The Census Bureau identified a problem: how do you create a simple visual to convey all the data topics, geographies, and frequencies for 120 censuses and surveys? The answer: you don’t. Instead, a design team created a brand-new reference tool with user-centered design, transforming the way consumers access information.
The legacy reference system listed names and limited descriptions for each of the bureau's 120+ surveys, which spanned eight webpages. Users had to follow several clicks to access the detailed topic, geographic and frequency information for each survey, and they would have to click through every survey in order to compare their data points.
There was no easy way to visualize and compare all of the survey information, so the design team opted to build the Census Survey Explorer search tool.
“Researchers can select criteria or use the tool in a more exploratory way to discover what [data] we have without having to open multiple web pages and data tables,” Eric Coyle, Census Bureau intergovernmental affairs specialist, said at the 2022 Government UX Summit Wednesday. “The best benefit of the tool is that it helps to narrow down their choices of what surveys to research in an incredibly efficient way.”
According to Census Bureau Program Analyst Mary Leisenring, the key to successfully launching the tool was a comprehensive communication strategy.
“The users won't find the tool, let alone use it, if they don't know why it exists or where to find it,” she said at the summit. “This is why it's really critical to get buy-in from your communications teams early on.”
The Census Survey Explorer team worked with the bureau’s public information office to promote the tool internally through articles, banners and emails. Their soft launch of the tool allowed time for user feedback before they promoted it to external marketing, accompanied by tip sheets and video tutorials. The design team also used SEO to promote the tool and worked with the bureau’s call center and help desk to ensure they were prepared to answer user questions.
“Tool development and launch went quite smoothly, and I attribute that to a lot of the back-end communications work that we did,” Leisenring said. "Before we pushed the tool to our marketing channels, we quietly launched the tool to ensure there were no bugs. ... We did our best to leverage every opportunity to get the word out, and we recognize the need for a continuation of that effort to keep this tool visible."