For a little under 3 years I worked on the US Army’s web team. The entire experience could be pages of blog posts in itself, I learned a lot about design, the web, our government, our military, friendship, talent and about life. We were responsible for the design and maintenance of Army.mil at the height of the Iraq war, and as a designer I found myself feeling pretty rejected by other designers and the design community.
Sure, maybe I was a little self conscious. When you are in design school you are programed to design for big brands and big ideas, but I would show people my portfolio full of army history sites and sites that featured guns and find myself having to defend the reasons I chose to design for our nation’s military. Despite the fact that I worked with talented designers and developers and the fact we were doing amazing design it went unnoticed and sometimes even scoffed at by other designers.
My work with the army was not political, my intentions were to help soldiers and help the American public stay informed about our soldiers. I would get to visit military bases and meet soldiers occasionally and they would be excited about what we were designing on the website. They would often jump in with ideas… usually ideas that were far beyond anything we could reasonably execute. One soldier asked me if I could make a map where they could mark IEDs that they had found on their rounds.. because currently they were using lipstick to write the coordinates on their Hum Vee’s windows.
After leaving the team I found myself finally getting to design for all of those wonderful things that design students dream about. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with brands like Quaker Snack bars, Ford Motor company and Tropicana. I have designed websites for hotels and brainstorm big ideas for big things. I love it… there is something so exciting about seeing a commercial on TV during American Idol for a product that you stayed up late to brainstorm about or getting to tell a internet-challenged relative that you worked on the website for the product they are holding.
I still dig thinking up the big idea and I love working with all brands, but It has occurred to me that designers really discount the wonder in designing for people not brands. Beyond that why doesn’t the design community do more to recognize the accomplishment in designing for non-profits, associations and especially…. our nation’s government? Why don’t design students clammer in excitement at the opportunity to design for the people?
Sunlight Labs is not a design organization but they are doing a really good job helping to promote better design for America’s government. I first became aware of their design efforts when I saw Ali Felski (One of my favorite designers) give a talk about her work with the Sunlight Foundation as their lead designer. Her work redesigning gov websites to be more usable and accessible is really inspiring. So when I got the opportunity to participate in Design for America with Phase2 Technology I was really excited.
Design for America is an initiative to help “make government data more accessible and comprehensible to the American public” by getting designers involved with redesigning current gov websites. As Ali explains in the video above, it is to get the government talking about how they can implement ideas better. As a participant I chose to redesign the Department of Labor’s website, because it both houses a ton of data and because who the hell knows what they really do? The truth is… they have a ton of resources that the American public can benefit from but its insanely hard to find on their website… I wanted to really expose that. I wrote about the project on the Phase 2 Technology blog and I submitted my process as part of the entry on this web page.
This initiative really got me thinking more about how designers can make a great impact on how we operate as a nation. Design is a powerful tool, we are equipped to make huge changes, impact millions of people, and make people’s lives better. I would love to see more designers stepping up and work to improve our nation’s online experiences. Designing for brands is fun and all, but if you really want to feel like you made a difference, redesign a site for the people.
To see the full redesign check out: