Applying Human Centered Design to Boost Your Agency's Global Mission


Applying Human Centered Design to boost your agency's global mission



Lorie DubaskyLorie Dubasky, VP of Federal Systems, LinkedIn

The United States African Development Foundation (USADF) is an independent U.S. government agency established by Congress to invest directly in African grassroots enterprises and social entrepreneurs. USADF's investments increase incomes, revenues, and jobs by promoting self-reliance and market-based solutions to poverty. USADF creates pathways to prosperity for marginalized populations and underserved communities in the Sahel, Great Lakes, and the Horn of Africa. USADF engaged ASSYST to reimagine and redesign the primary external communication platform, the agency website. This project was undertaken in the backdrop of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), which was signed into law in 2018, requiring all federal agencies to make sure their websites are user-friendly and support digital forms.



  Discovering with the Content Consumers - ASSYST understands that every consumer seeking online services is presented with several options. Considering the unique mission of USADF, our approach was to identify the audience, discover problems, and select the right problems that need a solution. With this in mind, ASSYST created a research brief and associated objectives. Our inquiry centered around empathizing with user personas; for whom are we building or redesigning this site? The generative research process involved creating a roster users including Agency Leadership, Communications, Program Management, Grant Management, and Information Technology. Most importantly, we considered the international audience seeking grants representing Small and Medium Enterprises, Entrepreneurs, and Community Organizations.


What stood out in the problem discovery process was the observation from participants about USADF's long history and focused commitment to providing pathways to prosperity for underserved communities in Africa. But these pathways were not effectively communicated on its public-facing site. The wealth and breadth of USADF's archives contained information relating to its programs, data, results, and success stories over the course of 40 years, but this was not immediately shown to website visitors. USADF stakeholders were looking for ways to bring those stories to the forefront by highlighting their relevance to the audience.


We conducted interviews, contextual inquiries, and then created research-based personas and user journey maps. The landscape of the inquiry tried to address "How Might We" (HMW) questions. The main questions we decided to address were:

1. How Might We deliver value to USADF’s current and future audience?

2. How Might We improve the discovery of USADF information online and help people follow appropriate pathways?


Qualitative outputs from Interviews and Working Groups allowed us to document user behaviors, thoughts, and emotions over time to understand the USADF audience journey. Additionally, we visualized and sketched candid reactions from users when accomplishing tasks and their pain points to build optimal Journey Maps for the website.


  Designing for Harmonious Communication and Storytelling  - Our design studio developed several prototypes that empowered the site audience by engaging and taking a role in their interaction with the USADF site. The creative team wanted to deliver compelling visual narration and storytelling; ASSYST accomplished this by presenting the site visitors with video and brilliantly large photos that showed the stories of people impacted by USADF.


Most often, the site audience was looking for briefing sheets in the "Where We Work" section. We realized that the map area presented an excellent opportunity to showcase USADF projects and project funding by country. Therefore, we placed the map section on the landing page to employ parallax scrolling for enhanced user engagement. The ASSYST Creative Team chose the parallax scrolling method for the front end, which created a sense of depth for the USADF's mission, vision, and messaging. Parallax uses multiple layers that are scrolled over; having the first layer as static and the subsequent layers employing 3D effects in a sequence brings an element of surprise and engagement. We chose this powerful approach since it is engaging and helps progressively raise and elevate the user's interest in the content and makes them feel inspired. Further, it allows the site audience to take an active role in their interaction when project data for the respective countries are presented.


Our design used a mobile-first approach and a color palette that provides smooth transitions between pages in order to serve a consistent, engaging experience for all site visitors regardless of the device used. This approach helped to demonstrate USADF's clear purpose and to enhance the user experience. Through parallax scrolling, we showcased a range of content elements for each theme in a way that makes an impact. Additionally, the design enabled the flow of animation to provide a frictionless browsing experience. With every sprint walk-through, we continuously tested the site's functionality for usability with the user community. A balance of moderated and non-moderated efforts contributes to the design iterations. With each release, the usability testing feedback results were added to the product backlog for progressive refinements. Thus, the usability testing directly contributed to the prioritization of the backlog that results from formative research.


  HCD Impact and Outcomes  - The Human Centered Design approach established and communicated shared mission and vision across a diverse set of USADF stakeholders. This further helped to rapidly conceptualize, prototype, and test new ideas. The project presented an opportunity to adopt agile methods and tools for increased collaboration and creative problem-solving. In addition, the iterative design process generated qualitative and quantitative data to support shared decision-making and pave the way for future refinements.


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  ASSYST Digital Services - ASSYST Digital Services is a strategic partner for customers across the industry spectrum, including DoD, Federal, State, Local Governments, Nonprofit organizations, and International Agencies. We implement user-centric platform solutions for websites, knowledge management systems, mobile apps, service delivery platforms, search-based portals, interactive toolkits, open data catalogs, data visualizations, and AI-powered Chatbots.


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