Maricopa County

A redesign of the online permit application websites of three departments of Maricopa County.

Independence Project: Ann Lei

Responsibilities: User Experience Design, User Interface Design, User Flow, Wireframe, Prototype, Concept Development, Ideation, Research

Timeline: 7 weeks

Storyboard Illustrator: Danqi Zhang

Software: Sketch, Flinto, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop

Design Challenge

Maricopa County has multiple departments with different servers that cause confusion for users while applying for permits.

How might we improve the digital experience of applying for permits in Maricopa County?


The project was a collaboration with Maricopa County Innovation Studio Department to focus on the permitting services website of three departments, which are Planning and Development, Environmental Services, and Air Quality. The goal of Maricopa County was for users to successfully complete online permit applications in the first attempt.

resident's platform using ipad. Home page mockup

Key Features

1. Guide Me

We provide a step by step guidance for users to decrease overwhelming text to find the department and potential permits they are looking for.

2. Shopping Cart

This feature allows users to save their progress in their account and work on it later if they need to get documents from other parties.

3. Personal Account

Applicants can not only work on permit applications whenever they wish to, but also view the application status in their accounts. In addition, all the previously inputted information are saved and allowed for autofill in the future.

How was it made?


Initial Research

The complexity of departments and the inefficiency of the system cause confusion for users while applying for permits. Users often chose the wrong department to apply to, and sometimes even had to go through the application process multiple times. For example, the pdf application form could not undo boxes users had checked. The only way to fix it was to close the tab and start all over again. Additionally, there was no way for users to save the application and work on it later.

Due to the heavy text of information for the application process, most users tend to skip it and that causes mistakes while applying. In addition, Maricopa County seems to lack clear instructions of what is necessary for the application and have some usability issues.

Learning from professionals

View Research Report

Key findings​

1. Preparation requires a vast amount of reading.

Users are often confused by instructions written at the beginning of the application process.

"Most people don’t read, even the information is online." - Deryl
"The permit is massive and overwhelming. It requires scanning and calculations." - Lucette

2. Problems with opening PDF with web browsers.

"Users just couldn't open the PDF and they would keep calling to ask for help." - Lucette

3. No way to get application information.

Applicants usually call and ask for guidance to fill out the application. After the permit is submitted, they often ask for the status of the application.

In person observation at Maricopa County


Our goal was to generate as many innovative and creative ideas as possible. We started with creating storyboards to imagine the experience we envision for users.

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Initial Concept Storyboard

The concept was selected based on how well it targets the problems we found through the research.

Usability Testing & Mid-Stage Presentation

The initial concept was tested in depth with the client in five rounds of two people group setting.


1. Reducing user uncertainty and users' perception of time would make the experience better.

"It would be nice to know how far I am in the Guide Me process." - Client #5

2. Both "Guide Me" and "Account" are important for users.

"Combining these two concepts is exactly what we wanted." - Client #1

3. Solidified the idea of shopping cart and autofill.

"Shopping cart would definitely help with the stress of users due to the complication of our permits." - Client #3

"Autofill is a great idea. We have so many common information that users need to fill in more than once." - Client #8


1. Added a progress bar at the bottom of the page.

This would give users an understanding of how far they are from the final result.

2. Built a more completed platform that covers all user needs.

The final version has both Guide Me and Account Page for users to apply for permits and keep track of their progress.

3. Flushed out the detail of these two features more.

The shopping cart allows users to apply for their permits online and find the documents to download if they wish to apply in person.

Visual design

I mainly used images and icons, also decreased the amount of text to provide users a less stressful and overwhelming experience.

Detail pages

(Click on the image below to view full size image)

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Full Process Prototype

This video shows the process of a user applying for a permit.

Here the user goes through what he/she can do in his/her account.

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What the client think

"I have been working in project roles for 15 years at the County and this is the closest and best thing I’ve seen in creating a true one-stop shopping experience. The models were great and it really made me wish I could go to our site now and have that functionality, really liked seeing the models."

Doug Kober
Special Project Manager
Maricopa County Planning & Development

Reflections & Further considerations

Talking to all parties that are involved

Even though we were improving the experience for people who were applying for permits, we learned a lot from the officers who were dealing with the paperwork. There were certain restrictions Maricopa County couldn't change due to the rule from the government. Regardless of how much we wanted to improve the experience for users, it is impossible to change it without the reformation of the system from the government.

Thinking outside the box

The difficulty of redesigning a website is that there was an existing framework already. It is important to start with the user needs and target the user problems. It takes extra work to rebuild the layout and user flows but it is definitely worth the time.

Integrating feedback

The mid-stage presentation and testing with clients have helped me understand more underlying problems we didn't find during the initial research. Having the feedback directly from people who have been working at the office is crucial and it elevated the final concept.

More Work