Ashwin Vasan was drawn to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because he wanted to help improve a marketplace that touches nearly everyone’s life. What he found was an opportunity to change the way government provides information to citizens.
We’re in the midst of a shift in how agency websites and applications are conceived, says Vasan, chief information officer at CFPB. “Many people interact with their governments through digital channels, whether it’s a website or mobile,” he says. “But often, I think, government websites don’t seem really designed with end-users in mind.”
At CFPB and elsewhere, designers are thinking about why someone might be using a particular website or software application. For instance, CFPB has a suite of tools and Web apps to help people plan for the costs of higher education. “When we are thinking of a product, like Paying for College, we’re really trying to design it around an American consumer in that situation who needs to pay for college or pay a student loan,” Vasan says. “Whether they want to file a complaint, or ask a question about their finances, that’s the kind of approach we want to take.”
Vasan says agencies aren’t always going to know how people want to locate and visualize their data. One way to figure it out is to ask. Since CFPB launched Paying for College last year, it has made numerous improvements based on users’ habits and expectations, site analytics and feedback from people using the site.
User-centered design is all the rage in the private sector, especially at start-ups. “It’s something that government has started to do increasingly,” Vasan says. “Hopefully it will be more and more emblematic of what good government looks like.”