Web design critique for Mass.gov

Seldom do creators in the design industry have the courage to publicly share their progress on a project for critical feedback. So when Opus learned AIGA and the assiduous design team at Massachusetts Office of Information Technology (MassIT)—the state agency responsible for improving and expanding digital government services for its citizens—was planning an event to present the new web design for Mass.gov, we knew we had to take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn from and contribute to their ambitious undertaking.

On the frigid Wednesday of March 1st, at approximately 6pm, designers and civil patrons, alike, trekked from all regions of the state and filed into South Boston’s District Hall to witness the exciting work MassIT had been laboring over for the past year.

An enthusiastic commotion saturated the corridor as the presenters and panelists prepared their demonstration.

Panel moderator, Jessica Maniatis (owner and creative director at JSGD) welcomed the audience and introduced presenters­­ Harlan Weber, Director of Design & Service Innovation at Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Nedret Sahin, Senior UX Designer at Velir, to commence the event. Sahin’s acclaimed strength in organizing information in complex systems along with Weber’s thoughtful focus and appreciation for human-centered design composed the ideal duo to lead this demanding enterprise.

Designing for a large audience

The panel began with a brief overview of MassIT’s extensive research and their approach to designing for such a large audience. Giving insight into the tremendous scope of the project, Weber discussed user personas and the importance of accommodating all six-and-a-half million people in Massachusetts regardless of their profession or social status.
mass.gov web design“We need to serve everyone here at the commonwealth: all six-and-a-half million people, all the people who are not Massachusetts residents but want to do business here, or to visit, or to go to school here, or to move here. All of that including people regardless of their economic status, their academic status…like literally, everybody”- Harlan Weber

Sahin continued and explained the organization of the content and the attention that was paid to facilitate the experience of navigating through the site’s framework. However, perhaps the most captivating portion of the presentation was the logo proposals. The first two designs were critically scrutinized for their lack of conceptualization and artistic development. However, MassIT quickly redeemed their creative abilities when presenting the pitch for their third concept, which employed design elements from the iconic “Welcome To” signs placed on the borders of Massachusetts towns. This instantly recognizable aesthetic registered feelings of nostalgia and a familiar intimacy for many audience members.

Following the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to speak directly to the presenters and panelists including Toby Bottorf, VP of Service & Experience Design at Continuum; Dani Nordin Director of UX, Digital at Pegasystems and Philip Leung, Director of UX Design at Altitude, Inc. The last hour of the event sparked a rich dialogue and all speakers provided invaluable insight for the developers. Constructive criticism was welcomed, as well, and not in short supply.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and have the highest respect for the enormous responsibility MassIT has committed themselves to. I look forward to their solution and final website and hope to find more ‘community involvement’ experiences akin to this one in the future.

For more about the event check out this video recap of the MassIT panel: