Keywords: data presentation, official statistics, usability, human-centered design
The U.S. Census Bureau serves as the leading source of official statistical data about the nation's people and economy, and has the responsibility to empower citizens to effectively and efficiently use the data. To accomplish this mission, an initiative was taken to develop a platform that makes it easier to find, use, and access the data on any device, anywhere, and anytime. This knowledge-based data dissemination platform is to be user-driven, extensible, and integrated across all the censuses and surveys conducted by the Census Bureau, and consequently to simplify the user journey by consolidating the core capabilities of existing data dissemination systems into a unified portal. In this paper, we will describe a human-centered approach to the design and development of the platform, in particular, the process of incremental improvement in search functionality. The process involves user research, expert review of design concepts, low-fidelity wireframe usability testing, and high-fidelity usability evaluation of major releases. We will use the data search functionality to exemplify an iterative approach to improving the usability of data access by the general public: First, we conducted user research on existing data dissemination tools; second, we derived design principles from the user research findings and operational requirements; third, we developed a usability evaluation plan that integrates usability testing into the systems development lifecycle; fourth, we conducted iterative usability testing during design phases and on major releases. This approach allowed us to (1) minimize potential usability problems during the application design phase, (2) identify and address usability problems during the application development phase, (3) assess functional components usability upon the completion of development, (4) establish user performance benchmarks for the application. Our progress on this project manifests the soundness of this human-centered approach.