nys-hero.png
 
 

My role

I led the design of New York Business Express across desktop, tablet and mobile since the outset of the project in early 2015. 

In November 2016, I established usability testing goals and led the optimization of the beta product.
 

Client partner

Pitched, procured and led this quarter of a million dollar UX design account. I led this complex engagement with 51 stakeholders from 5 government agencies, including day-to-day contacts in Governor Cuomo's executive chamber.
 

Strategic Partner

Led and conducted qualitative and quantitative research to understand user needs, business goals, define design goals and establish measures of success. 
 

UX Design Leader

Translated discovery findings into a focused design vision and detailed plan to address highest priority user needs, business goals, and technical feasibility.
 

UX Design Practitioner

In charge of defining a statewide responsive UX/UI framework for online forms and data intake. Created design prototypes and performed usability testing on early design prototypes. Produced 300+ responsive screens and style guides for build.
 

Development Partner

My traditional design process is Lean UX / Lean Analytics. But the client stored all design deliverables to develop them all at once. And that is how you turn lean into waterfall. As of December 2016, I was partnering with stakeholders and developers to pivot to a more lean release 1. 


The challenge

Simplify a half a dozen business resources into one user-friendly experience.

New York State is one of the most highly regulated states for businesses. Consumers can enjoy the protections such oversight offers. But for small businesses, regulations can seem like like a labyrinth of bureaucracy. 

For example, a new restaurant owner would need to figure out that she needs to meet requirements from half a dozen state agencies. Each agency has its own information, user accounts, and processing timelines. Federal and local regulations could easily double her compliance work.

Work is being done to try pass legislation to reduce the actual regulations themselves. In the meantime, to reduce regulatory burdens for small and medium sized businesses Governor Cuomo initiated New York Business Express, an online one-stop shop to guide a person starting a business in New York State.  

   Red tape blues  , The Economist, Jul 5th 2014. Calls out New York State for its many business regulations. 

Red tape blues, The Economist, Jul 5th 2014. Calls out New York State for its many business regulations. 


 
 

My approach

User insights

In order to understand the greatest value Business Express could provide to users, I needed to know: What are the biggest pain points in starting and running a business? 

But trying to answer this question in terms of personas or a typical New York State business owner is impossible. We have corporate offices for behemoths like Home Depot all the way down to mom and pop bodegas in the city. Large corporations have expediters on staff to execute compliance measures. So Business Express focuses more on small and medium sized businesses who may be doing their own compliance work. 

Even within our small and medium business / user categories we have a wide range from highly regulated food and liquor purveyors to mostly non-regulated professional services, like business consultants.

To hear the top concerns and complaints from business owners first hand - and at volume - I used customer service data and shadowed call center representatives at the Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF). The DTF call center takes calls on behalf of several business-focused agencies. So that would give me a good cross section of business concerns. In addition to data reports from the DTF, my call center findings echoed the user research I conducted when I designed New York City's Business Express.


Pain Point

Help me get my head around this

Business regulations vary widely, with almost no requirements for a business like a freelance graphic designer, to hundreds of pages of applications and supporting documentation for something like a pub. It's hard to know what you're getting into.


You think something [a certification] is going to take a couple months and it could take a year!
— NYC Restaurant Owner

user need

Keep me updated

I used a data cube from the state to analyze what steps businesses took after filing initial paperwork. It could take as little as 5 minutes or as much as 2 years to meet all statutory business requirements.


I checked with [the state agency] about my application every day after the ‘4 week’ processing window. Eventually, I found out it had been forgotten on someone’s desk!
— WBE Certification Applicant (Woman-Owned Business Enterprise)

User need

Help me do good research

Getting an application approved relies on providing correct information. But information about applications and how to comply with regulations is spread over a dozen different agency websites - sometimes in duplicate.


 

The vision

Your custom guide for business in New York

The majority of user needs all come down to time. Less time spent dealing with bureaucracy means more time being an entrepreneur. Business Express helps get bureaucracy out of the way with: 

  • Dedicated customer support center, like a 311 for business;
  • Customized checklists of business requirements with links directly to all online applications, instructions and contact information;
  • Streamlined online applications, reusing citizen data across agency lines wherever possible;
  • Business dashboard showing application statuses, key dates and alerts;
  • Centralized documentation and help center;
  • Customized business incentives lists.


Measures of success

Governor Cuomo's primary goal is to show that New York is business-friendly. We could track if more businesses come to or start in New York after we launch Business Express. But any increase may only be correlated - not causal - since the governor is working on many initiatives to drive business in New York. 

Using 2016 DTF call center data as a benchmark, to measure success for improving the user experience, I will look for a couple things post-redesign:

  • Reduce the rate call center calls related to business formation transactions
  • Shorten average end-to-end business formation timelines
  • Understand what is working and why in usability tests on the redesigned product.
 
 

 

Easing pain points

"Help me get my head around this"

User research revealed that the average citizen needed a better way to understand and keep track of what's required of her business. As a solution, the Custom Business Checklist starts with an illustrated questionnaire guiding a citizen through a series of questions to create a list of requirements unique for her business.

My questionnaire design starts with simple questions like "business location." Each set of questions is predicated on the answers to prior questions.  

Smart defaults and conditional display rules keep the simplest use cases highly streamlined, while allowing for edge cases under secondary links and buttons. A good example is the "I don't see my location here." link in the predictive search dropdown below. 


 My custom business checklist questionnaire follows form design best practices.

 
 

More complicated questions use progressive disclosure to educate the citizen as she moves deeper into answering questions. Information can be expanded and collapsed inline. Expanded information can open a lightbox with additional information, or videos. And links to full-length articles are available from expanded views. 

The end state of the questionnaire above is a completely custom list of state, federal and local business requirements.New York State online applications are available directly from the checklist.

See a demo of the prototype below. 


 
 

 

Concepts

Initial Concept: Bundle Applications from the Checklist

At first, I explored the idea of allowing the user to apply for several NYS applications using one Apply Now button. After clicking Apply Now, the user would be able to fill in one set of fields that would automatically propagate to all applications in the bundle. Magical, right?

 
 

 At first, I explored the idea of allowing the user to apply for several NYS applications using one Apply Now button. 

 
 

However, this concept hit a couple of snags:

  • Applications cannot be bundled due to the choreography of application processing between the state and federal governments.

  • We explored a partnership with the federal government to see if we could process aspects of our bundled application on their behalf. However, our requests were not approved by the IRS. So we had to take a new approach.

  • Submitting any single business application could be a simple as a filling in a handful of data fields, or as complex as a providing hundred pages of supporting documentation. If we bundled applications would the user be overwhelmed with keeping track of which application called for which document? And when a simpler application was done, how would she submit that and not the others?


Revised Concept: Apply one at a time, using custom checklist as guide

Bundled applications give way to serial applications. This has a few benefits:

  • Filling in one application at a time reduces the cognitive load of keeping track of each application's progress.
  • Simpler applications can be submitted without being held up by more complicated applications in the bundle.
  • Each application has its own life, displaying real-time statuses, alerts and progress.
 
 

 Revised design for the custom business checklist acts as a progress dashboard, helping the user keep track of each item. 

 
 
 

Simplifying the forms

The current state is that a user may use a half a dozen different online forms, each with its own design, and each asking for the same information over and over.

The State needed one common design language, or a UX/UI framework using form design best practices. My form design library: 

  • allows a citizen to reuse data captured elsewhere in the system;
  • uses smart defaults;
  • allows edge cases via progressive disclosure;
  • uses client side and server side field validation for real time system feedback;
  • provides contextual help tips appearing next to the field in-focus;
  • follows best practices for structured fields, auto formatting data like phone numbers;
  • varies input and selectors to optimize data entry for mobile devices.

 


Simple ideas got the most push-back

Managing feedback from our 51 stakeholders was often challenging. At times, I was prepared to defend a big idea that that ended up being approved by all. Other times, simple things like best practices got a great deal of client scrutiny.

I'll paraphrase the most common theme for push-back, "We can't use smart defaults because it will look like we're making suggestions on how to form a business. We need to remain agnostic." Places where my design optimizes for the most common use cases got a ton of pushback. Here are just a few: 

  • Suggestion: Address defaults to displaying US address fields, with a link to toggle to international address fields.
    Pushback: Many stakeholders wanted to show the international fields intermingled with the US fields. 

  • Suggestion: Data collection only applies to the application a user is filling in.
    Pushback: Many stakeholders wanted to capture dozens of fields of profile data even if it was not needed for the current application. 
     
  • Suggestion: Combine name fields and parse the information on the back end.
    Pushback: Many stakeholders felt the process of validating names would be too onerous. They wanted the status quo of using 4 fields for a person's name. 

 

Simplifying the journey

The Custom Business Checklist and online applications give the user a way to progress through each requirement, seeing real time statuses of prior applications. 

See a demo of how this works below. The first step in the forms is a redesign of this feature on the Department of State website. 



 

Optimizing for the most common applications

Form design best practices and a UI framework won't go very far if the underlying logic is not tidy.

Collaborating with NYS stakeholders, I identified the most common end-to-end flows for business formation and the most complex edge case scenarios. I created detailed user flows for the most common / most complex scenarios. NYS business analysts used my flows as a model for filling in an exhaustive use cases for all applications on the Business Express system. 

 High level sitemap of Business Express. In addition, I designed 20+ detailed user flows cross referenced above: Business Wizard (aka, custom business checklist), and CBA (consolidated business applications). 

 

Finding NY Business Express

NY.Gov/Business

The Business Express home page was controversial. The stakeholders were divided: half felt, as I do, that our one-stop-shop was ideal to replace NY.Gov/Business; the other half wanted to keep the existing landing page on NY.Gov/Business and direct users to Business Express from there. 

The Business Express home page design iterations reflect this tension, ranging from strictly applying NY.Gov template (below, far left) to a branded template (below, second from right). The final home page design is a combination of NY.Gov guidelines and Business Express content modules (below, far right). 


Over the course of the project, we had 5 very different home page designs from the very simple to more branded. 


 
 
 

Partnering with development

Designs were delivered in a rolling cycle of 4 batches. While I was working on batch 2 designs, the build team could begin working on batch 1. 

I led a team of 5 subcontractors, including Production Designers and Business Analysts to produce 300+ design screens, functional and design specifications for 3 responsive breakpoints.


 

The result

As the work moves through build (in build as of March 2017), I meet regularly with stakeholders and developers to clarify the design vision as represented by our specifications documents. The NYS Business Express build and support teams for this project now employ dozens

New legislation was passed to allow participating agencies to share data, and allow more streamlined applications as per my design work.

Three new government offices were created to implement and support my design work on Business Express: NYBE product team, dedicated call center, and centralized application processing center.

As of November 2016 usability tests are being planned for the beta product.
Business Express Launch 1 is scheduled or early 2017


 
 
 

Next Case Study

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Partnering an incredible client team, I led this successful 2000+ page responsive redesign on time and on budget.