Sunday April 30, 2017

How to make government data exciting

USAFacts uses design thinking to help make government data cool to look at and easy to understand.

USAFacts uses design thinking to help make government data cool to look at and easy to understand. (usafacts.org)

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Steve Ballmer believes that facts matter. That's why the Former Microsoft CEO just launched a new project called USAFacts.

It's an online data portrait of the U.S. government that shows where the money comes from -- and where it goes.

The idea is to tell that story a way that's easy to understand -- and that's no easy task when you're talking about 30 years of facts and figures from more than 70 different U.S. government agencies.

And that's where Seattle design firm Artefact came in.

354 David McColgin

David McColgin

Dave McColgin is an Executive Creative Director at Artefact and he was the lead designer on the project.

"Our goal became how to make this as clear and useful as possible," Dave says, "and give people much faster insights than just a lot of dense data in spreadsheets."  

Whether you're interested in government stats or not, the project raises all kinds of design issues about how to make heaps of data accessible and comprehensible.

And in our data-driven age, that's becoming ever more important.

"We had to talk to informed citizens about what their potential usage of something like this would be, what would make them trust it or not trust it, and making sure we factor in how it's actually meeting real usage and how it could be better for people," he says.

Even with the polarized nature of politics today, Dave believes that people are interested in having a resource to help them engage in political issues in an evidence-based way.

"We'd rather try to provide this public service and give people the tools that could make a difference, than imagine that there's no point."