The client

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is the agency charged with the planning and upkeep of Texas’ highway and bridge infrastructure. In addition to this core function, TxDOT also provides guidance and financial assistance to cities and counties throughout the state towards the development of local transportation infrastructure.

The challenge

The TxDOT website, developed in 2012, had been built with low visibility into the user goals driving people to the site. As a result, the 6,000 page site was organized primarily around the organization’s internal structure and processes, which proved unintuitive for users and required staff to personally guide them to information. The web team was given one year to rectify this and to modernize the site overall.

The result

A targeted user research effort was undertaken to identify the primary user types that accessed the site and why. Insights garnered from this research were converted into action plans for the development of new architecture, workflows, and content for the site organized around what users were trying to accomplish and the most intuitive ways for them to do so.

Discovery

To begin the research process, I conducted a survey to identify customer-facing internal stakeholders throughout the agency’s departments. Follow up interviews were scheduled with each of these individuals to determine things like:

  • What services they provided
  • What customers used those services
  • Known frustrations/pain points their customers expressed with the service
  • What processes or systems currently support those services
  • Who else within the agency has a stake in that particular process or service

Not only did these interviews give me an opportunity to get to better understand the inner workings of the business, they also provided an opportunity to build positive rapport with key stakeholders by making them feel informed and included. Some stakeholders even revealed prior department-specific user research their team had conducted in the past; the insights from these efforts were included in our own.

After internal stakeholder interviews were concluded, I used analytics reports from the site to cross-check and validate their feedback, and to identify gaps that warranted further research down the line. I distilled all of this information to create preliminary audience buckets and personas to focus our problem solving and prototyping efforts.

Excerpt of preliminary persona from TxDOT audience and persona guide

IA

Using the qualitative and quantitative feedback gathered from the discovery phase, as well as independent research into each of the identified user types, I developed a preliminary IA to be used for task flows and prototyping. The new IA took a goal-oriented approach, with navigation organized first by the most common topics users came to the site for, then by the core subtopics within each of those categories.

When testing was conducted with external users against this IA, the results showed an average 91% success rate for findability of topics.

Preliminary Information Architecture for TxDOT

Prototyping

Because of the tight timeline for the project, it was decided to leverage the user testing phase of the project to both validate our proposed solutions and to fill gaps in our knowledge of specific issues users were facing.

Based on the insights gathered during the research phase, I identified several key task flows to focus on solutions for. Working with engineering, ADA/Accessibility, designers, content, and stakeholders, prototypes of each flow were designed and internally vetted before being tested with customers provided to us by internal stakeholders. The user testing helped us refine our approach as well as to gather and triage problems for the UX and engineering backlogs.

An example of research insights being used during prototyping
Task flow diagram for the TxDOT.gov newsroom

Design System

Part of TxDOT.gov’s usability struggles stemmed from a lack of a cohesive and consistent visual and functional language across the site. Authors updating the site often had to hard code things onto pages, resulting in a patchwork, bloated frontend codebase that was a struggle to maintain. And the print-based style guidelines for the website’s design meant that ad-hoc changes often had to be made to account for the migration of those standards to screen.

To solve these issues, in collaboration with ADA and engineering, and with the assistance of other designers on the team I developed a design system to provide a consistent and accessible experience for end users, and a flexible and extensible one for internal authors. I worked with the engineering and content teams to refine the function and properties of each of the components and patterns to ensure ease of use, upkeep, and deployment.

TxDOT Design System Color Palette
TxDOT Design System Tab Component