Day in the life: Jenn Noinaj, UX strategist and designer

What does a designer at USDS do? What types of designers work at USDS? In this new blog series, you’ll get to know members of different disciplines and teams, and find out what it could be like to work at USDS. Follow us on Instagram for more moments and apply now if you‘re ready to make an impact.

I start my day at the FEMA Headquarters, working at one of the open desks for USDSers

I’ve been at USDS for a little over a year now and it’s been a great experience. Before USDS, I was a Senior Product Designer at National Instruments where I gave scientists and engineers the tools to create user interfaces to test and measure their hardware. I joined USDS to make a difference in the lives of everyday people.

Currently I’m supporting the team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) working to improve the process to apply for and manage federal assistance. In 2017, more than $9.5 billion was given to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments (including fire departments and law enforcement agencies,) to help rebuild roads, schools, and other public infrastructure. Over 5 million survivor households in impacted disaster areas received assistance. USDS is working with FEMA on their initiative to modernize and consolidate their existing systems and business processes, building a new system that meets applicant and recipient needs.

During my time on this project, my role has constantly changed. When I first joined, I was more of a product designer — leading user research, creating wireframes and prototypes, and conducting usability testing. Now I’m focused more on defining the user experience strategy and making the case for design. I’m excited to share my day with you and hope you’ll consider doing a tour of duty with USDS as well!


7:30 AM

I wake up and get ready. I’m not a morning person and I really wish I was! It’s spring, but today’s a rainy day so it’s gloomy outside.☔

8:00 AM

I have a small breakfast and check emails and Slack. We do a daily virtual standup so this is when I figure out what my schedule looks like and what I want to get done today. I also pack my bag, lunch, and snacks for the day.

8:30 AM

I head into the FEMA office via train. One of my favorite perks is our transit subsidy, so it’s a no-brainer for me to take the train to work. It’s a quick 20-minute ride where I read 730dc and catch up on some news.

9:15 AM

Unfortunately, and this actually doesn’t happen often, the train was delayed due to a track maintenance issue so I finally make it into the office. I’m currently meeting with stakeholders to get their input on our project at FEMA, both to inform the direction of our project, and to feed into developing improved project metrics. I send out emails to stakeholders and schedule meetings with them in the next few weeks.

Glennette, myself, and James at FEMA

10:00 AM

James, the USDS FEMA team lead, and I meet with the project’s program manager to give him a status update of the work USDS has been doing and talk about the issues he’s been dealing with at the project level. We strategize on how to approach a few of the program’s process issues.

10:30 AM

We recently on-boarded a new USDS user researcher and designer, Glennette, on the team. I help get her settled in our space at FEMA.

11:00 AM

I have a one-on-one with Angie, a business analyst supporting the project. Since I’ve been more at the strategy level lately, I make sure to check-in with teammates to see how things are going and what kinds of blockers they see at the project level.

Angie and I during our one-on-one in a conference room at FEMA

12:00 PM

Afterward, the team and I hustle over to our DHS DS (Department of Homeland Security Digital Service) headquarters in Chinatown for one of my coworker’s going away lunch. She’s switching projects from DHS immigration to the VA. I’ll miss her but this is very common at USDS given our tour of duty model.

We take the train over to DHS DS in Chinatown

1:00 PM

I have a design interview scheduled. I love interviewing candidates and shaping the hiring future of USDS since the team is constantly rotating.

2:00 PM

Glennette, the new designer, and I work on an ecosystem map for FEMA. We’re trying to illustrate some of the user pain points and the system complexity at FEMA to make a case for doing user research and usability testing and to get more design resources.

3:30 PM

The day has flown by! Every Thursday we have DHS DS staff where we welcome new team members, share announcements and project updates, and deep-dive into topics of our choice.

The DHS DS team during our staff meeting

I present a field trip report on my trip to SXSW earlier this month.

4:30 PM

I finally get a chance to sync up with James and we work on figuring out how to increase the amount of user research being done on the project. I also send more scheduling emails and start to draw the ecosystem map Glennette and I white-boarded in Sketch.

6:00 PM

A few co-workers and I go out for tacos after work. (I never say no to 🌮!)

Not us at tacos but, since a lot of USDSers are transplants to DC, we do hang out often

8:30 PM

I finally get home, and rest and recharge for tomorrow.


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