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A Congress.gov Interview with Meg Peters, Information Architect

This week’s interview is with Meg Peters, an Information Architect in the Office of Strategic Initiatives.  It is the first of a new series of interviews that focus on some of the fantastic Library of Congress staff who contributed to Congress.gov.  I spent a lot of time working with Meg and a team of colleagues from around the Library over the last year planning the new website.

Describe your background.

A second-generation Washingtonian, I attended the Rhode Island School of Design and majored in graphic design. I began my career in the Washington, D.C. area designing printed materials for corporate communications and marketing. This led first to designing print advertisements at The Washington Post and then I moved on to writing print advertisements – a fun job! With the advent of the Internet, I shifted my focus to web design and writing which led to specializing in information architecture: I became an organizer of information. A few years ago, I earned the Certified Usability Analyst (CUA) Certification and a graduate certificate in historic preservation from Goucher College.

How would you describe your job to other people?

Meg Peters

As an information architect, I organize websites – big websites with thousands of pages, often too many to count. I am responsible for designing intuitive, user-friendly site navigation and page templates, a tall order! Defining the user experience requires considerable research and analysis because you must understand the needs of a website’s users. Throughout a project, I coordinate with business stakeholders, subject-matter experts, and project team members such as developers, visual designers, and content providers. My work products include content inventories, site maps, page mockups called wireframes, and flow charts for online processes such as registering for an event.

What was your role in the development of Congress.gov?

Congress.gov is part of a three-tiered strategic plan for the Library’s websites created in consultation with web experts from various fields. Based on recent usability testing and interviews with Library stakeholders, the plan provided general guidance for redesigning THOMAS.gov and the internal legislative website, the Legislative Information System (LIS).

Initially, I helped define the scope and requirements for the Congress.gov beta site, which synthesizes THOMAS.gov and LIS. Then I created all the page mockups (wireframes), worked with the team to refine them, and co-wrote with Tammie the functional specifications detailing how the site should behave. (For example: “If the user does this, then the site does that.”)

In designing the information architecture for Congress.gov, I leveraged site usage metrics for THOMAS.gov and results of past usability testing for LIS. Leading up to the Congress.gov launch, I provided guidance on writing, organizing, and formatting the content.

What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?

This is a tough question. Two things stand out: 1) The “In Session” or “Not in Session” area of the Congress.gov homepage that notes the return date when either the House or Senate is not in session. This was very tricky to finesse from both the programming and design perspectives. 2) The “Leadership” sections of the Congress.gov homepage, which link to the new profiles for members of Congress. These small but very important features required intense collaboration both within the project team and with the House and Senate.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov?

I learned a great deal about the legislative process. Our subject-matter experts from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Law Library of Congress are true experts, people who love what they do and are committed to serving Congress and the public. Often they share little-known facts about legislation with the team, a welcome reprieve when we are confronted with challenging data or design issues, as was the case with amendments.

Here is my favorite interesting fact: More than 85,000 amendments have been submitted or proposed in Congress since 1973, but only 23 percent are House amendments. The House has 435 members; whereas the Senate has 100 members. This difference in amendment generation is a result of marked differences in House and Senate parliamentary procedures.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I love inline skating and used to be a speed skater. I’ve skated Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Vienna (Austria), New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Charleston (South Carolina), Baltimore, Annapolis, Rehoboth, the Eastern Shore, and Washington, D.C. Once I did Athens to Atlanta, an 87.2-mile road race, which was grueling for me since I am a sprinter and it was about 95 degrees. Like this beta site, it was a rite of passage!

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