Design for America: good graphic design shouldn’t take a decade

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In March, the Senate Finance Committee redesigned their website. It had been languishing with the same design since 2001. Here’s what it looked like for the most of this decade. Here’s what it looks like now. Amazing progress! The problem is it took almost ten years to get to this point.

I can’t say why it took so long but it got me thinking. Does it matter that the website looked so bad for so long? What’s more important? Good graphic design or good data?

For me, it’s a false choice.

I’m equally interested about the graphic design of government as I am with the content and data government produces. My concern about the design and presentation of data is two fold. Firstly, bad design often means a bad user interface. A confusing user interface makes it difficult for users to access or understand the data they’re trying to get. Secondly, people are attracted to good design.

So, what’s the problem here? It’s that there are staggering discrepancies in the quality of design across government. These discrepancies end up distracting users from the information that’s truly interesting. As a journalist I’d often have to go the the Senate Finance Committee’s page and I dreaded it each time. Now I want to spend my whole day clicking around the site! The redesign brings their page up to the de facto design standard of other committee websites.

That almost decade long lag time is one of the major reasons why Sunlight Labs is sponsoring the Design For America contest. Let’s stop waiting for government to redesign itself and instead give the process a huge shot of adrenaline. Adobe, along with Google, O’Reilly, TechWeb, Palantir and the Gov 2.0 Expo have graciously sponsored this contest so we have up to $40,000 to give away for the winning designs.

The submission deadline is May 17th so roll up your sleeves and Design for America!

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  • Agreed! I have been involved in the design world for over 35 years. Watched amazing design happen and watched horrible design happen.

    I believe that our profession is being asked a larger question. How do we help others experience the design process in a way that allows them to feel engaged, valued and inspired.

    The profession of design has been seen as elusive, arrogant and often ambiguous.

    We are being called to let go of our egos and allow awesome thinking to happen by everyone around the table. We must find the space that opens all to collaboration in a way that respects all view points.

    While Director of User Experience at Citibank, I brough all the team players around the table. Amazingly some of the team members who did not view themselves as “creative” brought some of the best thinking to the table. The lawyers, engineers, compliance team, to name a few.

    When we were able to combine all ways of seeing with customer insights we created solutions that meant something to the user.

    I challenge us as designers to focus on our collaboration and communications skills so we may be the steward of design we are needed to be.

    We personally need to step past our biases, so that others may too. We must change the way we think about our partners and embrace the knowledge and wisdom they can bring to the table.

    The way of change is respecting where you are and how you got there. From that place, people are able to see to the future.