Week #53 at the Digital Service: Notes for 1–5 May 2023

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The number 1 inside a circle – with lots of colourful confetti around

This week marked my first year at Digital Service. While the number of my weeknotes was a good indicator and reminder of the progress, it came somehow faster than expected now.

I’ve done some incomplete reflection of what I’ve done, not done, and why. I find it difficult to measure my work and impact at this point. The design team has grown by over 50%, and the designers are doing important work across several areas. We have established more structures where needed and aim for a good flow of information across teams. But there is more work to be done in that aspect.

The things the design team has made a significant contribution to I am proud of:

  • delivered a well-designed, positively reviewed service that helped almost a million people to submit their property tax declaration
  • launched an all-new digital identity app
  • started multiple discoveries and alphas
  • expanded user research efforts and started tracking activities in a structured format
  • introduced teams to the Service Standard and got them to write self-assessments against all its 19 points
  • increased visibility of the user centred-design work happening at the DigitalService through blogging, public speaking and running open meetups
  • put accessibility more prominently on the agenda for the organisation by establishing a working group, creating resources, launching new accessibility testing formats and introducing mandatory accessibility onboarding for all new starters

The things I wanted to have made more progress on:

  • applying the Service Standard and communicating how we use it
  • sharing styles and components across projects and teams and sharing across Federal-level government more widely
  • connecting with more user-centred design professionals in the German public sector in a structured recurring setup

I am progressing on all these, but I wanted to be somewhere else at the end of year 1. We will get there in the coming weeks or months, as their value is undeniable.

Exploring synergies and collaboration opportunities

Sonja, our first in-house user researcher, started this week. We opened the role last summer, and it took us various months to find the right person willing to be hands-on, build the structures, and bring the profession forward. She joins Lisa, who has worked on a new discovery project as a freelancer since April. Lisa will soon have insights to share that help Sonja look at the bigger picture across the organisation and its projects. Together, I hope they can identify the most significant gaps and development areas.

Coincidentally, our colleagues from the German statutory pension insurance, a public body, had reached out about collaborating on user research operations recently, and we went on a call on Sonja’s second day. The digital transformation team there has been working with our Tech4Germany fellows on the same topic last summer and autumn. Now, they want to pick it up again. There are a lot of open questions, but we are curious and interested in hearing more. So we will talk again in a couple of weeks.

I helped designer Agnieszka to join an infrequently offered introduction and onboarding to the Federal government style guide. Working on our digital identity app that tries to follow the style guide, attending the session made a lot of sense. She met with various other designers and design and communications managers from Federal-level agencies and departments there. A day after, we joined a design exchange session with colleagues from other organisations working on a similar app to help them iterate their visual design language adapt and the Federal style guide too. As it defines very little for mobile applications, there is enormous room for interpretation, but together we try to make sense of things.

On Friday, I led a round table on shared style guides, elements and web components. It included half a dozen designers and engineers from various teams. Everyone gave a brief update on what they are doing now and how it contributes to shared components. We then discussed synergies and further cross-discipline and cross-project collaboration. The developers, notably Joschka and Leonie, have put some design tokens and CSS framework together and up on GitHub. In the coming weeks, we will run a lunch and learn session to get more people involved in this collaboration exchange, most importantly product managers.

What’s next

Next week, we’ll have an international call on ‘designing digital certificates and wallets’. It’s going to be the first part of a mini-series. We will hear from UX designers working for and with the Ministry of the Interior in the Netherlands on their national identity app, which is linked to related EU efforts. We might also hear from Australia’s Service NSW mobile team from New South Wales – next week or in part 2 in a few weeks.

We’ve also approached several other countries, including German colleagues at the Federal Printing Office. They were interested in participating and sharing their work but could not make this date. I’m looking forward to hearing from more countries soon.

With Nadine, I’ll run another accessibility introduction for new starters. This time, we will have colleagues from our small accessibility ambassador group observing us running the onboarding module. This will increase our pool of presenters and allow more flexibility.

Transformation manager Caro and I will run a Service Standard workshop for one of the teams working on legal applications. They are currently moving discovery to alpha. That’s the best time to start tracking their efforts against the 19 standard points.