User Research

User Research is about understanding “the actual experience of people”

Why user research

User research is essential to delivering effective services that meet the needs of the people you serve. People come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, so it's crucial to know their stories for effective service delivery. USDR utilizes agile, data-driven user research methodologies to gather and tell these stories, helping to improve resources and services for the people who need them most, including government partners.

If you've ever built a website or stood up a service that didn't connect or work for your target audience as well as you thought it would, you might benefit from user research. By understanding the needs, experiences, and perspectives of the people you serve through user research, you can create resources that better meet their needs and improve the effectiveness of your services.

User research can help make sure the services better meet the needs of your community.

We can help

Identify usability issues and gather feedback on how to improve services

Gather insights into how residents discover, think about, and use government services

Better understand resident needs, motivations, and experience across the lifecycle of services

Uncover actionable insights for service improvement

Collaborate with governments to co-create and design services that meet user needs

And more!

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Selected case studies

Navigating the sticky web of research compensation

There is a rising interest in government agencies to conduct user research in order to understand the needs of their constituents. With this human-centered mindset, many agencies are building up their internal research capacity and looking for ways to institutionalize research best practices into policy and legislation.

It is critical in user research to compensate research participants for their time, effort, and insights — especially when conducting research with vulnerable populations from marginalized communities.

Government officials are navigating complex rules and regulations in order to secure the necessary funds and provide incentives to participants.

Here, USDR outlines multiple ways government officials are navigating complex rules and regulations in order to secure the necessary funds and provide incentives to participants.

Read the full case study »Read more about this project »
Team members
Sunita Ram
Designer, Rapid Response Program
US Digital Response
Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry
Unemployment Insurance claimant user research in Pennsylvania

Before undertaking updates to its unemployment compensation website, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry engaged USDR to better understand the claimant user experience and propose design recommendations.

The USDR team conducted quantitative and qualitative user research, including approximately 2,600 website survey responses and 4,500 call center calls, and in-depth interviews with 10 individual claimants. USDR’s final report, Unemployment Claimant Research Findings Report, shares actionable insights and proposes recommendations for how Pennsylvania can use user-centered design to improve its website. The team also developed Plain Language Guidelines and example wireframes.

Many of USDR’s recommendations were implemented immediately, without significant investment.

Read the full case study »Read more about this project »
Team members
Casey Malcolm
Lead UX Researcher
Amica Insurance Company
Christopher Mather
Executive Producer
The WNET Group
Jessie Posilkin
Former Economic Stability Program Lead
U.S. Digital Response
Kerrin McLaughlin
Senior UX Designer
City of Boston
Making government services inclusive for LGBTQ+ people

The Boston City Council set out to change passed an ordinance in 2020 to ensure gender inclusivity in all City-issued forms, documents, and certificates. As a part of this initiative, The Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement, The Department of Innovation and Technology, and The Registry Department came together to make the marriage registration process for LGBTQ+ people more equitable. (Read the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University’s article on how these departments are collaborating to improve Boston’s gender-based data collection practices.)

Their human-centered approach included:

  1. Focus group studies with Boston’s transgender and gender non-conforming constituents (see City of Boston’s report)
  2. Process mapping of the marriage registration process
  3. Qualitative research with Boston’s LGBTQ+ community members

The City of Boston reached out to USDR to conduct user research and better understand the lived experience of LGBTQ+ people as they submit online applications and then visit City Hall to register their marriage.

Read the full case study »Read more about this project »
Team members
Sunita Ram
Designer, Rapid Response Program
US Digital Response

"USDR's support and expertise transformed our final design for our Twilio Flex integration for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which Polaris operates. They took the time to learn and really understand our process and our goals. Their support led to well-thought-out, consistent designs, and valuable recommendations, resulting in significant improvements in key metrics upon launch. The entire team of volunteers we worked with were excellent and generous with their time and knowledge.”

Megan Cutter
Managing Director
National Human Trafficking Hotline at Polaris

Meet the team

Amy Meng
Amy is a program manager working with the Digital Delivery team to scale and operationalize USDR capabilities. She was previously Associate Director of Delivery Management at Truss, a civic tech consultancy.
Krista Canellakis
Krista leads USDR’s Digital Delivery Program. Previously, she served as Deputy Secretary, General Services for the State of California and Chief Innovation Officer for the City and County of San Francisco.
Madel Leal
Madel is the Language Access UX Researcher for the Unemployment Insurance Program. She leverages her experiences as a design strategist, researcher, and facilitator-of-systems change, to build more equitable service delivery.
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“We are honored to see so many dedicated technologists step up to work on behalf of New York City. With technology products that work to combat hate crimes, lower language barriers, and drive digital equity, the work [...] will have a lasting impact on improving New Yorkers’ lives.”

Bill de Blasio
New York City

“USDR has provided smart, informed, and fast help for a variety of issues. They are an invaluable resource to governments at a critical time.”

Robert Gordon
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

“Volunteers from USDR have not only helped bring incredible expertise and extra hands to us in a great time of need, they’ve provided critical-thinking skills at a time when our team is working long hours and experiencing burnout.”

Rebecca Woodbury
Director of Digital Service & Open Government
City of San Rafael

“USDR has been an invaluable source of talent, helping our office move at the ‘speed of need’... I would recommend any agency consider partnering with them to add team capacity and leverage unique skill sets in these trying times.”

Ross Dakin
New Jersey Office of Innovation