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USAFacts A Trustworthy Source for Civic Enlightenment

The United States government is vast in scope and spending. It serves 321 million people across 90,000 jurisdictions, spending more than $5 trillion a year. The size of the government matches its mission, which is stated in the United States Constitution: “Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” As citizens, we seek to hold the government accountable to this Constitutional promise, yet we lack the tools to understand government priorities and evaluate effectiveness. In the absence of data, reasoned and informed debate on the role and scope of government becomes virtually impossible. Differences of opinion, once only natural in a democracy, become unbridgeable as objective facts are hard to come by.

USAFacts came to Artefact with a significant challenge: help make dense government data easy to understand, visually digestible and accessible for everyone. When USAFacts launched, more than 2.5 million people visited the site in the first 24 hours, a testament to the demand for a resource that helps people explore and understand government data and its impact.

“The platform [USAFacts] looks nothing like its bureaucratic counterparts or startups like OpenGov, which also tries to organize and parse government data. Its typeface is pleasingly legible. The site navigation is intuitive. But most importantly, Artefact has made dry facts and figures actually feel engaging.”

WIRED

“Artefact’s designers took that mountain of raw information and translated it into a series of infographics that help make the slog of data not just accessible, but comprehensible.”

WIRED

“Artefact understood that the site had to be trustable. It had to be compelling for people with short attention spans. But most of all? It had to be nonpartisan–a true, fact-based enterprise that didn’t take sides on issues.”

Fast Company

Process

Data Deep Dive

In addition to interviewing potential users of USAFacts and experts like data journalists, we also dove into the existing work produced by USAFacts. The USAFacts team had compiled and created hundreds of data tables, some of which were already being used in a course taught at Stanford. We worked to understand the volume, variety, and veracity of these existing datasets to determine what visualizations would be most appropriate, as well as scalable across the site.

Translation

Once we dove into the data and understood how it worked at a deep level, we set out to determine the visualizations that would be clear, accurate, and most engaging. We started to translate the charts, tables and graphs into visualizations that captured the nature of the content and started to determine how the information came together across the site in a cohesive system.

Ideation

Using tools like Excel and Tableau, we played with the data to understand their attributes and what visualizations would work best. Once concepts started to take shape, we sketched, refined, and built information architectures that would organize all of the content and create a cohesive set of visualizations.

Implementation

The critical moment came when we put the data and website design together for the first time. We created specifications for treatment of data and metadata with contingency plans, which allowed us to test and tweak the design of USAFacts through the eyes of the user. By partnering throughout software development and data refinement, we were able to work closely with USAFacts to prioritize the most important features for launch and create a roadmap of ongoing feature deployment for the future.