not include a lot of personal information. Be relevant and serious; humor is not appropriate.

Additional resources

Template of a User Persona

How to use Personas -Usability.gov

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Project plan

What

A statement of how and when a project’s objectives are to be achieved, by showing the major products, milestones, activities and resources required on the project.

Why

To get an idea of the timeline and goals of a project.

Time required

Project Dependent

How to do it

  1. Form a project planning group for your team. This team will first determine the objectives and goals of the project, and once work begins, they will manage to see if the plan is being kept to.
  2. To begin making the plan, do an initial assessment of the issues that need to be worked through and the difficulties that may be encountered in the project.
  3. Whenever possible, involve the community to get feedback on their needs, whether through town halls or focus groups.
  4. As the project continues, manage the plan, and make adjustments if necessary.
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UX questionnaire

What

An introductory exercise teams can use to get alignment on the scope of the project and to begin planning the user design of its components.

Why

To determine how the product appeals to users, and to assist in finding necessary changes before decisions have been made.

Time required

10-30 minutes

How to do it

  1. Use our UX Questionnaire and get together as a team to talk through the questions, making sure to record your answers where all team members can access them.
  2. As you go through the Discovery phase, refer back to your answers to help inform the design process.

Additional resources

18F

Decide

Methods for focusing the design effort.

Design hypothesis

What

Framing your work as a hypothesis means no longer just thinking about the thing you’re making or building, but paying more attention to whether that work is achieving your intended goals and outcomes.

Why

When done collaboratively, hypothesis-building is powerful at getting a team on the same page about what it’s doing and why. It also allows the team to be flexible — if one approach doesn’t result in the outcome you expected, you have implicit permission to change course and try something else.

Time required

1-2 hours

How to do it

  1. As a team, identify and make explicit the problem you’re trying to solve. What goals or needs aren’t being met? What measurable criteria would indicate progress toward those goals?
  2. As a team, write out the hypothesis for the work you want to do to address the problem(s) you’re trying to solve. You may want to write broad hypotheses at the outset of a project and more specific hypotheses each sprint.

    Here’s a common way to structure your hypothesis:

    We believe that doing/building/creating [this] for [this user] will result in [this outcome]. We’ll know we’re right when we see [this metric/signal].

  3. Identify the main entry points for the user need you’re addressing. This could be external marketing, the homepage, a microsite, or another page.
  4. Build or do the thing, and measure. If you learned something unexpected, then create a new hypothesis and change course so you can continue working toward your goals.

Example from 18F

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

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Comparative analysis

What

A detailed review of existing experiences provided either by direct competitors or by related agencies or services.

Why

To identify competitors’ solutions that excel, are lacking, or are missing critical design elements. Comparative analysis can give you a competitive edge by identifying opportunities, gaps in other services, and potential design patterns to adopt or avoid.

Time required

1–2 hours to analyze and write an evaluation about each competitor.

How to do it

  1. Identify a list of services that would be either direct or related competitors to your service. Pare the list down to four or five.
  2. Establish which criteria or heuristics you will use to evaluate each competing service.
  3. Break down the analysis of each selected competitor into specific focal areas for evaluation. For example, how relevant are search results?
  4. Use a spreadsheet to capture the evaluation and determine how the targeted services and agencies perform based on the identified heuristics.
  5. Present the analysis, which should showcase areas of opportunities that you can take advantage of and design patterns you might adopt or avoid.

Example from 18F

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

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Journey mapping

What

A visualization of the major interactions shaping a user’s experience of a product or service.

Why

To provide design teams with a bird’s-eye view of a service that helps them see the sequence of interactions that make up a user’s experience including the complexity, successes, pain points, and emotions users experience along the way.

Time required

4–12 hours

How to do it

  1. Document the elements of the project’s design context. This includes:
    • People involved and their related goals
    • Their behaviors in pursuit of their goals
    • Information, devices, and services that support their behaviors
    • Important moments in how they experience a service or major decisions they make
    • The emotions associated with these moments or decisions
  2. Visualize the order in which people exhibit behaviors, use information, make decisions, and feel emotions. Group elements into a table of “phases” related to the personal narrative of each persona. Identify where personas share contextual components.
  3. Discuss the map with stakeholders. Point out insights it offers. Use these insights to establish design principles. Think about how to collapse or accelerate a customer’s journey through the various phases. Incorporate this information into the project’s scope.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. The PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

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Style tiles

What

A design document that contains various fonts, colors, and UI elements that communicate the visual brand direction for a website or application.

Why

To establish a common visual language between the design team and stakeholders. It also acts as a collaboration artifact that both the design team and stakeholders can use to contribute to the final design direction.

Time required

1–2 days depending on how many rounds of feedback the team offers

How to do it

  1. Gather all the feedback and information that was provided during the initial kickoff of the project.
  2. Distill the information into different directions a solution could take. Label these directions based on what kinds of interactions and brand identity they represent.
  3. Create the appropriate number of style tiles based on the defined directions, which establish the specific visual language for the different directions.
  4. Gather stakeholder feedback. Iterate on the style tiles, eventually getting down to a single style tile which will be the established visual language for the project going forward.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

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Task flow analysis

What

A step-by-step analysis of how a user will interact with a system in order to reach a goal. This analysis is documented in a diagram that traces a user’s possible paths through sequences of tasks and decision points in pursuit of their goal. The tasks and decision points should represent steps taken by the user, as well as steps taken by the system.

Why

To validate a design team’s understanding of users’ goals, common scenarios, and tasks, and to illustrate in a solution-agnostic way the overall flow of tasks through which a user progresses to accomplish a goal. Task flow diagrams also help surface obstacles in the way of users achieving their goal.

Time required

2-3 hours per user goal

How to do it

  1. Based on user research, identify target users’ goals that need to be analyzed.
  2. For each goal, identify common scenarios and the tasks and decisions that the user or system will perform in each scenario. Don’t assume you and your stakeholders share the same understanding of the tasks. The idea is to make the flow of tasks explicit in the diagram, so that you can check your understanding by walking through the diagram with users (steps 4 & 5).
  3. Produce a diagram that includes each task and decision point that a user might encounter on their way toward their goal. While there are several diagrammatic languages that can be used to produce task flow diagrams, the basic look is a flow chart of boxes for tasks and decision points and arrows showing directionality and dependencies among tasks. The diagram should cover the common scenarios identified in step 2.
  4. Present the diagram to a subject matter expert who knows the task(s) well enough to check for accuracy.
  5. In collaboration with users and/or subject matter exprts, annotate the task flow diagram to pinpoint areas of interest, risk, or potential frustration.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Task matrix

What

Also known as an user-task matrix, is a simple approach for exposing frequency and importance by user class or persona.

Why

To indicate what tasks are most critical for user experience.

Time required

1-2 hours

How to do it

  1. Ask the user questions about the importance and frequency about a task.

  2. Gather all the information and seperate each task into a subtask.

  3. Insert each task into a diagram and ensure its complete.

  4. Review the analysis with the team and check if the tasks are consistent.

Additional resources

“The User Task Matrix.” by Chauncey Wilson

“How to improve your UX designs with Task Analysis”

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Make

Methods for creating a testable solution.

Sketching

What

A team activity wherein each member sketches 6-8 ideas regarding the project at hand within a 5 minute time limit.

Why

To quickly brainstorm and get ideas for a project.

Time required

5 minutes per session, 15 minutes for discussion.

How to do it

  1. Before the meeting, prepare several sheets of paper with a 2×2 or 2×3 grid. Make sure boxes are large enough to sketch an idea, but not so large that multiple ideas can be put into a single box. Try to have space for at least 10 ideas per round.
  2. When the meeting begins, give each player a sheet and explain how the activity works.
  3. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes.
  4. Tell the players to sit silently and sketch out as many ideas as they can until the timer ends — with the goal of reaching 6-8 ideas. The sketches can and should be very rough — nothing polished in this stage.
  5. When the time runs out, the players should share their sketches with the rest of the group. The group can ask questions of each player, but this is not a time for a larger brainstorming session. Make sure every player presents his/her sketches.
  6. With time permitting, repeat another few rounds of 6-8-5. Players can further develop any ideas that were presented by the group as a whole or can sketch new ideas that emerged since the last round. They can continue to work on separate ideas, or begin working on the same idea. But the 5-minute sketching sprint should always be done silently and independently.

Adapted from Gamestorming

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Wireframing

What

A simple visual representation of a product or service interface.

Why

To prioritize substance and relationships over decoration as you begin defining the solution. Wireframing also gives designers a great opportunity to start asking developers early questions about feasibility and structure.

Time required

1-3 hours

How to do it

  1. Build preliminary blueprints that show structure, placement, and hierarchy for your product. Steer clear of font choices, color, or other elements that would distract both the researcher and the reviewer. Lightweight designs are conceptually easier to reconfigure. A few helpful tools for building wireframes are OmniGraffle and Balsamiq, which purposefully keep the wireframe looking like rough sketches.
  2. Use this opportunity to start listing what UX/UI patterns you will need.
  3. Review your wireframes with specific user scenarios and personas in mind. Can users accomplish their task with the wireframe you are sketching out?
  4. Use the wireframes to get the team’s feedback on feasibility and structure.

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

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Validate

Methods for testing a design hypothesis.

Product review

What

A final review determining the status of the delivered product, examining the timeline, issues, and budget in comparison to the original plan, alongside thoughts about necessary updates or changes.

Why

To see how the project plan held up, and any immediate needs for the product, before or after delivery.

Time required

Project Dependent

How to do it

  1. Form a project planning group for your team. This team will first determine the objectives and goals of the project, and once work begins, they will manage to see if the plan is being kept to.
  2. To begin making the plan, do an initial assessment of the issues that need to be worked through and the difficulties that may be encountered in the project.
  3. Whenever possible, involve the community to get feedback on their needs, whether through town halls or focus groups.
  4. As the project continues, manage the plan, and make adjustments if necessary.
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Usability testing

What

Observation of people attempting to use a product.

Why

To learn a given design’s challenges, opportunities, and successes.

Time required

30 minutes to 1 hour per person

How to do it

  1. Create a prototype that sufficiently conveys the team’s hypothesis based on research. In the absence of a prototype, consider testing a competitor’s product.
  2. Stage a scenario in which someone who would actually use your product tries to complete a task. Record their attempt. Optionally:
  3. Avoid asking participants to perform tasks far outside their normal context. This will lead them to reflect on the design rather than their ability to accomplish their goals. (For example, to test a new layout for a “user account” section on a voter registration website, recruit only people who already register to vote online.)
  4. Analyze the user’s attempt to complete the task, looking especially for areas where they struggled or questions they asked to inform design changes.

Example from 18F

Additional resources

An explanation of summative usability testing and how to conduct evaluations using this method. The Usability Body of Knowledge, a product of the User Experience Professionals’ Association.

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. First, any given usability test should involve nine or fewer users. Additionally, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. It also specifically excludes tests of knowledge or aptitude, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)7, which is essentially what a usability test tests. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

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