Wednesday 15 June 2011

From dotcom to dotgov

nationcrafting: from dotcom to dotgov

Every designer, from architect to automobile designer, is supposed to design with an eye towards the humans who are going to use the product, and yet it is only with the advent of the web that the terms "usability" and "user-centric" became common currency among designers.

So, if there's one thing the web has taught designers, it's the idea of "used form": form that is measured and evaluated as it is being used, as the user jumps from one conceptual space to another with, hopefully, as little frustration as possible.

Question: how is the user's engagement - or frustration - measured?

Answer: by the number of users simply clicking away to another website.

For example, the measure which some interaction designers call "site drop": the percentage of people visiting an online shop who add items in their online shopping cart but just don't bother completing their transaction.

Under these circumstances, different qualities start emerging from form, such as usability and user flow, the quality of user satisfaction and general happiness to continue with the current interaction or information flow.

These are some of the qualities that interest us, as aspiring nation designers, because much of the interaction with the nation (represented by its institutions) is an interaction with entities that are not objects but forms. To go back to the metaphor of the knot: when you interact with a nation's institution, you interact with a knot, a form through which humans pass, more of an idea-thing than an actual thing.

So, let's compare the quality of our current interaction with the state and the quality of our interaction with the web. Let's look for a way to express a nation design's measure of user engagement or frustration, the way it is expressed in interactive design in terms of users simply clicking away and using another website instead. It'll quickly become clear that this ability to click away, to go somewhere else, which has ensured the rapid evolution of the web as a whole, is extremely primitive in the current system of interaction between citizens and nations.

The nation's users, the citizens, effectively get to "click" only once every five years or so, during elections. Even then, the options available are not actually options to "click away" to another nation. Users can, of course, "click away" by physically going away, "voting with their feet", moving their person and belongings to another nation.

However, this is a costly exercise for most of them: selling their house, gathering objective information about other nations, learning another language, dropping their social network of friends, leaving their families, quitting their job, getting a visa or work permit to work somewhere else, etc.

These factors are just some of the reasons why so many humans remain attached, like mussels to a rock, to the same state throughout their lives. They partly explain why, despite the fact that both websites and nations are forms rather than objects, the former are evolving in terms of usability at a very rapid rate, whereas the latter remain mostly stagnant.

Until we get to a point where the users of our nations have the option to get out with the same ease they currently have when clicking away to another website, this difference in evolution rate will remain. As a result, of course, the difference between the quality of our online services and the quality of our nations' services will keep on growing. The former will outshine the latter until the point, sometime in the future, when technology enables users to move their person and belongings to another nation at significantly lower cost, both personal and financial. Perhaps, at that point, the relationship between nation and individual will be such that they will not even need to move anything physical, just their data.

Any bad nation service providers will then quickly become like a knot without a rope, a ghost of the shape that once was.

As nation designers, therefore, our measure of comparison, our Litmus test, will be that of the web, always keeping in mind the option our users will have, in the future, of simply "clicking away" to another nation.


  1. Just wanted to say this blog is not only very inspiring, but so far seems to hit bullseye every single time. Love the format, too. Keep it up!