U.S. Census Bureau | Civic Digital Fellowship
Design Capstone Project, Summer 2019
The Civic Digital Fellowship places students on high-impact teams inside the federal government to innovate and solve problems using their software engineering, data science, product management, or human-centered design skills. It's created under the non-profit, Coding it Forward. The 2019 cohort is composed of 50+ students from 34 different universities.
The Tangibility Campaign was conceptualized for the Communications Directorate of the U.S. Census Bureau with the 2020 Census survey as the main use case. This capstone project takes an out-of-the-box approach that uses the Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) and recent trends of subscription boxes to reenvision how we can bring the user back to the core of census surveys.
Creating a scalable project, this process also details how a similar concept can be applied to internal stakeholders (ex. employees, directorates, etc.) to the HR Onboarding process.
In the current design process, the U.S. Census Bureau develops a set of branding guidelines for marketing materials per decennial to ensure cohesiveness across digital and physical products. This is ideal for easy template creations and instructions for employees and community members to follow. However, when it comes to targeting varying user groups within census surveys, the same branding guidelines are applied to all, thus diluting the effectiveness of personalization across user groups to garner more survey responses and attract more visits to the census.gov site.
For context, the Census Barriers, Attitudes, Motivators Study (CBAMS) provides an in-depth analysis of different user groups of the census through focus groups. The broad audience groups included in the 2020 CBAMS are as follows:
American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN)
Black or African American
Chinese—Cantonese and Mandarin
Low Internet Proficiency
Middle Eastern or North African (MENA)
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI)
Spanish (Puerto Rico)
Spanish (U.S. Mainland)
Young and Mobile
These are examples of current outreach materials for the upcoming decennial survey. The same general template is used for all audience groups across the board. The top left is for college students, the top right is for rural communities, and the bottom left is for the black or African American community.
Research Subscription Boxes & Census Bureau Products
Working in the public sector, there's a lot of bureaucratic red tape to weave around, and with only 10-weeks in my internship, it was important to have a better understanding of the current marketing strategy and promotional materials first.
Methods of Content Delivery
- Data Visualizations
Subscription boxes such as BarkBox, FabFitFun, or Blue Apron have seen an 890% growth since 2014. 60% of current subscriptions are for food & Beauty, dwindling in major tweaks among competitors and opening up an opportunity for other categories to grow.
4/7 of the use cases are digital formats.
What else can we do besides emails with promotional videos and consistent social media updates?
Target Audiences: middle-aged adults, young professionals, Census Bureau employees
- Subscription site visits primarily come from direct search
Effectiveness of social media has seen a decline
- Email has been generating twice as much site traffic
White text denotes what the Census Bureau wants and prioritizes
Combining these two ideas, it was about creating a customized experience for each audience groups, giving them a reason/incentive to actually care about the census. Because I lived with 50 other Civic Digital Fellows and 50 more Capital One interns whose ages ranged from 18-38, I decided to work on this idea for the young professional audience group first for the purposes of user research.
Through this, I was able to refine the broad user journey I wanted each audience group to experience.
An Introduction to Campaign and to Census Survey
Item that provides specific details as to "Why Care?"
Item that takes users to a Census data viz to see their data at work
A takeaway gift
Leaflet for Young Professions. This would be the #2 Item in this curated box.
I decided to apply the principles I developed based on the young professional audience group to a user group that historically has lower response rates. Most of my research came from the CBAMS, focusing on the hard-to-count. This includes young children, cultural & linguistic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and displaced individuals. The recurring reason as to why they don't want to fill out the census survey is rooted in distrust in government, privacy concerns, and a general lack of knowledge about what the census
For the first and second item a.k.a the Introductory material, I found that most people who are Undercounted don't really know what the census is nor do they know who is considered hard-to-count. I first developed a pamphlet along with an introduction card for the campaign itself. Wanting a form of interaction, the QR code on the back of the pamphlet links to a specific article on the census.gov website about the undercounted youth. This also contributes to the third item of redirection towards the data visualizations on the Census Bureau website.
At the same time, I decided to prototype the physical box. I first designed the lid and interior to look like before creating a mock-up in photoshop for visualization purposes. Then, I used a tri-fold and following the natural folds, I created a box that was similar to the mockup
Transitioning from Mock-up to Reality
For the takeaway item (4), I decided on designing a t-shirt because of their ability to be seen by many when worn; also, in terms of feasible production costs, t-shirts fit into the budget of the Communications directorate and could likely be produced in-house. The idea of giving people a takeaway item is to nurture this idea that the Census Bureau isn't out to maliciously use people for their data.
Give a little, get back a lot.
The last item is probably the most important aspect of the entire box. Like a good story, to start and end strongly has the ability to empower the user and tell others. The Census Bureau is generally strongly dependent on trusted voices of the community to spread the word about surveys due to mistrust of government over the years.
Playing around with different concepts, I wanted it to be cheeky and fun while portraying the idea that people should spread the word. I was stuck for a while until I went to the cafe during my lunch break and saw some gum packets lining the cash register. I had always thought they looked like teeth, and it just clicked. Correlating fresh breath to gum to talking to trusted voices, I prototyped multiple gum packets as the call-to-action. I ultimately decided to still with the full-face because it provides more context so the user won't have to spend a lot of time interpreting what the item is versus what it wants the user to do.
Final Deliverable + Demo Day
View my demo day slide deck here!
Currently, this project is undergoing the user research portion of the implementation process. It's to be trialed at conferences and events hosted by the U.S. Census Bureau HQ. On a smaller scale, curating a welcome package with the same user journey in mind for employee onboarding is also in the works to be implemented.