What would society look like if we felt about government the way we feel about our iPhones?
I had the opportunity to speak to some of the top user experience designers in the world earlier this week, at Adaptive Path’s renowned UXWeek, here in San Francisco. It was an intimidating task, sandwiched between Jensen Harris, who led the design team on Windows 8, and Tom Coates, a brilliant and funny designer with a vision for how our appliances will communicate with us in the future. These are the people who make us love (or hate, when it goes wrong) the interfaces that increasingly govern our lives. If we’re slaves to our phones, laptops, and browsers, it’s these folks who are in some ways our real masters.
Given that I personally have the designs skills of a three-toed sloth, what message did I have for these professionals? Well, I showed them the work of some of our eight fellows teams this year, including Honolulu Answers, Textizen, and BlightStatus, an app that caused little old ladies in New Orleans to come up and hug Amir Reavis-Bey when he demoed it at a community meeting. Presumably, this person was overcome with gratitude for the ability to understand what was going on in her own neighborhood, and after years of frustration at having no visibility into the processes the city was going through with blighted properties around her, who could blame her?
I was proud to present to a crowd with skills far greater than mine because the work of the Code for America fellows is powerful. How often do web applications elicit hugs? Especially web applications that connect citizens with government? What if all our interfaces to government elicited that kind of reaction? How would our country be different if we felt cared for, understood, and supported when we interacted with our government?
As much as Code for America is still about transparency, participation, and efficiency in local government, it’s become a lot about the discipline of user experience. But it’s a discipline applied to a new context, because users are the wrong word here. As Cyd Harrell, a user experience expert who has volunteered extensively with Code for America, has written, it’s about Citizen Experience.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.