For much of my UX career, I’ve been pretty solidly tied to the Washington DC region. While I’ve never committed to any one specific industry, just given the amount of Federal UX work that has been available locally, Federal-related contracts have been responsible for a decent percentage of my overall consulting revenue.
Although I’ve been registered as a Democrat since I turned 18, I’ve done UX work for the Federal government under administrations of both political parties, and in fact, have never felt uncomfortable with my role on these efforts. In reality, the single time that I actually said “no” to UX work for moral reasons wasn’t related to government at all – it was with an effort to help a tobacco company better promote their products.
Mass migration out of DC?
When I talk with friends and colleagues who live far “outside the Beltway,” elsewhere in the United States or in other countries, I sometimes hear a funny picture painted. People imagine that when there is a huge administration shift, there is a mass exodus from the DC area. They imagine that very large numbers of people move out of the area and an equal number of new people move in and take on government positions.
Yes, this is certainly true for some people. But for the most part, the positions that more definitively shift are the high-up political appointees. And while there are certainly people below those appointees that will quit, even now, that represents a finite number of workers – not large chunks of Federal employees.
Further, even among those that no longer have a position in the Federal government, they are not necessarily moving out of the area but are taking on other political or non-political roles.
UX and Politics
I don’t know of any UX professionals who are political appointees and imagine that like many Federal positions, most Federal employees who are UX professionals are still at their jobs. Anecdotally, I also have observed that there seem to be more UX professionals who lean left than right. So those outside the beltway may wonder why they are still there when they aren’t aligned politically.
By and large I’ve found that funding for UX work in the Federal government is most often centered around helping the public use and understand government resources. Thus for the most part, the policies are set, and it’s a matter of conveying information.
So in many ways it seems somewhat irrelevant whether a UX professional agrees with the policies. As long as the focus is on making information and resources understandable, the conveying of government information – whether that information is seen positively or negatively – gives power to the people. Information is power.
Certainly there appear to be falsehoods from the White House, and I can imagine that there are some areas that are so politically charged – such as those dealing with immigration policies or climate change – that may be too difficult emotionally to work with on a daily basis.
Yet I still trust in the majority of the Federal government to convey accurate information about policies and procedures, even if I don’t always agree with those policies.
At the moment, my current set of contracts is largely centered around private sector and state government work. But should I have the opportunity to do Federal UX work in the future, and even under an administration that I don’t politically align with, I would expect to accept that work. I would use my UX skills to empower the public and to try and make a difference.
Image of capitol: Black Russian Studio / Shutterstock