Simplify, Organize, and Regroup
The City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) web portal (https://dnd.cityofboston.gov/) serves a wide range of users: Boston residents, property developers, and local business. The information needs are diverse. While the site had always done its best to meet every need, the portal users said information was hard to find. And without proper design guidelines to follow, the site not only looked cluttered, but opportunities for branding were being lost. The city of Boston knew that something had to be done about the portal’s design, and it had to be done within the city’s budget limits.
Eliad Goldwasser, Anthony Jakubiak, and Jonathan Judal from the Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) from SAP in North America were asked to help the city re-design the City of Boston DND portal. All three members from the DCC team in Palo Alto brought various design backgrounds in research, strategy, interaction and visual design. The team was able to offer the city their proven skills and experience, plus the assurance that any design proposed would be feasible. This assurance was possible thanks to help from the SAP Web Portal Engineering team in Israel. Anthony says “The portal team was great to work with. They made themselves available, they were great with feedback and helping us understand those [technological] constraints.” Regular consultations with the SAP Portal team ensured that time and effort was spent only on designs that could be implemented on the city’s current system.
The project took six weeks and resulted in much more than redesigning the City of Boston portal to look better.
Preparation, Research, and Getting Everyone Talking
The design process is highly effective but it can make people a bit uneasy for those experiencing it for the first time. “Our goal going into this project was to make them as comfortable as possible with a sometimes uncomfortable process”, says Anthony. The Design & Co-Innovation Center from SAP team knew this site redesign might require big changes in how information is organized. And those changes might affect owners of that information. So, to make sure they understood the needs of everyone involved before they started designing, the DCC team spent a week doing research.
Eliad explains: “We met with nearly every subdivision within the Department of Neighborhood Development (DNC) and spend over 15 hours over the phone that week trying to learn as much as we could about their ecosystem, goals, motivations and needs.”
After a week of phone interviews, the team knew enough about the City of Boston’s world to create wireframes (paper mockups) of some design proposals. With those ready, the team headed to Boston to begin the series of kickoff and alignment meetings with city members. The extra time taken to research their client’s needs was appreciated, and it set the stage for collaboration. With a sense that everyone was on the same page, participation in the kickoff and alignment meetings lead to effective final designs. To learn how city residents felt about the portal, the DCC team attended a housing class in Boston to ask citizens attending the class about their experiences in using the City of Boston portal. They also reached out to property developers. All this research contributed to the new designs.
Good Design Goes Deeper
Good design goes beyond making things look better. It takes a closer look at everything in a system, to make sure the system helps make the design work.
In this design collaboration, says Anthony “A lot of what we accomplished wasn’t in the design. It was in bringing the different visions of the city’s stakeholders together to build a common understanding, a common vision, and a common goal for what we were all working towards.” Sometimes this led to new ways of looking at how information was owned and organized. Some of the redesigns involved combining information from different divisions, something that hadn’t been done before. Thanks to these discussions, and the thought put into the designs, the city was able to see that these changes would help Boston’s constituents and residents as a whole.
And when it comes to designing the look and feel of a site, good design also means designing how the site will be maintained. When changes need to be made to the site later on, the city will need the resources to keep the integrity of the design intact. So, the DCC team delivered guidelines for creating icons, links, and maintaining branding strategies.
Jonathon says “Although it was beyond the original statement of work, we knew this was what the city really needed. Ultimately, we fail at SAP if we give customers something beautiful that then breaks down in a year because there are no design guidelines to follow.”
I can tell you really took the time to understand who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to accomplish.– Devin Quirk (Director of Operations, Department of Neighborhood Development, City of Boston)