In the cubicles of Silicon Valley companies like Google have departments dedicated to user experience, often abbreviated UX. Google believes that this field is so important that they developed the following video that explains what they do:
You can see the impact of UX on websites in the form of one click purchasing on Amazon or iTunes. The whispersync feature in the Kindle that lets you pick up reading a book where you last left off on a different device is a UX innovation. The surveys that you are asked to complete after a customer service call are part of the user expereince design process as organizations try to collect feedback to better serve the needs of their customers. You may be surprised to learn that even your government has started to think about UX. The State of Connecticut had this presentation on UX on its website. It is thus little surprise that we have seen success follow in the form of high enrollment numbers.
User experience design has a lot of potential outside enrolling people in health insurance. Sadly we have not yet seen evidence of this thinking being carried over to other government departments. For example people still wait in long queues to obtain services at the DMV or talk to a representative at the Department of Labor or DSS. Companies like Apple have managed to deploy systems that allow people to schedule appointments for phone calls or in-person meetings that minimize wait times. They have also developed ways to help users help themselves through online knowledge bases that provide relevant answers based on the text of an e-mail. The resources and expertise to make government more responsive to the people clearly exists, and in the case of providing social services it can help reduce poverty, and in the case of tax administration it can increase revenue and compliance. This is worth doing.
New York State recently redesigned its website to focus on user experience. The front page provides easy access to tasks that people might want to complete including renewing drivers licenses, enrolling in health insurance, and starting a business. This is an interesting model, and it is encouraging to see that the talent to complete this sort of project is next door. Even if the state is not able to pull together the will and resources to improve user experience, I hope that one of the many mayoral candidates running in local elections embraces this as a cause.