AIGA event recap: What’s in a brand?

Harlan Weber presents to AIGA Boston about the Mass.gov redesign project.

Massachusetts is home to a vibrant design and tech community. Learning from our colleagues in that industry is key as we redesign Mass.gov, and we got to do just that last week. More than 100 professionals turned out to our public critique and engagement session at Boston’s District Hall on March 1, hosted by AIGA Boston.

The 2-hour session was a big step in our process — soliciting other experts’ perspectives about the design choices we’ve made so far.

A balancing act

The biggest takeaway from our colleagues was that there’s a tension in this project between usability and traditional visual branding. Which comes first?

While we got a lot of positive feedback regarding our focus on usability, data-driven decision making, and user testing, the audience had valid questions and critiques about our branding efforts. Some didn’t feel a connection to Massachusetts in our new design language, and others mentioned that the logo concepts we developed didn’t embody our 4 brand pillars: helpful, human, dignified, and modern.

One of most useful pieces of feedback we got was that the brand of the site should more strongly relate back to the simplicity and usability we are aiming for. When we started the redesign, we wrestled with these concepts — form and function — and decided, we think we can have both. How this tension impacts our logo, color scheme, font choices, and brand guidelines is still evolving. But we’re so grateful for the feedback from our colleagues and their challenge to “put more Mass in Mass.gov.” Thanks again to everyone who attended!

Usability as our brand

So if much of our brand is defined by an intense focus on usability, as some of our audience suggested, what does that look like?

So far, we’ve outlined some design and content principles that we think will make it easier for everyone to use Mass.gov. In the big picture, we’re flipping the agency-centric world Mass.gov operates in now on its head. Instead, we developed our information architecture around the topics that government services fall into. We’re going through our content to make sure we’re writing in plain language, not jargon. And we’re exploring the jobs-to-be-done model in addition to personas to make the site a task-first environment — more on that in a future blog post.

While these choices might not fit into the traditional concept of branding, we think they’re important. Our job is to make every interaction you have with Mass.gov simpler, faster, and more meaningful, whether it’s finding a park or applying for unemployment.

What do you think?

Feedback is the lifeblood of this redesign. Do you think usability as part of our brand makes sense? How would you bring usability into a brand visually and conceptually?

Comment below, tweet us @MassachusettsIT, or send an email to MassITDigitalServices@MassMail.State.MA.US to share your ideas with us!

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