User-Centered Design

The DATA Act team strives to gain a better understanding of those who will be using the new site and those responsible for uploading data to it.

Our user-centered design process starts with user research (learn), applies it to sketches, page designs, and functionality (make), and then returns to users for testing (test). This cycle will continue throughout the design and build phases until project completion.

Below are some specific examples of our work. For more about the user-centered design process in general, visit

Learn (User Research)

Through meetings, workshops, analytics, and user interviews, the DATA Act team has worked to learn about users’ needs, including what they want from the data, their technical environments (e.g., browsers, other software used), and their “pain points” with the current system.

From that, we have developed a preliminary set of targeted user types, called “Personas.” Personas are visual encapsulations of research findings that inform the design process. They capture real user perceptions, experiences, and quotations, which we draw on to build better software. Photos and personal details, however, are merely representative to help make them more real and relatable.

Below are eight examples of our current personas:

Citizen: Interested taxpayer who wants to see how federal dollars are spent

Recipient: State/local government, nonprofit, or private company that has received or want to pursue a contract or grant

Journalist/Watchdog: Skilled user acting in the public interest to identify potential waste, fraud, or abuse

Data Owner: The agency person responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the data

Agency Developer: The agency person or contractor with technical expertise to get the data into the USA Spending data store

CFO: The CFO of an agency (or his/her staff), who is accountable for the agency’s overall performance, and who also may use USA Spending as a management tool

Budget Analyst: Data reviewers with oversight across the government

Repurposer: Technically savvy user who aggregates, translates, and/or resells data for their own purposes

As more user research is conducted and designs are tested, our personas will evolve, expand, and continuously become more accurate.


Based on what we learn from users, our web designers create sketches, layouts, visualizations (e.g., sample graphs), and styling of pages. Our developers (coders) start building the actual functionality. These pieces constantly evolve based on feedback.

A sample wireframe used to test language, flow, and limited functionality

Fonts, Colors, and Web Best Practices: To achieve a consistent, attractive, and easy-to-use interface, will utilize the U.S. Web Design Standards. Developed by the U.S. Digital Service and GSA/18F, this resource follows industry-standard web accessibility guidelines.


The DATA Act Team developed a comprehensive plan for conducting recurring usability testing to meet our goals for a useful and intuitive site. Usability testing is critical for establishing and validating user performance measures, and identifying potential design concerns. The goal of testing is to improve the efficiency, productivity, and end-user satisfaction for both government agencies and public users.

Testing may occur in participant workspaces, in a website development environment, or anywhere real users will be accessing the site. It may be conducted in person or through remote testing technology. We will test multiple devices, including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

Usability testing includes Agency users to improve the data upload capability and “data consumers” such as grant recipients, journalists, and interested citizens. Issues identified during testing are addressed during subsequent cycles of design and development, viewable in our open JIRA environment.

Visit the Get Involved page for upcoming Sandbox testing dates for Agency users.