7 books for better digital government

7 books for better digital government

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Continuing on my book cleaning spree, I wanted to highlight a few web product design and development books I’m getting rid of that are helpful for anyone focused on providing government digital services. Share your suggestions on our Facebook page.

Civic User Testing Group Book
Daniel X. O’Neil
This small (free) book from Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Daniel X. O’Neil highlights how government and civic groups can implement user testing into their projects. OpenOakland has re-purposed this in the work they’re are doing.

Mobile First
Luke Wroblewski
Gone are the days of a separate mobile-friendly or app version of your website. If you’re not familiar with why this is important and/or how to start thinking about mobile-centered government digital products, this is the book that will get you up to speed.

Responsive Web Design
Ethan Marcotte
Marcotte is the godfather of responsive web design, which is the foundational principle of mobile-friendly design. Great introduction into what RWD is and how to get started. Perfect companion to “Mobile First.”

Product Design for the Web: Principles of Designing and Releasing Web Products
Randy J. Hunt
Comprehensive overview of how to execute web product delivery. Great resource for getting all aspects of the development team (including the C-suite) on the same page.

Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden
As development becomes more agile, so has prototyping the experience. This helps get designers in a frame of mind they may not be accustomed to, but once applied, will make them more integral and excited about applying design principles in today’s development environment.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Nir Eyal
For those building web products, Eyal walks the reader through the four phases of “The Hook Model” (Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, Investment) and how to create products that become “habit for good.” While this may not apply to a large number of government-focused services, the methodology is extremely helpful and provides a design mindset important to all projects

Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty
David Kadavy
More granular and geared towards developers who can (and should) bake in great design practices even at the prototyping phase.

What design/development books do you recommend for building better digital government services? Share on our Facebook page.

White House moves to a more integrated, mobile-friendly blog

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

The White House continues to roll out a better mobile experience with a newly-designed White House blog.

Of note, the layout is responsive and the daily schedule is now integrated into the daily “What’s Happening” feed. Would be interesting to start seeing a feed of all things White House (YouTube, Twitter, etc.) somewhere.

I particularly like the fist-bump photo on the feedback page, much like what I incorporated into the footer of my White House homepage comp.

More on the new changes from White House Creative Director Ashleigh Axios here.

Tennessee’s new logo

Tennessee State Government

There is a lot of shortsighted chatter around the state of Tennessee’s new branding efforts and, while I don’t have a strong opinion on the logo aesthetics, which has received criticism for its $46,000 price tag, it’s important to commend the holistic approach to uniformity and why this will benefit residents (and taxpayers) in the future.

Unified branding addresses two major efficiency issues (there’s a reason why businesses do this and why more governments are beginning to):

  • streamlines future collateral design processes
  • unifies the customer experience

When there’s brand consistency, the need to reinvent the design wheel is eliminated, as are major costs around creative and production. Of course, there are short-term costs around brand transition, the long-term benefits outweigh the short.

Most importantly, what the new branding does for Tennessee residents is create a sense of customer experience consistency. Rather than experiencing what looks to be a bad set of kid stickers, Tennessee residents now enjoy a unified, professional offering of government services.

“Because each agency had developed their own identities individually there was no shared vision across the agencies, which created confusion for citizens and potential business partnerships as well as within the government,” writes Nashville-based GS&F in describing the reasoning for the new visual identity. GS&F led the re-brand process for the state.

Gov. Bill Haslam echoed these sentiments announcing the new branding:

“ is an important resource for Tennesseans and, for a lot of people, the main way they interact with state government. We are always working to serve Tennessee taxpayers more efficiently and effectively by making that experience as customer-focused as possible.”

It would be unfortunate if the state didn’t enforce usage throughout all agencies, as some have requested an exemption. It’s important that all agencies unite under the same aesthetic, as teams do, and show they want to serve Tennessee proudly, in uniformity.

Sometimes it takes money to save money (Note: The $46,000 price tag pales in comparison to what other firms charge for similar work.), and what Tennessee has done is invested in the future of government service experience. Isn’t that what we want our government leaders to do?

Congratulations to Governor Haslam for implementing modern customer experience practices into government and being willing to bring a vision of unity to resident services.

Talk to the hand: New Covington logo breaks government convention

Source: City of Covington

Source: City of Covington

I’m a huge fan of government re-branding to modernize away from the antiquated look of the traditional seal, mostly because I believe it can play a huge role in citizen sentiment and how employees see themselves and their roles as public servants.

The City of Covington, Ky., takes a bold approach on this front with its new “Covington’s Alive!” re-design.

Opinions in the “Brand New” comments section vary and, sure, the icon could be co-opted by clever designers, but it’s great to see a city getting creative and bringing personality into the citizen experience.


City icons and Vocativ’s livability index

Vocativ 'Livability Index'

Image: Vocativ

Vocativ published its 2014 Livability Index of the 35 best cities for people 35 and under, and the best part of it is the montage of city icons they created for the piece.

I’m a big fan of cities creating a brand strategy and modern, friendly logos, much like Colorado did, and Vocativ did a great job highlighting the iconography of the featured cities.

My favorites are Reno, Kansas City and, of course, San Francisco.

What are yours?

GovFresh WP: building a government WordPress theme

GovFresh WP

Despite the fact that millions of websites around the world today are powered by low- and no-cost open source content management systems, nearly all small city governments remain trapped in the 90s.

It’s not that they don’t want great websites to serve their citizens. They just don’t have the technical prowess to understand what their options are and how to deploy and manage them.

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The State Department’s mobile site is now responsive

In a peculiar approach to web design strategy, the U.S. State Department has upgraded its mobile website,, to a responsive design.

Typically, responsive web design is leveraged to allow organizations to develop one site that fits all devices, whether it’s viewed on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This approach significantly lessens development resources.

A cursory look appears to show that both sites have the same content, so it’s not quite clear what the strategy is.

Perhaps is the beta site for Or should be?

Regardless, now that the State Department has a responsive website, my recommendation would be to replace the current with the and redirect all traffic going to the mobile to the main site.

This lets State significantly reduce its website development and content management costs and allows it to repurpose those resources into building a stronger, unified web presence.

White House opens huge opportunity for designers, developers to increase We the People engagement

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

The White House will soon open a limited beta test to developers on a new We the People Write API that allows third-party applications to submit information to official petitions.

“One of the things we’ve heard from the beginning is a strong desire from our users to be able to submit signatures and petitions from other sites — and still receive an official response. Up to this point, we haven’t had a way to accept signatures submitted from other sites, but that is about to change,” writes White House Associate Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy Ezra Mechaber.

According to the White House, more than 10 million users have signed nearly 300,000 petitions.

We the People was built in Drupal and the source code is available on GitHub.

The Read API was opened earlier this year (sample projects here).

While We the People is fairly intuitive and easy to use, there’s huge potential for great designers and developers to essentially build a truly innovative and engaging platform.

Apply to the We the People Write API Beta.

.gov designer: Lou Huang

Lou Huang

.gov designer is a regular GovFresh feature profiling the people behind public sector design.


Lou Huang
Fellow, Code for America
Creator, Streetmix

When did you first become interested in design?

I’ve always had a creative streak. When I was growing up I was always drawing and building things. I was really into LEGO and drawing maps of fake cities, and I always thought I would go to college for architecture… so I did. My dad, an engineer, wanted me to major in computer science. I didn’t do that, but I was also growing up at the time the Internet and web design was becoming popular, so I dabbled in it.

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.gov designer: Danny Chapman

Danny Chapman

.gov designer is a regular GovFresh feature profiling the people behind public sector design.


Danny Chapman
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 — 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.

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