Director of design, NIC
When did you first become interested in design?
I grew up spending a great deal of time in art galleries with my parents, so that cultivated my interest in art and design. At the same time, I started tinkering with websites as a teenager, creating terribly clunky websites on GeoCites, figuring how HTML worked. In college I majored in art history while taking classes in music, ceramics and computer science. Eventually I figured out I could combine the two worlds.
How did you get into .gov design?
After years of working on websites on the side, I decided to pursue website design as a career and was looking for work. I found an ad for a design position working on RI.gov — Rhode Island’s government web portal, (powered by eGovernment company NIC), and the rest was history. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on eGovernment projects across the country, from New Jersey, Maryland, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Hawaii, and recently as a Presidential Innovation Fellow assigned to projectMyUSA.
What lessons learned can you share with other .gov designers?
Your job isn’t to design to what the client wants, but rather, to help educate them about what their constituent actually needs. It’s much more than a design job — you’re responsible for how citizens interact with their democracy. That’s a big deal. If you simply give the client what they ask for without pushing for what citizens actually need, you’re missing a huge opportunity to advocate for your users — to shape the ergonomics of government.
It’s also incredibly important to reach everyone in need of a particular government service. You have to implement new tools and technology wisely, don’t pursue something solely for being the latest shiny object. Above all, make sure your newest tech also meets the standards for usability, accessibility and device interoperability.
What’s been the most rewarding with respect to implementing new technologies?
In government, the most rewarding part is seeing your work impact an incredibly large, diverse audience. When I’ve had the chance to roll out new designs in government, I know my work is going to reach everyone in that community, whether it’s a local, state or federal initiative.
The new trend I’m excited to be a part of is the movement towards open source in government. Designing with openness and transparency — leveraging the larger tech community is something that Silicon Valley has been doing well for a while now. Bringing this model to government only makes sense, since the government buys tech with taxpayer dollars anyhow — we all own it. Given that, we should have the chance to tinker, contribute and help make it better. Designers have much to learn from coders in this area, but I see no reason why designers can’t be a big part of this movement.
Online and off, who are you design inspirations?
Paul Rand. His book A Designer’s Art is my go-to resource when I get stuck. Jason Santa Maria for his amazing understanding of typography, and Dan Cederholm (http://simplebits.com/about/) for his ability to bring great personality to all aspects of his work, are both huge inspirations to me.
What’s in your designer/developer toolbox?
Given the mobile first, responsive design world designers now inhabit, I avoid the Photoshop comp as much as I can, as they don’t reflect the fluid, multi-device designs I build. Photoshop and Illustrator are great tools to get rough ideas out of my head before moving as quickly as possible to designing in the browser. To that end, my toolbox these days is becoming more and more about testing, multiple devices, and anything that speeds up my newly-complicated workflow.
- Hammer App
- Coda 2
- Art Director’s Toolkit
- Reeder 2
- Adobe Edge Inspect
- Github for Mac
- Adobe Kuler for iOS
- Paper for iOS
- Silverback App