Citizen Designers Unite: Virtual Slide Show

Citizen Designers Unite: Virtual Slide Show

Every second Thursday of November, people from around the world unite to promote the need for user-friendly products and services. Since its inception in 2004, the UPA’s World Usability Day has spread from a single event at the Boston Science Museum to over 180 events in 44 countries. This year's theme was communication, and on November 11th Sylvia shared her passion for public-interest communications with a speech on the need for a citizen designer movement. Scroll through Sylvia’s slide show below:


Slide 1  Today we talk about the design of public communications by the government for the citizenry.


Slide 2 
Where do the websites, forms, and brochures that we get from the government come from? Who designs them? Graphic Designers? Secretaries? Contractors? Who knows? 


Slide 3  There are government communications that are quite good and inspiring. 


Slide 4  But many of the vital communications between various agencies and the public are dense or over-designed.


Slide 5  Some are overly complicated and hard to understand.


Slide 6  Others are just plain unfriendly and off-putting.


Slide 7  Who should design and write public communications? We know that America’s first brand communication—The American flag—was designed by a citizen. The story goes that George Washington came to Betsy Ross with a sketch for the flag on a piece of paper. He showed it to her and she said, "I think I can make it better." She changed it, made a couple of prototypes, and we now have the American’s brand symbol—the red, white, and blue flag. It was Citizen Designed!


Slide 8  Today, we live in two worlds. We live one world that's highly digitized, epitomized by the iPhone, and another world that is bureaucratic. Most of us accept and adjust our expectations, but some people are just not satisfied.


Slide 9  Those people expect more of government and use their design skills to visualize the alternatives. They ask, "Why can't government communications be like my iPhone? Can I do a better job of designing this stuff? Who is the expert?'"


Slide 10  The common wisdom is that government communications are compromised, because they are designed by committee. Maybe. But today we are going to talk about a new way to design collaboratively using social media to connect people, ideas, and government. Next, we will take a look at five innovative strategies that designers have used to participate in the design and evolution of government communications.


Slide 11  Strategy 1: Crowd-sourcing. This is a technique that we have seen a growing number of agencies use. Here’s how it works. A government agency has a problem—either with design or usability—that they want to solve. They put out a call-for-ideas via the web to the general public. The agency may make it a contest and offer a nominal cash prize... but nothing a designer can make a living from. Some of these requests net significant responses and sometimes even good ideas that the agency might use. It's a pull strategy: the agencies are pulling information in to them.


Slide 12  Apps for Democracy. This is an organization that epitomizes the spirit of open source collaboration and cloud thinking. They take the source data from government agencies and put it out to the programmer community, which in turn creates apps that convert the data into useful tools for the public. Sometimes the best apps to come out of the process lead to cash payment for the developer. Often, they are just rewarded by the thrill of making something that serves the people.


Slide 13  Here is an amusing app made through the Apps for Democracy program called Safe Washington. It takes crime data directly from the D.C. police department and presents it in an easy to use display. As the user walks around D.C., the app indicates when the user is heading into high-crime areas. When the meter goes to red, the idea is to turn back. It's really cool.


Slide 14  Strategy 2: Virtual Pitching. Sometimes when individuals have good ideas for the government, they visualize this idea for change, publish it in a magazine or online, and hope that somebody in the government sees it. This is pushing ideas toward government. It is not very efficient, but sometimes it works.


Slide 15  A fun virtual pitch came from GQ a few years ago. They put together a program to redesign license plates. The editors thought that it was silly to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to get a beautiful car, only to put an ugly license plate on it.


Slide 16  So GQ called on leading designers from around the country to design better-looking license plates, and this is what they received from the creative community. They're wonderful. The best ones were published and—who knows—one state here or there might consider using a designer the next time it changes its plates.


Slide 17  Individuals can pitch as well. Right around the time of the initial discussion about healthcare reform and the health insurance exchange, a web designer named Ed Mullins went home and designed his example of what a modern, non-governmental health insurance exchange might look like. He posted it on his blog and waited.


Slide 18  And next thing you know, somebody at Health and Human Services called him and invited him to Washington to lead a team in the design of, the actual exchange that exists now. This is not the most beautiful website in the world, but if you see the kind of websites that HHS normally makes, it's a definite improvement.


Slide 19  Strategy 3: Crowd-sourced Virtual Pitching. This engagement strategy is a hybrid of the previous two. In this case, a producer (an individual, publisher, advocacy organization) has an idea to pitch to the government. He or she puts out a call and pulls in fully visualized ideas. The best ideas post online with the hope that the right agency sees it.


Slide 20  This is one of my favorites, produced by a graphic designer named Richard Smith. Richard thought, “Why can't the dollar bill look better? Why do we have the ugliest money in the world?” He hosted a contest via the web that asked the “creative crowd” to send in designs for a new monetary system.


Slide 21  And look at what he received. These are two favorites. Top left is money with different sizes for each denomination so that you can tell them apart. Below that is a concept that suggests that money could just be receipts that document the exchange of abstract value. And there are many more great ideas. He's hoping the treasury will see this and take him up on it. Visit his site.


Slide 22  This winter, Good Magazine learned that the Federal government planned to redesign the food pyramid. A leader in practical design, it crowd-sourced and pitched a redesigns from the graphic design community.


Slide 23  The existing pyramid had been redesigned (some say over-designed) a number of years ago, but it had been the target of significant critique, so Good thought this would be an appropriate time to reconsider such a critical piece of government communication.


Slide 24  What does all this mean for the design community? Is pitching to the government considered engaging in spec work, or is it patriotic? At this point in time, I would suggest that motivating and educating government is a priority for the design community. We are rarely at the table when design decisions that impact millions of people are made. Even the word "design" has a negative—or at least confusing—association for government administrators. I suggest that we designers have a right and a responsibility to sell the benefits of design to our government. We just need to find the most effective way to get our message across. Our blog, Citizen Designer, will follow the efforts of the design community to encourage government innovation through design.