Project Background

What is Washington State Unemployment Services?

The Employment Security Department helps Washington State’s workers and employers succeed in the global economy by delivering employment services and an unemployment-benefits system. Part of their work is to process and manage initial claims for unemployment, as well as weekly unemployment claims.

Why a mobile app?

Washington State residents can file for unemployment benefits by telephone or online. There are no in-person unemployment offices in Washington state. The fastest way to apply for benefits is online, but currently, 46% of all initial applications are made over the phone. However records show that 94% of all claims could have been completed online.

The current site for filing claims and completing other weekly tasks is not mobile responsive and many clients have expressed their desire to use the site on their mobile phones. Because of this, I worked with two other colleagues to reimagine the claims process with this mobile app concept.


Sketch, Axure, Pen & Paper, Coffee, Government Data


Project Plan, User Research/Analysis, User Flows, User Journey, Personas, Sitemap, Clickable Prototype

The Current Process

(The "Before")

"I once pushed the back button on accident while filling out my claim and it closed my claim out, submitting it as incomplete. I waited on the phone for 7 hours after that, only to be told that there was nothing they could do and I would just miss out on my money for that week! I was infuriated!"

-Joe, 32, on unemployment for 10 months

After an initial walkthrough of the current process, we discovered the following potential pain points:

  • The weekly claims process can currently only be completed on a desktop-only site or by phone.
  • The same information is required each time a user files, but no information is saved from week to week.
  • One of the requirements to remain eligible for benefits, a log of jobs you've applied to, can only be completed by printing a physical copy of the PDF form and saving it for potential audits.
  • When a user begins the claims process, they are transferred to a separate site with a completely different look and feel.
  • There are no back buttons, or options to save and return later


To better understand our users' wants, needs, and motivations, I conducted 13 user interviews, reviewed scholarly journal articles and government data, and reviewed other state government services apps in a comparative analysis.

Secondary Research

To gain a better understanding of our target user demographics and ensure that our interview sample was representative, I looked up government statistics on unemployment in WA State. I also looked up scholarly articles regarding the effects unemployment on wellbeing in different areas of one’s life to better understand the mindset of users experiencing unemployment.

Comparative Analysis

I did a review to find other federal and state-level government services apps, many of which suffered from similar usability issues as the the WA claims process. I also decided to look into both financial services apps and health promotion apps.

User Interviews

I first used snowball sampling to identify and interview people who are currently on unemployment. However, we weren’t getting a truly representative sample of unemployment clients. We were lacking input from low-income and younger people of color, so I partnered with the local WorkSource office in Seattle, WA to interview clients who were currently on unemployment.


I worked with my team create an affinity diagram of our interview data, which resulted in us creating two different personas. Using interview data as a guide, we ended up creating a user journey to keep in mind the emotional state of our users when using our app.

Affinity Diagram

The themes that arose from each interview were very impactful. Not only was the current process was not contributing to an efficient and supportive user experience, it actually seemed to be contributing to stress and negative emotions of users who are already experiencing a stressful life event.


Our analysis revealed two different types of users, which became our two personas.

The first, and primary user, tends to be lower-income with less social capital/support and lower education levels. This person was usually the primary source of income for their household.

The second tends to be from a higher-income background, is college-educated, and has more financial support (from a spouse or parents) to mitigate the effects of being unemployed.

User Journey

In our interviews, we had clients tell us the story of how they came to be on unemployment and how they ended up on unemployment benefits. Based on this information, we were able to construct a typical journey that a person takes to get to unemployment services. I incorporated the "5 Stages of Grief" framework, as many of the clients expressed emotions and struggles that were well aligned with this model.

Design & Testing

After defining our goals and criteria based on initial user research, I facilitated a design studio process to generate solutions to specific user-identified pain points.

We went through five rounds of paper prototyping and testing to get rapid feedback on our early designs. This allowed us to identify most of the usability issues and make changes quickly before creating our wireframes in Sketch. Once those were done, we created a clickable prototype in Axure to continue testing.

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Through user testing, we were able to make several changes based on user feedback, including:

  • Removed the 'home' screen and made the weekly claim screen the home screen, as this was the highest priority user task
  • Our global navigation was orginially hidden when completing the weekly claim and job log processes. This was confusing to users so we added it to those screens
  • Users reported using other apps and websites for their job search, so we removed the job search feature in our app and instead added an option to scrape information from existing accounts like LinkedIn and Monster.
  • Added the percentage complete indicator on the weekly claim flow
  • Simplified the main weekly claim and job log screens and added clear indicators so users could quickly see whether a claim or job log had not been completed for the week.
  • Added the notation "All progress auto-saved" within the weekly claim process instead of having a 'Save' button, which users stated made them think everything would have to be manually saved.

Visual Design

During our research, users reported feeling stressed by the process of filing their claim. I utilized my background in stress prevention research and incorporated images of nature into our branding. We chose Mt. Rainier, an iconic symbol in Washington State, because it is familiar to users and research has shown that viewing images of nature significantly reduce stress levels.

User research also indicated that, because of the out-dated design of the current site, users had a general lack of trust in Unemployment Services as a whole. We chose shades of blue and a simple and clean interface to help instill trust in users.

The Solution

Our final design was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from our last round of user testing with those currently enrolled in the Washington state unemployment program. Users stated that the process was clear and efficient, and many wondered when they could start using the app.

View Axure Prototype

"This is so much better than the current process, when can I download it?"

"This would make the process every week way less stressful and way easer, you guys are going to make this actually happen, right?"

"I love everything about this. You should pitch this to WA ESD, I don't think they realize how real of an issue this process is."

Weekly Claim Task Flow (Slider Gallery)

Job Log Task Flow (Slider Gallery)

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