Where’s My Tax Refund? Redesigning IRS.gov

It’s tax season. Which means for three months, IRS.gov is the most visited government website. According to analytics.usa.gov, there were over 90 million page visits over the last 30 days. Most users then visit the “Where’s My Refund” page to find out when they’re getting that money back from the government.

Well I definitely want to make it rain too, so I go off to find out where my refund is. Except, I’m using my iPhone…

(From left) IRS.gov, “Where’s My Refund”(Safari iOS), IRS2GO iOS app

Wow… if I were anyone else, I’d have quit after seeing the home screen. Would any user trust a website that doesn’t render well on mobile devices? If it looks like it was designed for the web before smartphones, then users are going to infer its security was built before smartphones. Fortunately for them, the IRS has a simple, well-received mobile app.

It’s a good start… but still a disjointed user experience.

The Mock Redesign

Like my previous redesign, I used the U.S. Draft Web Standards as a jumping-off point to redesign IRS.gov, and the “Where’s My Refund” tool.

IRS.gov Homepage (BEFORE)
IRS.gov Homepage (AFTER)

My Redesign Considerations:

  • Priority — Using analytics.usa.gov, I found that the three most-used tools on IRS.gov are: Filing taxes, Refund Status, and Pay Tax Bill. First order of business was to make those three stand out. Cramming dozens of actions and lists of links into one viewport doesn’t help any one user, but it can confuse all of them.

Using a government service shouldn’t be stressful, confusing, or daunting. It’s our job to build services that are simple and intuitive enough that users succeed the first time, unaided. — “Play Three”, U.S. Digital Services Playbook

  • Common Languages — I propose that languages can be accessed in the “global header” of any official “.gov” website. This way, users can come to expect to find the same functionality on all government websites, and agencies don’t have to wrestle with where to include language portal links in the main content area.
IRS.gov Homepage Scroll
  • Space — Adding to the first bullet, the content is partitioned into familial sections that flow down the page using generous white space. Users are going scrolling on mobile devices anyway so it is already a learned gesture. For users with accessibility considerations (i.e. dexterity issues, or carpal tunnel), using the tab key to access the main navigation menu items will still find the same content items that are hidden below the fold.
Color Palette
  • Color — The color palette foundation is built on a spectrum of vibrant blues and cool greys. A flat persimmon is used as an accent color for primary buttons. In this way the palette can still exude trustworthiness; important when most IRS tools ask users to divulge their personal data over the web to complete.
  • “Illustr-icons” — Instead of relying solely on text to convey simple messages, I tried my hand at illustrating icons for supplementary visuals throughout the site. They deliver visual cues about the nature of content with less cognitive load.
Left: “Where’s My Refund” Interaction animation | Right: “Where’s My Refund” responsive layout.
  • Responsive & Seamless — Instead of taking a user off-site to access the “where’s my refund” tool, make the form accessible one click from the homepage. The app becomes pointless since a user can now do the same actions faster on the redesigned website version; moving users closer to their goal with less tools

Address the whole experience, from start to finish — “Play One”, US Digital Services Playbook

IRS.gov Home Fullpage.

Thanks for reading! If you haven’t, be sure to check out my other related article for CIA.gov:

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Andrew is a User Interface Designer at Sandia National Labs and a freelance web designer. As a diehard proponent for Government digital modernization, he want to change the way the government web is developed. Follow him on Twitter for his tweets about UI design, the government, tech, jokes, and sarcasm.

Design Lead @AWS Government Transformation || Co-founder @coformaco || Former @USDS @SandiaLabs @CIA || drummer/funnyman/dad

thoughts on digital engagement and social action