Presently, the innovative concept of human centered design appears to be headquartered among the sleek, modern edifices of Silicon Valley. When one considers human centered design, one most surely conjures images of young professionals troubleshooting problems in cutting edge facilities located in sunny California. Imagine, then, one’s surprise upon discovering that one of the most influential hubs of human centered design is located not in Silicon Valley, but instead in the basement of a nondescript building in Washington, DC.
Sandwiched without fanfare between statuesque courthouses and pillared government buildings, the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building houses The Lab@OPM. This lab, established by the Office of Personal Management in 2012, is one of the most notable successes of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, which sought to reinvigorate innovation in the United States in order to boost the American economy and quality of life after the housing crash of 2008. The lab self describes their work with this mission statement: “We use human-centered design to build an innovative and creative Federal workforce putting people at the center of our problem solving process to improve public sector challenges.” With this purpose in mind, the Lab@OPM has been updating a multitude of the most flawed federal programs for the last several years.
Easily among its most highly publicized projects, the Lab@OPM was tasked in 2016 with revamping the much-maligned USAJOBS.gov, the federal employment portal famous for its plethora of glitches, error messages, and lack of navigability. Acting- OPM director Beth Cobert realized that USAJOBS.gov was so confusing that it was driving applicants to abandon their applications altogether, so she empowered the Lab@OPM to use their human centered design techniques to remedy the grave problem. After conducting a multitude of user interviews in order to derive insights that could transform an applicant’s experience and rapidly prototyping possible solutions to the dysfunctional software, the Lab rolled out an improved USAJOBS.gov. This revamped website boasted new features, including technology allowing applicants to track the progress of their applications, save progress on a pending application, and check on required documents without leaving the application process. The program was toted as a success, with director Cobert hailing the effort as, “improving our ability to attract the best and the brightest to apply for jobs in the Federal workforce.”
The Lab@OPM in the midst of its innovation process for the relaunch of USAJOBS.gov.
Besides the success of their USAJOBS.gov revamp, the Lab@OPM has enjoyed several similar successes. In 2015, they assisted the US Department of Agriculture to redesign its lunch application form, shortening the lengthy paperwork to a single page application. Current projects include improving the way veterans are trained and integrated into the workforce and adjusting federal employee healthcare plans to improve coverage. Silicon Valley might boast institutions such as IDEO as hubs of human centered design, but Washington DC’s Lab@OPM has proven itself a reputable source of innovation on the opposite coast of America.