The year 2020 was a difficult year for many countries partially due to the COVID19 pandemic. COVID19 not only affected the physical health of the United States, the pandemic led to a historical rise in unemployment due to the temporary, or in some cases permanent, shut down of businesses both small and large. In March 2020, claims for unemployment insurance benefits reach record highs, at one-point peaking at over 6.6 million claims. In April 2020, US unemployment reached a record high of 14.7%. These record numbers have tested the stability of each state’s economy and unemployment assistance programs.
The state of Florida’s response to the COVID19 pandemic has consistently made national news. Following the national trend, Florida unemployment also reached a record high. The unemployment rate peaked at 13.8% in April 2020. It was not the delay in business and school shut downs or the delay in mask wearing requirements that brought my attention to the State of Florida. The record high unemployment rate led to record high unemployment insurance benefit claims in Florida. These numbers led to consistent user experience problems faced on Florida’s unemployment insurance website (connect.myflorida.com).
Florida Unemployment Rate in comparison to U.S. Unemployment Rate, (labormarketinfo.com, 2020)
Weekly unemployment insurance claims (washingtonpost.com, 2020)
The negative user experience of Florida’s unemployment insurance website, also called UI Connect, brought national criticism and questioning of Florida’s handling of unemployment concerns including, but not limited to, the maximum benefit and extensive delays in Floridian residents receiving benefits. Florida maximum benefit that claimants can receive maxes at $275, ranking Florida has the least supportive in unemployment benefits (fileunemployment.org, 2020). This concern has only been amplified in national views due to the user experience problems of UI Connect. News source, WPBF stated in 2020:
“Meanwhile, Democratic state lawmakers continue to call for changes to the state's unemployment benefits system and website. Those lawmakers, including Rep. Emily Slosberg of District 91, are calling for an increase in the maximum benefit amount to $500, an increase in the number of eligible weeks from 13 to 26 and a "complete overhaul" of the DEO's CONNECT system.” (wpbf.com, November 2020)
ABC News shared a similar sentiment in April 2020:
“’The system was implemented in a way for it to be a total failure. Why? Because it would keep the politician looking good by pretending that less people are filing for unemployment when the reality is, even before the pandemic, people were having a really hard time not only applying but in getting benefits,’ said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat who has been besieged with calls from constituents looking for relief.” (abcnews.go.com, April 2020)
The COVID19 pandemic has caused physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and/or financial strain for millions of Americans, including those in the state of Florida. Users already in difficult situations should not have to face a platform and/or system that is designed to fail. For this reason, I was happy to take on the project of redesigning Florida’s UI Connect website.
I distinguish between goals and objectives. Goals are the desired results that I want for this project prior to needed research. Objectives, which are shared later in this case study, are the specific actions I will take upon further user research. The goals were inspired by the attentional control theory which is stated in a study by Manpreet K. et., in 2014, as follows:
“According to this theory, anxiety affects cognitive processing by depleting resources available to the central executive of working memory (Baddeley, 1996, 2003), but this occurs only under certain conditions, such as when an individual is performing difficult or multiple tasks, or when experiencing personal, social, or environmental stress (Baumeister, 1984; Beilock & Carr, 2005; Eysenck etal., 2007; Rai, Loschky, Harris, Peck, & Cook, 2011). When such resource depletion occurs, it may manifest itself either through decrements in effectiveness (i.e., accuracy), efficiency (i.e., reaction time), or both, depending on other factors, such as how much control the person has over when to make his or her response.”
The primary goal of this project is to redesign the claimant login homepage once individuals who have already filed claims with UI Connect log into UI Connect.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity utilizes multiple websites to provide Reemployment Assistance information, services and benefits including FloridaJobs.org, EmployFlorida.com, mobile.connect.myflorida.com. The second goal is to better help users access the information needed from the websites.
The third goal is to better understand the user and the emotions users may have when interacting with UI Connect.
The users that I focused on for this study are Florida residents who have already filed a claim with UI Connect.
I conducted secondary research to learn about prior user experiences with UI Connect during the COVID19 pandemic. For this case of this study, the timeframe of the pandemic is January 2020 to December 2020. Resources included news sources and social media platforms. New York Times shared a Floridian’s experience with UI Connect in April 2020.
“After Ernst Virgile lost his job at the Fort Lauderdale airport, he sat up late at the computer in his living room night after night, trying to apply for unemployment, refreshing his browser again and again while his wife was sleeping.” (nytimes.com, April 2020)
Similar stories were also found on Florida DEO’s official Twitter page (@FLDEO) and Facebook Page.
“Back LWA payment request processing has been delayed to anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks. No explanation offerred. Happy Holldays to everyone else who has become and still remain a FL DEO droped ball.” (a Facebook post from November 2020)
In addition to researching user experiences with the UI Connect website, I also researched the education level of users to have a better idea of the varying language and reading comprehension levels of potential users. According to a Washington Post article in 2016, “Approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.” This finding emphasized the importance of incorporating plain language into my design.
I created low-fidelity sketches of my goals for the UI Connect website based on my secondary research.
Primary research included a card sorting activity based on links currently provided on UI Connect prior to this project, an evaluation of a screenshot of the login homepage of UI Connect when view on a mobile device, and followed by an interview. After a pilot study to better refine interview questions and determine the best means of collecting data, I recruited five participants via my personal network and UpWork who are or have been Florida residents during the COVID19 pandemic. In addition, I interviewed a Floridian Employment Specialist.
I used UX Tweak to conduct the card sorting activity. Although participants needed guidance and confirmation throughout the activity, the results provided information that helped me to learn that certain link labels were difficult to understand with or without context and links that seemed closely related.
The interviews uncovered useful user pain points that varied depending upon participant’s previous experiences and/or preconception of UI Connect and Florida’s unemployment support during the COVID19 pandemic. Themes derived from the interviews were primarily determined based on the topics I mentioned to participants.
Theme 1: Aesthetics
1. Change font family and enlarge font size.
2. Use a more consistent color palette.
Theme 2: Perception of Unemployment Support in Florida
1. Users already had preconceptions of FL prior to 2020 that translated to how they perceive FL has handled unemployment in 2020.
2. Users learn about unemployment through personal experience, news, and people within their acquaintance circle.
3. Perceptions of how FL has handled unemployment in 2020 is primarily negative.
Theme 3: Knowledge of UI Connect Prior to the Study
1. Experiences are consistently negative.
2. Users struggled with access to website.
3. The primary source for assistance is phone calling DEO Connect Customer Service Representatives which oftentimes did not work.
4. The steps and information needed from the claimant for requesting benefits and filing a claim are unclear.
Theme 4: Use of Plain Language
1. Words need to be explained better on the website.
2. There needs to be more use of plain language.
3. It possibly may be better to label links based on what they do rather than what they are.
Theme 5: Information Architecture
1. Information appears cluttered.
2. A heavy cognitive load is needed to navigate the claimant homepage.
3. Information needs to be prioritized better.
4. There is too much information on the page.
Theme 6: Other Interfaces Used for Financial Reasons
1. Most users check their banking mobile app at least once a week.
2. The UI website screenshot would be more suitable for larger screens.
3. Banking apps used are simpler in design.
4. Applying for a claim should be simpler.
Theme 7: Emotions During COVID19 and Conveyed Through UI Connect
1. Emotions that users are likely to have prior interacting with the UI website are primarily negative.
2. Emotions that user may feel viewing the current UI claimant homepage website are primarily negative.
Theme 8: Information and Resources Needed from Potential Users but Not Easily Accessible On UI Connect
1. Information regarding the job market needs to be more evident.
2. Information regarding job search and job skills need to be more evident.
The content hierarchy needs to be improved by emphasizing links and information that users are most interested in knowing.
Links and website information need to either be reworded or explained in plain language.
Links that take users away from UI Connect need to better guide users off of the UI Connect website.
The user interface needs to be more visually appealing, take user emotion into consideration, and improve user understanding of UI Connect content. This can be done by changing the font size and font family to improve readability and incorporating icons or images.
I used InVision to create the wireframe for UI Connect. Although I was not able to test out links with this platform, this was a great platform to add notes as I designed. As expected, the user flow for my wireframe evolved from my sketches as I continued with my user research. The primary changes included moving the “Select A Language” dropdown menu from the privacy and fraud acknowledgement page to the mobile website landing page. In my sketches, I included a link to claim unclaimed benefits in a pop-up message that were later removed in my wireframe. Finally, I found myself conflicted with how to display links to pages outside of “Claimant Home,” “Messages,” and “Unclaimed Benefits.” I grappled between including a “Resources” link in the bottom menu bar that leads users to a page that provides an image and explanation of each link that was displayed on the original UI Connect website or including a burger menu.
HIGH FIDELITY PROTOTYPE
I used Adobe XD to create my high-fidelity prototype of the UI Connect website. To show the possibility of combining the UI Connect website and the mobile.connect.myflorida.com website into one website, I used the same colors from mobile.connect.myflorida.com. In addition, the dark blue color is often associated with emotions and constructs including trustworthy, reliable and relaxing.
The user flow and information architecture were partially inspired by mobile banking apps and mobile responsive banking websites because most user participants mentioned that they check financial information via banking. Claimant information and claim benefits are emphasized with the use of color and whitespace. I emphasized the contact page by making it its own link in the menu bar because user research indicated that claimants frequently contacted the DEO Customer Service for assistance. Within the contact page, I included a description of the link to FloridaJobs.org and links to the DEO’s Twitter and Facebook so users have the ability to share their experiences with other in the hopes of getting further information or insight. Finally, I decided to organize the other links as subitems within an accordion menu. Grouping the links under commonly asked questions helped to give words that were not easily understood in the card sorting some additional context.
This project by no means addresses all of the various concerns regarding Florida’s unemployment support. Issues including but limited to regarding maximum benefit amounts, some negative customer service experiences, and the application process extended beyond the confines of this project. In addition, websites connected to UI Connect including FloridaJobs.org had their own user experience problems that extended beyond this project.
In addition, this project had presented restrictions or missing information that placed me in a position to make certain decisions. Without understanding the reasoning behind the differences in logging in via the UI Connect current website, which requires a claimant’s social security number and/or claim ID and pin number, and the mobile.connect.myflorida.org website, which requires an email and password, I chose the login that was most consistent with the mobile.connect.myflorida.org website. Another restriction included the recruitment of participants for my research. Because discussing personal unemployment situations can be a difficult topic to discuss for many, I found it difficult to incentivize individuals to partake in this research.
Despite the barriers faced, this is a project that I believe can be impactful for the state of Florida when taking the attentional control theory into account in user research and design. To improve and build upon my design, more usability testing and user research to find other pain points would be greatly needed in the future.
High Fidelity Prototype Gallery by Faith Dismuke