Our Blue State values shape which clients we work with — and how we work with one another. But it’s also important that the projects we work on reflect those values, both in terms of process and the end product. Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t niche topics — they should be built into every marketing effort in order for organizations to forge better connections with their audiences.  

In 2016, we started to recognize the opportunity to infuse our process for creating web products with the values we hold as people and as an organization. That helped us uncover ideas for designing products that prioritize accessibility, diversity, and inclusion for forward-thinking clients who need or choose to focus on those areas. 

Starting that year, we created a series of digital experiences for the City of New York. With a strong point of view set by the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, our work was grounded in these principles of civic service design:

  • Co-create with the people who use and deliver the service
  • Prototype and test for usability
  • Prioritize equitable distribution and accessibility for all, so public resources reach the people who need them most
  • Continuously evaluate for impact and effectiveness to achieve better outcomes for residents

These principles dovetail with the premise of human-centered design, which has been a focus of ours stemming from our campaign roots in spurring supporters to take action. Human-centered design on its own, however, is still subject to biases and assumptions, no matter how much we believe we’re focusing on the audience’s needs at every step, so we are folding in new approaches to address this gap. 

To navigate these nuances, we leverage Design Thinking principles, identifying the right problems to solve by first conducting research to foster empathy with people we’re trying to reach, arriving at an understanding of the issues they face, and then ideating on impactful solutions. This approach guides us to challenge our users’ assumptions and misconceptions — and our own assumptions and misconceptions about the wants and needs of underserved audiences. 

Design Thinking in action

On-site testing at the New York Public Library

Creating digital services that are truly valuable to end users should draw from a shared set of values between the agency and client. This process should also involve iterative audience research and testing, ultimately to form an empathetic connection between the design team and the community who will use the product. 

For our projects with New York City, we conducted our testing at libraries to find residents who already take advantage of civic institutions. We also encouraged all team members, from designers to coders, to go out in the field and hear from real New Yorkers themselves. 

In 2019, we partnered with GRID Alternatives to build the One Stop Shop, a portal on behalf of California Air Resources Board (CARB) to help low-income Californians navigate the myriad eligibility rules around clean energy and transportation incentives. Designing for this audience and this goal requires a different approach to innovation: Whereas a typical vehicle marketing site stimulates potential buyers into making a purchase, the One Stop Shop seeks to make residents aware of a range of incentive programs available to them so they can make more informed — and greener — transportation choices. 

Experimentation, a principle of Design Thinking, drove key decisions at different points of the project. During our discovery phase, we used rapid prototyping to quickly test and validate ideas and assumptions. A deeper understanding of our audience —  how well they understand the electric vehicle landscape, what drives them to seek incentives, and their sensitivity towards privacy — would eventually shape the product design. 

User testing provided early answers before development started. Our research prioritized the input of under-resourced communities and communities of color to ensure our work leads to equitable results for people using the One Stop Shop. Moreover, the One Stop Shop has been developed in phases. Teams of outreach partners, with close ties to target communities, have provided critical feedback that has fueled future releases of the product. This iterative development process (building in Drupal and React) and a flexible design system allowed us to remain nimble in the face of continuous user feedback. 

Although the One Stop Shop won’t roll out in full until later this year, we were already able to see early successes as a result of this approach during Beta testing in late 2019. One applicant from Huntington Park originally thought she was not eligible for any programs. Her family relied on a pickup truck with more than 200,000 miles on it for their daily transportation. Her son uses a wheelchair, so her preferred car is a van. During our One Stop Shop testing, we found that she was eligible for up to $9,500 to purchase an EV after trading in her truck. She began crying “happy tears” when she found out she was that much closer to getting a vehicle to better meet her family’s needs.

Providing more value to end users can also mean illuminating their connections with the organization. In July 2019, we launched a redesign of the website of the Democratic National Committee. Their previous site was not effectively communicating with supporters, in large part because it didn’t accurately reflect the composition of the Democratic Party today. 

One of our design solutions that uses original photography of staffers, not stock imagery

One of our key goals for the redesign was for supporters of all ethnicities and backgrounds coming to the site to feel a sense of belonging — and more quickly identify the actions they could take. To get the right solutions, it was important for Blue State to assign a diverse team. The people who would plan, design, and build the site would be as reflective as possible of the diverse supporters the party wanted to reach. We also recognized that the design system should be modular in order to respond to changing needs and allow the DNC to expand the site over time.

Our collaboration was powered by an agile sprint process, ample communication, and a continuous focus on prioritization. From the outset of the project, we focused on developing a strong understanding of the needs of the team who would manage the site day-to-day. Not only did this help us do the work faster, it also ensured the DNC team would be equipped to run the site from day one — in the middle of a critical election season. 

In December 2019, at the Global Refugee Forum and together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) we also launched the digital platform for the Global Compact on Refugees. This community platform empowers diverse organizations supporting refugees (States, NGOs, businesses, academics, refugees and refugee-led organizations, etc.) to share good practices to learn from one another’s projects.

Designing for these audiences’ highly specific needs required rigorous prioritization; we spent days interviewing various types of end users and stakeholders. Now that the Drupal platform is launched, we are investigating working with refugee partners to perform the ongoing maintenance on the site.

Walking the walk

We’re also applying this perspective to how we communicate about our own organization. Last year, we relaunched our brand and our website. Our designers did their part to make sure that our new brand passed visual accessibility considerations like contrast and type styles. However, we discovered in QA testing that we fell short of the targets for accessibility for the visually impaired that we set for all of the work we produce. 

We couldn’t consider this a job well done until we went back in and corrected the issues we found. When your projects put people and their needs at the center, “done” is never really done. Walking the walk means making continuous improvement and optimization to ensure the tools you create stay relevant and useful to as many people for as long as possible.

Want to tell us how you’re putting people first, or just want to chat? Reach out.

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