Design

The Design team at 18F includes content, user experience, front end, and visual designers as well as researchers, editors, prototypers, illustrators, and wordsmiths.

18F Design provides design as a service to the rest of the organization, including:

  • Research. We help people to identify, target, and solicit feedback from real users, stakeholders, subject-matter experts, etc.
  • Content strategy. We help people clarify their tone and voice, and explore the breadth and depth of their content.
  • Information architecture. We help people state their intent and disclose information in an intuitive way.
  • Interaction design and front end development. We work with people to wireframe and prototype simple, beautiful, usable interactions.
  • Visual design. We help people more clearly communicate through visualizations and illustrations as well as solid graphic design knowhow.

Documentation

Suggested reading

Communication

Find us on Slack:


Joining the Design Team

Welcome to the 18F Design team — we’re happy you’re here! We’ve compiled a set of helpful tips to get you started. We’ll update this guide as we receive feedback, so don’t be shy to share your thoughts.

First week

You might not have much assigned work during your first two weeks here. That’s okay and expected. If you’ve gotten all the government onboarding items done and a project still hasn’t landed, the design team has a list of internal projects that aren’t funded but that will help us all work better together. Talk to your design lead (more on that, below) to get more information about these internal projects and how you can get involved.

Who we are

The Design team at 18F includes content, user experience, front-end, and visual designers. We are researchers, editors, prototypers, illustrators, and wordsmiths. We come from a variety of backgrounds, including government, non-profits, consultancies, corporations, and academia.

Structure

As per the org chart, 18F Design is itself composed of the content design, user experience (UX) design + frontend design, and visual design teams. Members of the Design team are active participants in the content, frontend, and research guilds.

As these teams have grown in size, we’ve introduced leads and supervisors. In your first week, you’ll be assigned a lead. Leads concentrate on project work while providing a first level of practical support and project advice to 2-3 people. Supervisors carry out most managerial responsibilities for their disciplines. They lead staffing, hiring, training, and project troubleshooting for their discipline. Leads and supervisors are selected through nominations and interviews according to team needs. These competitions will be announced ahead of time. More detail on Design team roles and responsibilites is provided internally.

Members of the Design team are also assigned to critique groups. These groups meet regularly (barring more urgent project activities) to discuss work in progress and help the Design team maintain its storytelling and presentation skills. Critique groups also have leaders, and their groupings change periodically. These rotations are announced ahead of time, and if you’re interested in taking a turn as a critique lead, you can raise your hand as a candidate at that time.

What we do

18F Design provides design as a service to the rest of the organization, including:

  • Research. We help people to identify, target, and solicit feedback from real users, stakeholders, subject-matter experts, etc.
  • Content strategy. We help people clarify their tone and voice, and explore the breadth and depth of their content.
  • Information architecture. We help people state their intent and disclose information in an intuitive way.
  • Interaction design and frontend development. We work with people to develop prototypes and wireframes, discover and implement new technologies to produce simple, beautiful, usable, interactions.
  • Visual design. We help people more clearly communicate through visualizations and illustrations as well as solid graphic design knowhow.

How we work

Rituals

Most of the design team works on a mix of partner-agency projects and internal initiatives. As you’d guess, everyone’s weeks look a little different. That said, there are recurring weekly meetings and commitments we all have on our calendars.

  • Mondays: every other week for 45 minutes at 3pm ET (12:00pm PT) design team huddle. The whole team meets to discuss project status, policy updates, and general design-specific news. Our huddles typically follow the same format: the Director of Design will start off with general announcements and a reminder about completing timesheets. The rest of the huddle features a presentation or conversation about a topic of current interest to the team. Past topics have included: how other chapters work, our collaborative work practices, and recent organizational changes within 18F or TTS.
  • Once a week: meet with your lead. Once a week, you’ll have a short check-in with your Design lead at a time that’s convenient for both of you. The purpose of this meeting is both administrative and personal. It’s how the team leadership keeps on top of project timelines and activities to coordinate resourcing. It’s also a time to talk through any project concerns, figure out how to wrangle the federal bureaucracy, and talk about how to make 18F work better for you.
  • Once a week: meet with your critique group. Once a week, you’ll meet with your critique group to talk about creative questions and share work. Critique teams decide internally how often and how long they want to meet.

Communication channels

  • Mailing lists
    • 18F-xd@gsa.gov is a Google group for all members of the design chapter. Your supervisor is responsible for adding you to this list — no need to worry about registering.
    • Other mailing lists are listed here.

Tools

Here are some common tools we use, how we use them, and how you can get access to them. If you can’t find the information you need in the chart below, get in touch with your design lead; they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

And one more thing: before you start using any new tool that asks for access to files/browser data, please check the full list of approved tools. If what you want to use isn’t there, you’ll need to ask in #infrastructure first. New tools often create hard-to-anticipate security problems.

Drawing lines on a screen

Unless otherwise specified, see Software to get a license for any of these.

  • Sketch: You can get started with a trial version immediately. Upgrade to the full version whenever you get the license. Visit #sketch on Slack for help and sharing tips. One thing that’s different about using Sketch at GSA is that Sketch plugins are not impossible to obtain, but might be more time-consuming than -saving. Each Sketch plugin is treated like a new software request, and must undergo review by GSA IT review. So far, we haven’t found much that we can’t accomplish without plugins.
  • InVision: We use InVision for prototyping and group online critique. Using InVision at GSA comes with one specific rule: we cannot use any cloud-syncing features. Please don’t use InVision Cloud or InVision Sync.
  • OmniGraffle: The wait is variable — it depends on whether our batch purchasing has caught up to our hiring.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud: Visual designers often need CC for access to high-powered vector control in Illustrator, image editing in Photoshop, print layout in InDesign, or video-editing tools. CC licenses are more limited, so please don’t request access unless you really do need it for your work.

Project management

Every project and team has a different mix of project management tools based on what works for them. Many internal projects will use Trello because it’s fast to set up. Get more information on the How to use Trello page.

Research

  • Please read Doing Research at 18F for more information on the tools and techniques.
  • Google Analytics: More info here.
  • Surveys: Internal to 18F, we often use Google Forms. However, government employees outside 18F often can’t access Google Forms on their work computers. So when addressing our agency partners, we often need to use other options — being careful, of course, to avoid asking for personally identifiable information. Ask #g-research for recommendations.

Workshops / virtual workspaces

  • Mural: Research analysis and workshops. Get more info here. Access is immediate.

Word processing

  • Google Drive / Docs / Slides: This is our primary tool for documents of various sorts.
  • Microsoft Office: We use this rarely and only for collaboration with those partner agencies who rely on it. Follow the instructions to get a license if your project work requires it.

Assets

We default to free and open-source assets, unless there is a very, very good reason to do otherwise (and you’d better be prepared to defend that reason). Luckily, there are a lot of great resources for us to choose from.

  • Frameworks: the U.S. Web Design System is a visual style guide and set of components for U.S. federal government websites. It includes guidance for fonts, colors, and UI components. Come chat in #g-frontend on slack if you are choosing a framework for something.
  • Type: Partner agencies usually have their own style guidance that we stick to. 18F-branded materials should follow typography guidance in the 18F Visual Idtentity Guide. For other needs, we recommend using typefaces from the U.S. Web Design System. Come chat in #visual-design on slack if you are choosing fonts for something.
  • Icons:
    • Each 18F presentation theme has a master page that holds a small selection of commonly-used icons from the closed-source picons collection. Post to #18f-branding if you need to use more/different ones… and be prepared to explain why!
    • The visual design team maintains guidance on icon resources.
    • If you want to start using non-free ones, you’ll need to jump through some hoops — yes, even if the icon only costs $1.99. You’ll need to get official emailed permission from the product owner, then check #team-ops for further instructions.
  • Images: Most images published by government agencies are in the public domain and thus free to use.

Appendix

Designing in the open

We do most of our design work in the open, which means trying to make as much documentation and decision-making as possible accessible to the public. Designing in the open means that expectations from private sector about confidentiality, disclosure, and intellectual property don’t hold true here.

Here are some of our rules of thumb:

1. Share your work early and often

Sharing your in-progress work with team members and stakeholders is one of the most powerful techniques we have — it’s central to building trust with stakeholders. At 18F, we like to team up and work a problem through multiple angles to get to the best solution swiftly.

Since GitHub is one tool we’ve chosen to facilitate public dialogue, consider also making your work available to the public (if project appropriate) by posting work-in-progress there. Before creating a public GitHub repo or otherwise sharing project-specific information, check with your project lead; they’ll let you know what information can be shared publicly.

2. Be mindful of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

PII is any piece of data, singly or in combination, that can identify unique individuals, such as full name, email address, or even phone number. While working in the open, be mindful of discussing agency partners, collecting any PII, or accidentally disclosing PII to the entire internet. Different agencies and organizations may have different levels of sensitivity and exposure concerns about types of personal information (identifying or not) you collect and how you use it. Check with your project lead before sharing information to avoid missteps and delays; what has been approved by the GSA may not already have been approved by partners. Be mindful as you post meeting notes or sidebar conversations in Slack channels, and be aware of the potential level of visibility this information will have once you post it in Slack.

Bottom line: If you have questions about sharing information, ask.

3. Not everything has to happen in public

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees that, as federal employees, all of our communication via government email, Slack, and chat can be made available to the public at some point in the future. You should assume that, at some point in the future, anyone might be reading what you wrote in any of these channels. However, in the context of day-to-day work, different tools offer different levels of access. Here’s a quick reference to who can see what, when.

  • Only viewable by addresses: Slack DMs, Slack private groups, Email
  • 18F only: open Slack channels
  • 18F plus invited guests: Slack channels labelled XXX-otheragencyhere or XXX-partners
  • GSA only: Google Drive- you can share files outside GSA, but exercise caution!
  • Across the government: mailing lists
  • The entire Internet: Slack channels labelled -public, Invision and Mural.ly (if linked via GitHub), and GitHub (with the exception of private repos)