Branding—UX—Storytelling

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NYC Open Records

NYC Open Records UX Hackathon

I participated in this one-day hackathon in Feburary of 2017 put on by the City of New York’s Open Records department. The city is required by law to make certain data and records available to the public. The goal of this hackathon was to eliminate redundancy in requests of data and records, thereby saving resources for the city, and making a better experience for the citizen seeking information. Our team won an award for the best solution in our challenge category. 

Design Brief
Established in 1977, the NYC Department of Records and Information Services (preserves and provides public access to historical & contemporary records and information about New York City government through the Municipal Archives, the Municipal Library, and the Visitor Center. 

OpenRecords is a quick, simple way for individuals to submit Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to an NYC agency. The web app also allows government employees to manage, respond to, and fulfill incoming requests. OpenRecords also empowers members of the public to find more information about requests without having to create a new record request.

OpenRecords began as a prototype developed out the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC in 2014. From there, Code for America fellows developed RecordTrac for the City of Oakland, who made their code public on GitHub. The NYC development team at DORIS took the code and have spent the last year revamping it for use by NYC.

Target Users
External — Journalists, advocates, everyday New Yorkers
Internal — FOIL officers; not the primary focus of the project

Key Objective: User Introduction/Guidance
— Help the user determine if they should be using OpenRecords for their request, or some other resource like the Open Data portal. In particular, we want to make sure users do not submit requests that a FOIL request would not help with (e.g. if the information they require is already in the Open Data portal, municipal archives, or public collections) 
— Help the user know to search and view existing records prior to submitting a new request (to ensure they don’t submit a duplicate request). 
— Set expectations for what the OpenRecords tool does and how it communicates?


Manhattan Borough President, Gail Brewer, briefed us on the project and the importance of transparent government.

Manhattan Borough President, Gail Brewer, briefed us on the project and the importance of transparent government.


Existing Site
We found that when users came to open records they didn't know what the site was for. There is a prominent call to action to Request a Record. However, one of the hackathon goals is to encourage users to first see if the information they are seeking has already been posted to the site. 

Business Goals
In order to save NYC Agency resources:  
— Decrease duplicate requests
— Decrease requests not related to OpenRecords
— Increase Search of Existing Requests

User Testing Findings
— The users were not clear on the purpose of the site
— The users did not understand the navigation categories
— The users did not know where to start


The team explored several approaches to the site, most focusing on a prominent search function. 

The team explored several approaches to the site, most focusing on a prominent search function. 


Design Decisions
— Prominent search bar is a clear call to action to search existing records
— Search will pull up OpenData, OpenRecords, and NYC Reports results
— Reorganized global navigation and copy
— Deprioritized call to action to Make a New Request
— User-centered copy guides the user through the process


Home Page Redesign
We replaced the button directing users to “Request a New Record” with a search bar that simultaneously searches OpenRecords, OpenData, and NYC Reports. This eliminates the need to explain the difference between the portals to users, who don't care, and only want the information the are looking for. We have retained the advance search for users who want to filter their results. 

The new home page features clarified language and a prominent call to action to search existing records before creating a new request. The search can access multiple databases at once, eliminating the need to clarify the difference between them. 

The new home page features clarified language and a prominent call to action to search existing records before creating a new request. The search can access multiple databases at once, eliminating the need to clarify the difference between them. 


Credits

Client: New York City Open Data
Judges: Lois Last, User Experience Design Director, NYC Gov Lab & Studio at NYC Information Technology & Telecommunications; Joel Castillo, Director of Application Development & Lead Developer for OpenRecords, NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services; Rebecca Tinkelman, Digital Director, NYC Office of Digital Strategy; Kiren Gopal, Special Advisor to the Counsel, City Hall NYC; Panthea Lee, CEO, ReBoot & member of OpenRecords original concept team
Team: Julia Choy, Cybele Grandjean, Aurelien Labonne, Jennifer Osborne, Nicole Vanchieri