In September 2020, we brought together researchers, designers, engineers, and policymakers to conduct research across dozens of federal agencies to help support emergency response efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our primary focus was to…

Understand how teams are using the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) to build websites and digital services

Develop insights into improving federal digital services with and for the public

Identify strategies for advancing the design system through collaboration with agencies and other government customer experience initiatives


Why is this important?

Across the federal government, agencies are working to improve their everyday interactions with the public. How do we provide easy access to critical services? How do we deliver faster and more efficient touch points? How do we ensure transparency and build trust? The answer to these questions has increasingly become: deliver better digital services.

One piece of the widespread federal effort is implementation of the design system, which provides principles, guidance, and code that makes it easier for the federal government to deliver mobile-friendly, accessible digital services.

But we need more. There are still gaps in how the design system can better meet agency needs, so they in turn can better meet the needs of the public.

Through this research, we looked to agency teams to help us define what digital transformation looks like, both in the near-term and in the future.

The more we use the design system to standardize how we build digital experiences, the more we will improve how the federal web functions.
- Civic tech leader*
* Shared during a user interview

What we learned

Though agencies start with different goals and capabilities, we discovered they follow a common journey with similar needs when it comes to successfully adopting, using, and maintaining the design system.

Agency teams want to…

Understand the value and benefits

Agencies need to be able to quickly discern the design system’s benefits and how it aligns with their goals for delivering better digital services.

Know how to get started

No matter where an agency starts from, it needs to be clear and easy for them to figure out their first steps and how to create a sustainable path forward in the long-run.

Find the right team and resources

Agencies have several options to assemble a cross-functional team to implement the design system and they’re looking for more support in identifying needed skills and assembling the right people.

Feel engaged with the community

It’s a collaborative process to build a design system, so it’s essential for agencies to feel like they have access to a support network and a sense of ownership to contribute back to it.

Be able to iteratively improve digital services

Adopting a design system is an ongoing process of design, development, and making iterative improvements and upgrades over time, which requires continued resources and support.

What’s next

Our future vision

We’ve identified specific opportunity areas that will move us closer to a design system that meets the needs of teams across every agency — what we call our Near Star (short-term) and North Star (long-term) vision. Working toward these visions is our way of ensuring the design system continues to change over time and stays connected to the teams that are using it.

Our Near Star vision:

All agency teams have what they need to more easily adopt and effectively use the design system. To do that, we’ll focus on the following opportunity areas:

Provide more robust guidance and support to get started with the design system

Better leverage related efforts within TTS and the broader government digital services community

Accomplishing our Near Star vision will move us closer to the North Star we’re aiming for.

Our North Star vision:

Empowered digital agency teams share solutions and use effective human-centered design practices to create greater continuity, improved usability, and increased access for key digital services.

Conversation starters

What if the federal government provided even more robust technology shared services to reduce the burden on individual agencies?

What if key content and functionality of government websites was consolidated into fewer public services websites, like usa.gov and recreation.gov?

Get involved

What you can do

Let’s transform the way we design and deliver digital government with and for the people.

Many of the ideas in this report are big-picture thinking, requiring time, collaboration, and strategies to come to fruition. But right now, you can begin by understanding the value and benefits of using the design system to deliver better digital services.

Use the conversation starters throughout the report to prompt discussions with your managers and team members.

Also, if you’re interested in exploring these ideas — or in learning more about the design system — join our community and get involved.

The first workshop for federal employees will be in Spring 2021, and we hope to hold ad hoc workshops in the future as well. We also hold regular calls on the third Thursday of each month.

We’ll provide regular updates on our progress in monthly calls, the public Slack channel, and the product roadmap.

Stay in touch