Government forms aren’t typically thought of as colorful, or, for that matter, easy to use. Enter Seattle, ever on the cutting edge! On Monday customers coming to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Street Use Permit Counter will see a rainbow of permit application colors, differentiating lines of business, and sporting a format much easier to interact with. Here’s a before and after example, of the application for a renewable or “Annual Permit” application:
So what inspired the more inspiring forms? Firstly, it was the over-arching effort to create a more customer-focused service model; that effort includes adding permit technicians to the counter – beginning Monday; as well as a host of other improvements this spring and summer (all aimed at reducing wait times while better preparing
applicants with active coaching and refined tools).
Secondly, indirectly, it was the life history of SDOT graphic designer Mayumi Thompson. In 2009 Thompson lived in England, with her husband and mother-in-law, and they were in the process of moving out. Thompson’s mother-in-law asked her to go to the local council office (don’t worry, I’m getting to the point…) to pick up a form for her, to revise her tax assessments based on no longer having boarders. When Thompson picked up the form, she says, ”I was impressed by the layout and design of it. I had never seen a government form that looked like this.”
“It struck me as being very easy to read and fill out as well as inviting, especially for older people like my mother-in-law, commented Thompson. ”I thought the most intelligent part of the design was their use of white boxes to clearly indicate where users had to fill in information.”
It wasn’t Thompson’s experience that started the idea to revamp the permit application forms. Rather, the permit counter team asked for ideas to update the forms - to make them easier to decipher; inviting to use; and, yes, enjoyable (it’s an ambitious team).
Thompson began researching the friendliness of government forms. What she found in several U.S. cities, including Seattle, wasn’t so warm and fuzzy; bland, text-heavy forms prevailed. That’s when Thompson’s memory from England kicked in, and she looked up the very form her mother-in-law had asked to pick up that day five years ago (you can see it too, at: http://www.bassetlaw.gov.uk/pdf/CC2_yellow_proof3.pdf).
“I studied them and created a design for street use based on them,” Thompson said.
So, when you come in to the SDOT Street Use Permit Counter to apply for a permit, and find yourself “enjoying” the inviting colors and the way the clear white boxes beckon you to fill them in, think of England (and Seattle, for dedication to public service and improving it).