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An official website of the United States government

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An official website of the United States government

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Design Principles

Our user experience (UX) design principles are the guideposts for product design work. They serve as our compass to keep us on the same path through the design process.

These principles:

  • Define value for our web-based products
  • Allow designers to create and implement designs that align with our values
  • Create a shared language and clear framework for design iteration and refinement

UX design principles

These apply to CMS public websites, and are strongly encouraged for all CMS-sponsored sites.

Be consistent.

  • Use similar looking elements and controls when functionality is similar.
  • Use similar wording and tone.
  • Make things simple and intuitive.

Guide users to the finish line.

  • Make things behave the way users expect, based on familiarity with external tools/sites.
  • Be sure users can complete the action or outcome they're seeking.
  • Tell users when they complete their action; provide notification of when the completed outcome.

Be usable by everyone.

  • Create designs that are universally usable and accessible. The UX doesn't need to be identical for all users, but must be accessible.
  • Consider all types of users to determine usability and accessibility – vision, hearing, mobility, color blindness, dexterity, cognition, etc.
  • Meet 508 and 504 required guidelines at a minimum. Strive to go beyond minimum requirements for optimum UX.

Set user expectations.

  • Use framing and other techniques so users know what's to come.
  • Leverage wayfinding best practices.
  • Be transparent.

Clearly explain results.

  • Clearly indicate issues or errors.
  • Use the plain language and terms users understand, not technical or legal jargon.

Establish trust.

  • Ensure data is accurate for all users. If data is accurate for only a subset, you can only use it if that data can be targeted to just those users.
  • Make it easy for users to set up and change information and communications preferences.
  • Build so information is secure and shared across channels appropriately.
  • Provide options for users to get information they need through a digital channel that they're most comfortable.

Be relevant.

  • Keep information meaningful, user-focused, and tailored to provide a personalized experience regardless of the user's role.
  • Anticipate role changes over time and build that into the experiences – roles can change even within a single user session as they progress through the UX.
  • Allow highly customized search experiences – do this in place of making recommendations for specific results.

Alleviate stress with empathy.

  • Consider the user mental model when creating experiences.
  • Follow CMS' tone of voice for content to be reassuring, positive, helpful, and human.


  • Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it.
  • Continue to innovate and improve – nothing is frozen forever.
  • Don't try to solve everything at once – solve for main user needs first and then make enhancement.
  • Leverage user research and data analytics to find enhancement opportunities.