May 2015 – July 2015
Business Case Background
The City of Calgary’s Assessment Search is a web-based application attached to calgary.ca that allows users to view varying levels of property and business assessment details for residential and commercial properties across the city as well as businesses operating in Calgary. Each year, Assessment assesses the value of these properties and businesses for the purpose of distributing property and business taxes equitably. Property and business owners receive basic information about their assessment via mail. In order to receive more detailed information about how an assessed value was determined, owners must log in to Assessment Search using MyID, a proprietary user authentication software package for the City of Calgary’s digital spaces. Once logged in, the user can view information about their own property(ies) and/or business(es), as well as limited information about other properties and businesses.
Problems to be Solved
Assessment Search had a long history of receiving poor customer service ratings and not being user-friendly for the vast majority of users. Users struggled to find information easily, with too many clicks being required to find the data. As a result, high call volumes to Assessment during the prescribed review period resulted in long wait times and low customer satisfaction.
Assessment was looking to improve both the user experience and the information architecture of Assessment Search, while also updating the look and feel to a more modern design. Assessment expected that as the website became more encouraging and user friendly, more people would log in and use the website to receive and understand information on their assessments, thus reducing the number of phone calls to Assessment during the review period.
Solutions and Recommendations
At the time of this project, the City of Calgary was in the process of establishing a User Centered Design practice across the organization and used this opportunity to showcase the benefits of this approach to the entire organization.
As the sole UX practitioner for this project, I was responsible for executing all aspects of the project and producing the full range of deliverables from planning through to research, information architecture, content, interaction design and limited visual design while working alongside Assessment’s IT department to ensure the designs were executable.
Task: Conduct Present-State Analysis, Comparative Analysis & User Research
Deliverables: Personas & Journey Maps
This multi-stage research process ensured that I had a complete understanding of the information needs of users along with where the existing system provided the greatest challenges to users.
Task: Analyze user tasks and business goals
Deliverable: Information Architecture Schema
I worked with a number of key stakeholders within Assessment to understand both user and business processes and how information flows across these processes. Based on this understanding, as well as the knowledge gained during the user research phase, I created an Excel-based information architecture schema that balanced and reflected the priorities of both the users and the business. Once this schema was validated by users, I transferred the schema into a wireframing tool (Justinmind) in preparation for content migration and interaction design.
Task: Migrate and restructure existing content and generate new content
Deliverables: High-fidelity clickable wireframes and Design Recommendations Report
Much of the content that exists in Assessment Search is supplied by the City’s property detail database which meant that the content itself could not be changed, nor was the content itself the problem. Rather, the way that the content was presented to the user was identified as a core problem. Other problems that were identified included lack of consistency in look and feel across the site and poor information flow across the site. I worked with the business leads to make significant changes to specific pages, including the My Account landing page and the Property Detail Report. Information was prioritized and interactions were streamlined and standardized to provide users with a more consistent and predictable experience. Light branding in keeping with the new City of Calgary brand was also applied with the intent to contract a visual designer for more comprehensive branding during the development phase.
My Account Landing Page Wireframe
Property Detail Report (Residential)
Note: All personal data has been anonymized for privacy purposes.
Added Task: Provide guidance to Communications team
Deliverable: Basic information architecture for calgary.ca/assessment
Throughout the process of redesigning Assessment Search, I was approached by the Communications Lead at Assessment to assist and provide expert guidance in how to redesign Assessment’s public-facing calgary.ca presence to better align with the new Assessment Search design and to provide a more user-centric experience in general. Ivworked with the Communications Lead to conduct a content audit, redesign the information architecture, fully redesign the homepage, and create new content. All of these elements contributed to an improved user experience and better alignment with Assessment Search.
Risk Factors and Assessment
The Executive Leadership and Communication Teams were delighted with the final wireframes that were presented to them. Fully recognizing the shortcomings of the existing Assessment Search application, both teams acknowledged the significant and focused improvements that I was able to deliver.
Because the application relies so heavily on the provision of data from the property detail database, I was unable to conduct extensive usability testing on my wireframes, a major risk for this project. Assessment is currently in the process of developing the new Assessment Search. Once the new Assessment Search is launched, Assessment will need to conduct further usability testing and make refinements as needed.
Another significant risk associated with this project is the ability to fully execute the designs in a fairly conservative environment. While some members of the Executive Leadership Team are ready for and embrace change, others are not as inclined. A prime example of this challenge is in additional calgary.ca/assessment work that I completed. While many of her recommendations and design ideas were incorporated into a redesign, there are several instances in which the designs were altered without adequate consideration of the user experience. The new homepage design is a prime example of this risk.
Overall, this project was a success. The main goals of the project were achieved and all deliverables were well-received by the organization. Furthermore, the principles and practice of UX were introduced to the organization and have been implemented to achieve some quick wins and gain support for the approach.