The City of Boston Brings Vital Records Online with Adobe XD

Ability to request birth certificates online helps city address increase in record requests due to REAL ID Act.

Image source: City of Boston.

The City of Boston is 386 years old, and under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the City works every day to ensure the residents of Boston are able to access the information and resources they need for the 21st century, creating opportunity for all. This work includes Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology, and for the past two years, Jeanethe Falvey, the City of Boston’s Chief Digital Officer, has led Boston’s Digital Team as they work to build positive experiences that meet the needs of those who work, live, and play in Boston. The Digital Team also upholds and continues to modernize the City’s brand and supports over 72 departments for their design, content, and development needs.

How this process began

The Digital Team wanted to show that bringing paper processes online could be more efficient for staff as well as residents. Looking around, there were plenty of places to potentially start, but one department rose to the top: the City’s Registry. The team knew that the demand was constant, and the processes very rooted in past paper practices. It was a clear decision, but not necessarily a clear path forward. The Digital Team and the City’s Registry were able to work together to create a better solution for processing birth, marriage, and death certificates, creating a streamlined experience for their customers: the residents of Boston.

“Boston City Hall works to serve our residents, and moving this process online makes it easier and more efficient for Boston residents to get the documents they need,” said Mayor Walsh. “Our Department of Innovation and Technology is constantly improving our services for residents, and offering crucial documents online is another step in our process to make service better for all.”

“We looked to see where we could make the biggest difference for people and where we could save residents money, time, and get their vital records in hand faster,” said Jeanethe Falvey, Boston’s Chief Digital Officer.

Before this, the only way to request and process birth, death, and marriage certificates was via phone, request by mail, or to physically go to City Hall. There was always an online option available through a state third party, but the process would take weeks to months, and various transactions could cost over $40.00 each time. From the start, the focus was on Boston’s residents. The Registry Department wanted to provide the best level of customer service that they could, and the Digital Team wanted to create the best possible online experience for the majority of requests, so that the Registry could focus its efforts on people with unique needs. Thanks to this shared goal, the collaboration worked really well and today, all birth, death, and marriage certificates available in Boston can be purchased through the City’s website,

Beyond the challenges in the process for requesting these documents, the City faced another looming deadline. The REAL ID Act, scheduled to go into effect on October 1, 2020, meant more residents needed their vital documents from the City of Boston. As residents began taking action to comply with the new legislation mandated by the federal government that will require an “enhanced driver’s license” in order to fly in the U.S., the volume of requests increased dramatically.

A critical element in digitizing the application process was utilizing the right tools throughout the process to aid the user research and workflow between designers, product managers, and developers. The City designers used Adobe Illustrator to create graphics, icons, and typography for this project and Adobe XD to create printable and clickable prototypes that informed the ultimate designs.

Image source: City of Boston.

Design at the center of everything

Passionate about user experience and web design, the team wanted every web page that a resident used to be an intuitive, accessible experience, and for it to feel like it was working for them, not the other way around. “Using design principles in this project was key—we feel strongly that every interaction someone has with the City of Boston is an opportunity to positively show how their city is running,” said Falvey.

With the belief that great design makes resources more enjoyable, government included, the City’s goal was to create icons and illustrations across the digital City brand that would give constituents a better user experience and allow them to have some fun along the way.

The team used Adobe XD to conceptualize and visualize mock-ups for the project and Adobe Illustrator to build icons and illustrations to engage citizens. With XD, the team found similarities in workflow to other Creative Cloud apps, such as Illustrator, that they were already using on other projects, as part of their Creative Cloud for enterprise license, which made the learning curve fast and easy.

Throughout the project, designs were easily shared directly from XD to the web and to stakeholders like project managers and developers, who could easily access the mockups to view and provide collaborative feedback on the designs.

Image source: City of Boston.

“Working in a system like Adobe XD, allows us to be both creative, and structured where necessary, about our Brand Guide. Our designers can efficiently work up wireframes, mocks, and designs which we often print to get in front of users for feedback,” said Falvey.

To ensure that the designs were working not only for the project stakeholders, but also for the residents of Boston, the team took the designs to the Registry Department to ask constituents how they felt and get feedback on how they looked and if they overall made sense.

“We could quickly put them together in Adobe XD, verify them in person and easily make changes,” said Falvey. “What’s critical is that you have a tool that facilitates the process your team needs to run, not one that creates more burden. By using Adobe XD, we were able to get designs in front of our users early and often.”

Online requests see increase

Since the launch of death, birth, and lastly marriage, the City continues to see an increasing trend in online requests, and as importantly, positive feedback from constituents that had no idea the process could be so simple, and even enjoyable.

The City Registrar, Patty McMahon, who has been with the City of Boston for 27 years, did her own test of success. In the first week after birth certificates launched online, the phones in that area of the Department didn’t ring for a 10-minute period, which hadn’t previously happened in her memory; all while online orders were rolling in. A recipe for success for the City of Boston as they continue to leverage Adobe Creative Cloud in their efforts to make compelling public experiences a government standard.

“Empowering our residents to access these digital tools has allowed the City to provide a higher level of customer service to those who need extra support,” said Patty McMahon, City Registrar. “I’m proud to continue this work.”

“As public servants, the best feedback we received was from the people who needed these records in hand, fast,” Falvey said. “Residents took the time to write through our feedback form and to the Registry directly, sharing that the experience was unexpectedly wonderful, that they never thought it would be this simple or that a city would offer something like this online. I’m proud that through our work, and Mayor Walsh’s leadership, we’re able to get residents the services they need quickly and easily every day.”

Learn more about how the City of Boston launched online birth certificates with Adobe XD. More information is available about Boston’s Digital Team here, and Boston’s online registry is here.

This project was an Adobe Government Creativity Awards entry. Learn more about AGCA today!