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Have you ever received a government form and struggled to complete it? Maybe you were confused by the instructions, unsure which boxes to use to enter information, or scratching your head about the terminology. You are not alone! We’ve all struggled at times with completing what we think should be a simple form. Although they can give us a headache at times, forms are absolutely critical—they are the primary way we interact with the government.

DC Government agencies, with the support of The Lab@DC, have made a commendable, concerted effort to improve DC Government forms. The Lab@DC’s mission is to apply scientific insights and methods to inform DC Government’s most important decisions. About three months ago, three user experience (UX) researchers from Fors Marsh Group were proud to participate in this first annual Form-a-Palooza event hosted by The Lab@DC and American University’s School of Public Affairs. Residents from the DC area and other local professionals were invited to the event to help redesign several DC Government forms. At the one-day event, attendees split into groups and applied a user-centered design process with input from subject matter experts to produce paper prototypes of forms for a specific agency.

FMG at Form-a-Palooza event hosted by The Lab@DC Fors Marsh Group UX researchers, Jon Strohl, Dave Tang, and Sheel Shah attended Form-a-palooza

One of the forms that was redesigned at the event was the intake application for the Department of Disability Services (DDS). DDS officials gave an overview of the government services they provide, the steps involved in processing the intake information, and outlined the most important information that must be collected. Through design thinking and knowledge of form design best practices, teams produced paper prototypes to visualize the recommendations for a redesigned form.

Form prototype created by FMG UX Researchers A paper prototype that DC residents, Fors Marsh Group UX Researchers, and other local professionals created

The redesign approach of one of the teams was to reorganize the items on the form from the most important to the least important for users and to also provide more context for each field. The thinking behind this redesign was to make it easier for applicants to understand the eligibility requirements while also making data intake processing more efficient by placing all of the necessary information at the beginning of the application process. Form-a-Palooza was a tremendous way to receive input on ways to improve government forms from several cross sections of the DC community in a short period of time. The event allowed stakeholders to get the form redesign effort moving quickly while also receiving innovative ideas from the community.

After just three short months, DC Government agencies and The Lab@DC have been able to implement form redesigns across five DC agencies. An incredible accomplishment! These forms are now live and accessible for the public use: DC Driver License and Identification Card Application (DMV), Basic Business License EZ (DCRA), TANF Job Search Logs (DHS), Disability Services Intake Application (DDS), and Lead Disclosure Form (DOEE). We think you’ll agree that they are a huge improvement and serve as a testament to how civic engagement and a user-centered design process can provide fast, actionable, and effective results. We are confident that the redesigned forms will provide immediate benefits to DC agencies and the residents they serve.

DDC Intake Application Form (Before):

DC Intake Form Before FMG Redesign

After Redesign:

DC Intake Form After Redesign

About the author

Jonathan Strohl

Jonathan Strohl

Jonathan joined the User Experience Research Team at Fors Marsh Group in 2012. In September 2015, Jon was promoted to Senior Researcher. In his role, he leads a team of user experience researchers to conduct usability tests and interviews, build user personas, and create prototypes to help organizations improve and create exceptional websites, apps, forms, and surveys for their users. During his employment with FMG, he has conducted research on: online financial education resources for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; mobile device passwords for the National Institute of Standards and Technology; patient, physician, and researcher materials and resources for the National Cancer Institute; tax forms for the IRS; and television rating feedback tools for the Nielsen Company. His research deliverables incorporate data from users' subjective experience, observable behaviors, and eye gazes to provide clients with insightful and actionable recommendations for optimal design.

Jonathan graduated with his M.A. from the Human Factors & Applied Cognition program at George Mason University. At George Mason, Jonathan worked on a variety of human factors and cognitive psychology projects. He was part of a team that prototyped a mobile device user interface aimed to increase pilot situational awareness while taxiing on runways. He was a research manager on cognitive training and aging studies, investigating neuropsychological and neural structural changes in older populations. He also assisted on driving simulator studies, investigating learning interactions with forward collision warnings.

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