We heard from agencies that it can be difficult to separate the specific challenges they face in adopting the U.S. Web Design System from the broader challenges they face in building or modernizing their web presence, since it’s usually just one integrated piece of the work agencies are doing to improve their digital services.
Several common themes surfaced regarding system-level challenges they encounter when trying to improve digital experience, which complicate the efforts of USWDS and other shared services to scale more widely. Improving the design system and its adoption is just one part of creating better digital services across the government.
Having the right talent
Building websites is not a mission-oriented skill for most agency teams. It requires people with domain-specific skill sets like design and engineering, which many agencies don’t have in-house and aren’t used to hiring. It takes time to establish strong teams to do this work. The agencies that have seen notable success have taken years to develop a well-resourced team.
Designing for good experiences across services
The public wants to quickly complete their tasks on a site that’s easy to use. However, because each agency is responsible for designing and delivering its own digital services, it creates a diverse landscape of website implementations that discourage efficient scalable solutions, resulting in redundant work, unnecessary differentiation, and a fractured user experience. The public has to know what services belong to which agency to find what they need, while navigating a wide variety of agency-specific site structures, forms, and terminology. While promising progress has been made through sites like usa.gov and recreation. gov, decentralized implementation continues to make it difficult to prioritize good user experiences across government sites.
Scaling support of shared services
The current decentralized landscape also means that agencies are often piecing together support and tools from a combination of places, including digital services teams, and assorted tools and product offerings from government and vendors — which is less-efficient in terms of time and budget. And while many of the available technology tools are useful for larger teams with in-house capacity, they don’t always meet the needs of smaller agency teams who don’t have the specialized engineering and design skills necessary to implement and use them.
What we learned
Agencies are the primary users of design system principles, guidance, and code, so we’ve framed our findings as ways to better meet their needs as users — so that they, in turn, can continue to focus on their users’ needs, those of the public.
Agencies across government shared that using the design system benefits them by:
Making hard things easy by providing a starting point and solid foundation for building websites
Providing useful components and clear, well-written guidance that’s backed by user research and user experience (UX) best practices
Helping them make more data-informed decisions using standardized, consistent, and accessible best practices, instead of relying on personal judgment
Saving time and energy so they can focus on their mission and more of what their customers need
Helping build trust with the public by providing continuity across federal websites, reducing existing fragmented and inconsistent experiences
Where agencies need more support
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.