Why Do So Few Feds Champion User Experience?


A dearth of staff resources, a lack of awareness about UX and nonexistent management buy-in are the top challenges.

User experience may be gaining traction in the federal government, but a new survey reveals many still don't know exactly what it is and are reluctant to dedicate resources to it.

Commonly known by its shorthand UX, user experience refers to the quality of a user's interaction with and perceptions about a particular system. 

Jonathan Rubin, ‎user experience program manager at the General Services Administration, and Jean Fox, research psychologist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, set out "to learn about how we can best improve the effectiveness, ease-of-use and value of federal digital systems by connecting their teams to their customers," according to a blog post Rubin wrote Nov. 21.

In total, responses were culled from 101 respondents from 35 agencies. With such a small sample size, “it’s not a scientific survey, but still very telling,” Rubin wrote. 

Overall, the governmentwide user experience survey had some bright spots. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said their UX resources had increased since 2013, and more than half said their resources stayed the same. Only 11 percent reported seeing a dip in the number of those doing UX at their agency.  

Additionally, UX is more widespread now than last year. In 2013, less than 20 percent said UX was used “frequently” at their agency. This year, 25 percent of respondents reported frequent UX use at their agency.

“We learned that (at least) nine federal agencies have usability labs, and many others are contemplating building ones as we speak,” Rubin wrote. “We’re seeing the use of eye trackers, heat maps, mobile device testing and lots more. Huzzah!”

These gains aside, UX remains a bit of a mystery to many and has its detractors. “The biggest problem in this agency is that UX isn't understood,” one respondent commented.

A dearth of staff resources (77 percent), a lack of awareness about UX (44 percent) and nonexistent management buy-in (34 percent) rounded out the top three challenges.  

As for the nitty-gritty on the methodology, the anonymous survey was conducted August-September 2014 and targeted federal employees and contractors with dot-gov/dot-mil email addresses.

(Image via scyther5/Shutterstock.com)