City of Miami Permitting

The City of Miami wanted feedback on their online permitting services.


The Brief

The City of Miami wishes to receive feedback on the new beta website and their older website iBuild from local small business owners through user testing, with a focus on the various existing permitting processes.

The Process

This project was done with a partner in the course of 2 weeks. We decided to do a UX audit, a user and stakeholder survey (this was done in a group), and a user testing session. With our findings we defined a problem statement, assumptions, a hypothesis, a persona, and a user journey.  Finally we presented what we learned and our recommendations to the City of Miami.  


We established our heuristics early to not only audit the City of Miami's websites, but also competitors and to able to determine the best in class.


The UX Audit

We audited the City of Miami's beta site as well as the older iBuild site using a set of heuristics that follow best practices. We determined what was working and what wasn't in both sites. The overall consensus in our team was that iBuild was not very user-friendly as it was difficult to find where to start and what words meant. The Beta site had lots of improvements, but could still use a couple of tweaks. Finally that both websites had a big disconnect in usability and look and feel. 


Competitive Audit

For the competitive audit we looked at other cities like LA, Portland, San Francisco, Orlando, Boston, and several others. We wanted to find out how they were doing their websites as well as their permitting processes. What was working and what wasn't for them too. We determined some best in class examples following our heuristics, and finally some out of category examples we could use as well. Here are some highlights of those findings:

City of Los Angeles (Best in Class)

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City of San Francisco

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Domino's Pizza (Out of Category)

Social Listening

We did some online desk research and came across several articles in the Miami Herald, The New Tropic, Miami New Times, and Support Local (Prism Creative Group) where they all stated their grievances with the City of Miami's permitting processes. All of the business owners they had interviewed said again and again what a traumatic experience it was for them to get a permit to operate in the city. We now knew there was a lot of room to improve this experience.

Dear City of Miami and Miami-Dade Permitting Departments. What a rollercoaster relationship it’s been...and like that first ex-girlfriend you left me traumatized.
— Local Brewery Bousa Instagram

The Surveys

We conducted 2 user surveys: one for small business owners and one for stakeholders, the City of Miami employees. The results came in and  upon analyzing them we came to the conclusion that both business owners and the stakeholders want a lot of the same things:

  • The permitting process should be done entirely online.

  • The current state of the site and process needs to be shortened to a few steps.

  • Both  groups know they need each other’s help in order to achieve a better experience for all.

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User Testing 

We wanted to get a better understanding of what small business owners are thinking when they go into the City of Miami website. We developed a user testing plan to record and track 3 key tasks. We asked the users to think-out-loud and to not hold anything back while completing said tasks.

Task 1: Get a permit for a door or window

The user started in the beta site and was able to find where she could get a permit for a door or window, but was overwhelmed by the amount of text. Once she got to the iBuild site she was completely lost and confused by the harsh change of look and feel of both sites. She thought she had made a mistake and gone to the wrong site.

Task 2: Get a certificate of use

The user didn't feel like she knew where to click to proceed so she used the search bar and was frustrated when she got 84 results when just searching one specific task.

Task 3: Explore the mobile version of the beta website

The user was very excited to see that the site was responsive. She kept saying how great it would be to be able to do the whole permitting process from her phone.


With all previous information gathered we were able to define.

Problem Statement

How might we improve our permitting services so that our customers are more successful based on ease of use, overall customer satisfaction and confidence in the online process?


  • Our biggest risk is that people bypass the legal permitting system and go rogue.
  • People want to do the entire process online. 
  • The number one value a customer wants to get out of the city’s service is convenience.
  • The problem our product will solve is making the permit process easier to understand for the user.


We believe the permitting process can be done in an efficient and simple manner. If we provide a streamlined and user-centered online experience, there will be an increase in permits granted, leading to economic growth in the city of Miami.


We created a persona based on all of the research and 1:1 user testing session. We first developed an empathy map that served as the basis for our persona. 

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User Journey

We now had all of the information we needed to develop the user journey to be able to analyze and empathize with the process Mary goes through. We were able to determine her pain points as well as opportunities to better the process for her. 

City of Miami Customer User Journey.png

Information Architecture

In an effort to simplify and organize the complex information of the site in a better way, we developed a sitemap. In the current site (beta and iBuild) there's no easy way for the user to access where to apply to permits directly, as well as where to track in what stage of the process they're in. There's also not a main page where all of their questions would be answered. 

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Recommendations Presented

Along with the proposed sitemap, other recommendations were presented. Some easy to execute and others a lot more complex. It will be up to the City of Miami to determine which will be better for the users and their business. Here are some of the main points we made during the meeting:

  • Apply beta site CSS to the iBuild site.
  • Deep link into the application form.
  • Use emails and/or SMS to communicate with the user what step of the process they're in.
  • Make language simpler  and more user-friendly, not city-friendly.
  • Main CTA button on each section.
  • Use celebratory language! Opening a new business is an exciting time.
  • Concentrate on making the whole process on mobile. To that we presented wireframes following forms best practices and also simplifying and organizing their current application form.

The Meeting At The City of Miami

In order to present all of these recommendations we put together a presentation for the City of Miami permitting team, IT team, and the Mayor's office. The team and I never suspected how much we were going to learn from the experience. It was a very satisfying meeting and a great learning experience for us and for them. At the end of the day, if the permitting processes become easier for the user, the more businesses will be able to open faster and benefit the overall economy of the City of Miami.