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Legislating UX: 2018’s “IDEA Act”

Bottom Line Up Front: In December 2018, a law was passed to make Federal websites and apps more modern and user friendly.

Yesterday I mentioned how Government websites are notoriously horrible, and how a new “UX Score” is being rolled out. Today I explain where that came from.

“IDEA Act” = UX mandated for Government

In December 2018, Congress passed a law ordering Executive Branch agencies to whip their websites and apps into shape and to stop being so terrible. The “21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act,” better known as the IDEA Act, said that websites would have to be more like commercial sites, designed for user convenience and continuously refined with User Experience (UX).

In short, the IDEA Act legislated UX to civilian-facing agencies. According to, all Executive Branch agencies must:

  • modernize their websites,
  • digitize services and forms,
  • accelerate use of e-signatures,
  • improve customer experience
  • standardize and transition to centralized shared services, and
  • comply with the website standards, using the U.S. Web Design System.

New websites and apps must be:

  1. Accessible – be accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with Section 508
  2. Consistent – have a consistent appearance
  3. Authoritative – not overlap with or duplicate existing websites
  4. Searchable – contain a search function
  5. Secure – be provided through a secure connection
  6. User-centered – be designed around user needs with data-driven analysis
  7. Customizable – provide an option for a more customized digital experience
  8. Mobile-friendly – be functional and usable on mobile devices

Since then, a trainload of Government websites have undertaken this overhaul: Social Security, the EPA, the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, USAid, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Justice among many others. The beneficiaries of this effort are you and me, the American taxpayer.

What does this mean?

If you are a UX worker, you now have an entirely new industry in which to find jobs.

If you are a UX agency, there is a whole new field in which to expand your business.

If you develop digital products such as websites or apps, there are rules and standards you have to meet.

Wait, What About The Military?

Not there yet, unfortunately. The IDEA Act only applied to Civilian agencies, not the Department of Defense. There was some talk of including the IDEA Act in the 2021 Defense Budget, but the text is not available yet, so I don’t know if it made it through or not. I’ll make sure to let you know the moment I find out!