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

The federal government should be a leader in user- centered, service-focused digital tools, capabilities, and delivery. Achieving and maintaining a high level of design system maturity across the federal government will help us consistently provide trusted, exceptional digital experiences for the public. While making it easier for agencies to adopt the design system will create value in the near- term, there are some larger strategic decisions to be made about the most effective operating model for federal websites and the design system that supports them. Even with improved guidance and support, the design system and the agencies using it will continue to run up against challenges of getting the necessary talent and resources in place. Decentralized implementation will continue to make it difficult to scale design capabilities and create continuity for good customer experiences across the federal government.

Building on the ideas of the individuals we spoke with, we wanted to put forth a couple of “what if” questions for further exploration and discussion with colleagues across government.

When thinking about the design system, it should be, ‘These are the glasses you can see the world with, rather than the blinders you have to use.’ — Industry expert Shared during user interview

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

Most teams don’t have a mission that requires designers and engineers, in the same way that most teams shouldn’t require their own payroll and real estate specialists. So instead of every agency trying to build and manage all aspects of their own sites, the federal government could provide an option of a true turnkey service, building on existing offerings.

By transferring the specific technology burden to a specialized team, agency resources would be freed up to focus on the mission-related activities that are part of website management, such as communicating their mission and domain, understanding their audience, developing appropriate content, and stewarding the service over time.

Using shared services could be less expensive and more effective, while also enabling smaller sites to launch and maintain their content more efficiently using the common online public services site.

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

Scaling a consistently exceptional experience for the public may mean thinking beyond improving the individual services and sites of each agency. Members of the public are navigating among over 9,000 federal websites (including subdomains and microsites), which places more burden on the public to know where to look as they seek to accomplish specific tasks.

Having more consolidated online public services websites (a true “federal front door”) could provide a better, more reliable user experience, while promoting more efficient efforts, research, and content. Even some intermediate level of consolidation, with high-impact services remaining more independent, could go a long way toward improving public experience.

Building independent sites with tight coupling to GSA’s common government products and services (cloud, search, analytics, design, and implementation) would also promote improved continuity, security, trust, and long-term maintainability for their sites, and address some of the persistent infrastructure challenges of decentralized implementation.