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Allison Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology

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I do think there is a perceived conception that government work is slow-paced and not as cool as working at an agency or a tech company. But honestly, there is a lot of important work to be done in this space.

I’ve been working with the City of Surrey as a User Experience Designer since January. The City created a digital services team a few years ago to streamline and modernize the transactions citizens make with the city. The MySurrey portal is the result of the hard work of this team. The UX team consists of 2 full-time employees and 2 co-ops; between the four of us, we currently have about three major products that will be included in the portal.

Working on the MySurrey Portal

My main role is creating a new service on the MySurrey portal page for citizens to request information held by the City. I have been working closely with a Business Analyst (BA) to understand business needs and their back-end processes. I am working on creating a single solution for citizens to request information held by the City that will meet the needs of multiple business lines. The project isn’t exactly complex, but it is multi-layered because I need to create designs for 4-5 different business groups. As you might be able to imagine, each of these business lines has their own way of doing things and their own enterprise tool to track and fulfill requests. So my role is to balance the needs of the business as well as consider the needs of the citizen making the requests. The end goal of my project is for the citizen-facing product to be well designed, but to also consider and suggest how we can streamline back-end processes. In a sense, there is a mix of product design and service design. The discovery and research phase has drawn out a bit longer than I had hoped, but I’ve accepted it as part of working with the government. I have already executed my ideas and created flow charts (with the help of the BA), simple wireframe sketches and turned them into mock-ups using Sketch. Along the way, I have asked our development team for feasibility and complexity for certain features in the new service. Once this project is ready for the next stage, I will be working more closely with the development team, information architects, business analysts, a project manager, and my fellow UX designers to deliver the service.

From Visual Designer to UX Designer

My previous co-op terms were also in government: I completed a few terms with the Federal Government in Ottawa as well as one term with the Downtown Business Improvement Association (DSBIA). I was a Visual Designer in those organizations, but I found myself pivoting more and more towards UX design because I wanted to create meaningful experiences for people. Reflecting on my decision to pivot: I think visual designers are masters at communicating information visually, from infographics to attention-grabbing (or not) conference posters and assets. Oftentimes, I would find myself moving vector graphics to pixel perfection. However, what is great about UX is that I can think about the overall effect and flow of a service or product. This would include, for example, conducting user research to find pain points, considering business needs and value for a product I am designing, and discovering feasibility with our development team; all to create a meaningful experience for customers. This high--level broad thinking helps drive purpose in what I design, which gives meaning to what I do.

Misconceptions within Government Design

While I don’t know where my future will take me, I do think there is a perceived conception that government work is slow-paced and not as cool as working at an agency or a tech company. But honestly, there is a lot of important work to be done in this space. There are over 517, 887 (Statistics Canada, 2016) people living in Surrey who will at some point interact with their municipal government, and the services that the government provides NEEDS good design. In 2015, Dave Guarino brought to the attention of the Twittersphere, an extremely challenging experience of applying for food stamps in California.

A homeless person needs to find a computer with an internet connection, fill out a very confusing form and have a mailing address (if you’re homeless you’re quite likely to not have a home address) to proceed. The user experience hasn’t really improved since then.

Each city, province, and country has government services that people interact with on a daily basis. It is important to have good design in these systems.

Surrey is one of the first in the Canadian government to have their own UX team dedicated to creating better products for their people. I hope it encourages other governments to consider the importance of a dedicated UX team who create good user experiences. Government websites don’t need to be unsightly and unusable, change starts one small step at a time.

Beyond the Blog

About the Author

A headshot of Allison

Allison Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology
Connect with Allison on LinkedIn

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