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IRS Design Internship

An assessment of the IRS’s 22 most utilized digital properties against the IDEAct principles and requirements

— ROLE

UX Designer

— INFO

  • Individual Project
  • UX Audit
  • Summer 2020 – 10 weeks
  • Fully remote

— TOOLS

  • Figma
  • Microsoft Office
  • Verint ForeSee
  • Google Analytics

— TEAM

N/A

Parts of this project are protected by NDA

—BACKGROUND

The Civic Digital Fellowship is an internship for students interested in using their technology, product, or design skills to solve pressing problems in federal agencies. The 2020 cohort consisted of 60+ students. As a fellow, I worked as a UX Design Intern in the User Experience and Design (UXD) department at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Civic Digital Fellowship 2020 Cohort

—EXTRAS

If you’d like to read about my general takeaways from working at the IRS, I wrote a Medium article (~5-minute read) about my experience! 


Harvard Kennedy School Professor Kelman also wrote a blog post about my article, check it out here


Below, I discuss my fellowship project.

—PROJECT

In 2018, Congress passed the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA). This required all federal agencies to modernize their current and future digital properties to improve the user experience. As a result, the IRS compiled a list of their 22 most-utilized websites. The first part of my project was to:

The second part was to:

This included looking at government websites, agency websites, bank accounts, and other sites to figure out how the IRS could emulate some of their successful designs. The recommendations given here were based on the 21st Century IDEA as well.

—NEW ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

The 21st Century IDEA lists 8 criteria that all websites and digital services must follow.

Four of the criteria were removed or changed to reduce the scope of my project:

 

1) Accessibility - taken care of in-house


3) No overlap with legacy websites - required a deeper knowledge of the IRS portfolio 


5) SSC  - needed technical knowledge


7) Customizable - changed to be more specific



After briefly examining all 22 websites, I created my own criteria based on what I found to be fundamental to website modernization.These go above and beyond what IDEAct covers and is vital for the IRS to consider in future evaluations. The criteria are Multilingual Support, Reachable, Efficient and Content Relevant, and Clear Guidance. 


—ASSESSMENT METHOD

I evaluated the sites based on a few standards. This included the Risk of Customer Experience (CX) Debt: the difference between the customer’s current experience with a product and their expectations for those experiences. If the current experience doesn’t keep pace with evolving expectations, the CX debt grows over time and can cause opportunity costs. The risk of CX Debt was rated on a scale from 0 – 3. The number of user sessions was also included for each site.


Additionally, the sites were assessed with 4 levels of “following best practice” for every criterion; a symbol represented each level. Each criterion had a different definition for every level; the ones shown below are umbrella definitions. 


For each site, I gave recommendations based on the 8 criteria. Lastly, I provided a final prioritized ranking of all the sites.


The criteria symbols were initially red and green diamonds. However, I changed them to blue "+" and red "-" symbols to account for colorblindness. 


—DELIVERABLE

I created a final scorecard that contains the overall assessment and final ranking (blurred out for NDA purposes).

Site Assessment Scorecard — I did not have access to 3 sites, so the final assessment contained only 19 sites

I also made recommendation tables for each site (blurred out for NDA purposes).

Sample Recommendation Table — Each site had a recommendation table. The recommendations were categorized by assessment criteria

—IMPACT

The IRS’s Office of Online Services will use my recommendations to prioritize future actions.

—TAKEAWAYS

Overall, I learned the beneficial magnitude of civic technology and the impact of the IRS’s online services. This included understanding:


1. The importance of “agency literacy”

(Termed by Benno Schmidt, a healthcare designer in D.C.) To achieve goals, you must comprehend how the agency operates. 


2. Recognize constraints

It's not always a smooth ride to the end. However, it’s essential to find the best workaround and keep pushing for your solution. 


3. Constructive criticism

In order to successfully improve products, it’s important to frame your feedback in a constructive manner to appeal to stakeholders, product managers, and team members.