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UX for All: States Push for Broader Accessibility Online

In creating or improving digital assets like websites, government entities often talk about the importance of “user-centered design.” But what does that really mean, and what does it look like in action?

Illustrated computer and graphics depicting functions of back-end design and usability, including text size icon and settings.
As state governments look to modernize their online assets for a wider audience, they are putting an increased emphasis on improving the overall user experience. But what does this process look like for organizations with as many online points of contact as state government?

Texas completed a website overhaul last summer, and Michigan finished its own last month, each taking different steps to improve the online experience for their constituents.


Before setting off to improve usability, government digital asset design and development staff must understand what the term really means.

Ammie Farraj Feijoo, the acting manager of — a team of individuals who work for the Technology Transformation Services (TTS) at the U.S. General Services Administration to help government build better digital services — defined it for GovTech.

“User-centered design is a methodology that integrates feedback from the people for whom you are designing a product or service,” she said in a written response.

This means going beyond designing from an organizational point of view, she added, and instead designing for the people who may use services by obtaining and addressing continuous end-user feedback throughout the design and development processes.

When conducting user research, Farraj Feijoo underlined the need to ensure participants reflect the diversity of users to ensure that all people, including those with disabilities, can effectively use digital services.

Access to digital services is not a luxury but rather a necessity for millions of people, she noted. The experience they have with such services — from filing taxes to getting food assistance — shapes their attitude toward government.

When it comes to creating digital assets, Farraj Feijoo pointed to research that indicates three main challenges exist. The first is having the right talent, which requires building a team with domain-specific skill sets. The second is designing for positive experiences across services, which involves making it clear to users which services belong to which agency. And the third challenge is scaling support of shared services, as smaller agency teams may not have the resources or skills to use the technology tools that are available to them.

Farraj Feijoo noted the availability of helpful resources including the U.S. Web Design System to build more accessible websites, the Paperwork Reduction Act Guide for collecting feedback and a 13-play Playbook from The Customer Experience Center of Excellence, within TTS’ Centers of Excellence.


Michigan’s overhaul involved launching a series of revamped state agency websites, which started in January, although the entire website improvement project began in 2017. The most recent, and final, release of agency websites was completed in April, eMichigan Director Suzanne Pauley explained.

For Pauley, user-centered design meant making the experience of interacting with government services through the website as “easy and pleasant as possible.” This involved creating a uniform experience across the state’s 100+ websites by making information easier to find and processes more secure.

“So one of the things we did was we built out digital guidelines, which is the framework around web components for public-facing applications,” she explained. “But it also contains things like branding guidelines — so iconography, typography, imagery, color — just to make sure that everything is melding together as we do this.”

The user experience also entails the inclusion of users with disabilities. This meant ensuring that the websites were compatible with assistive technology. The state also used Siteimprove to get detailed reports about where improvements could be made, from things like color contrast to alt text.

Through assessments, the state identified gaps in which the user experience could be improved — both on the public side and for content authors within the state. One method of examining gaps involved watching videos that showed users succeeding — and struggling — to navigate the website.

“The idea is to get that feedback, refine, make changes and then focus on the next thing and just make it a very iterative process that we do over and over and over again,” she said.

For the revamped, the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) made user experience a priority by making content available in two languages, improving organization and enabling access from any device, as DIR Director of Program Development Endi Silva told GovTech at the time of the launch.

Another feature of the platform was its scalability for periods of high demand, which was designed to help better serve users in times of emergency, like natural disasters to pandemics.

While she said a previous version of the state's website required users to have some prior knowledge of the platform to navigate it, the redesign aimed to simplify the navigation process for a more positive user experience for both returning and first-time visitors.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.