Adding functionality to Boston.gov for ordering vital records certificates online
Scope of Work
Challenge
Citizen-Centric Functionality
Boston.gov was redesigned by IDEO to be more modern and citizen-centric. Their goal is to make all services available online and offer account registrations to citizens.
At the time, the city of Boston was looking to upgrade their systems to request, pay, and manage vital records certificates on their website while retaining the option to do it in person. They needed a scalable and responsive design that embeds perfectly within their current site  and could be eventually used for other online services.
Getting Started
I have requested marriage, birth and death certificates before. I know ordering a copy of a certificate through a government agency or website is different than the first time because there is no life-altering event or an intermediary(e.g. officiant, hospital, funeral director) involved. Just a direct path—you and the government.

General site findings on Boston.gov

I’ve only visited Boston a few times and never actually lived there. I did go to Boston.gov for a deeper dive with a site audit on how to request a certificate while taking into consideration of design requirements and brand consistency.
I gained further insight by looking at the process of other urban cities. The options of ordering a certificate online were not ideal. A few cities were similar to Boston—non-existent. Some outsourced to vital record sites breaking the user flow.  Also these third-party sites tacked on considerable processing and shipping fees. The last option was making users jump through hoops to get to the vital records ordering page. The last option was my least favorite since it created extraneous clicks and barriers potentially leading users to give up or rely heavily on search engines for the information they seek.

Site Audit on Boston.gov

Current Flow for Requesting Birth or Marriage Certificate by Mail or In-Person

Interview Findings
Among the people I interviewed, most found interactions with government agencies to be a “necessary evil” in order to get their must-have documents. Most of their attitudes were shaped by inefficiencies, complicated terminology, difficulty navigating the site, and unclear information.

Interview findings

Meet Paul
After gathering my findings from interviews, this persona was based on interactions with government agencies and to reflect a real-life scenario of modern times.
Defining the Feature
Referencing Boston.gov site, I added new pages on how it would fit into the existing site structure. Reflecting on the process of ordering other documents on the site, I followed suit on the steps of completing the task of ordering a copy of the marriage certificate.

Sitemap

Task flow

We are Boston
New page designs are based on existing pages and adhering to style standards for cohesion and consistency while adding improvements (e.g.- transparency on terms, checkout progress bar, option for other language forms) to help users achieve their goal. While designing, I was also considering reusable components and design patterns to streamline the process.
Final Thoughts
Most government sites are a beast to work with—either with large complex systems that are difficult to navigate and comprehend; or the site more noticeably dated with each passing day. It was extremely valuable that Boston.gov had an overhaul and redesign along with a well-documented case study, brand guidelines and adhere to ADA compliance standards. It makes executing new pages and features to be easier across platforms and adhering to design guidelines for consistent look. I was also mindful to consider reusable components and design patterns to streamline the process.

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