Cindy Phan

A portal to support millions of Americans find and enroll in health coverage.


Access to quality and affordable health care is a crucial but often stressful moment for people - navigating the complexities of plan coverage while figuring out if they qualify for savings and how this will impact their financial state. Every year, tens of millions of people go to to understand their health coverage options and enroll - that’s tens of millions of people to build for.

What if we could make this crucial public service easy to understand and access, and reduce the burden placed on people as they make this important life decision?

As the Design Lead for, I managed a team of 8 designers to bring the best practices in human-centered design, iterative development, user research, and accessibility into the experience. I was responsible for developing the roadmap for alongside the Engineering and Product Lead, being an advocate for design initiatives that would address the pain points expressed by our users. I would then distribute this work to each of our designers, providing them a framework to do their work but freedom to tackle it to their strengths and grow their skills. During this time, we complete a visual branding overall to better align with modern best practices while taking an accessibility first approach to our visual and user experience design. Under my leadership, our team grew our capabilities in Accessibility and Design Systems, expanding the scope of the Design team to move beyond just user experience and user research, but to think holistically about how people with different abilities navigated our site and making the site as coherent and consistent as possible.

CompanyAd Hoc, LLC

Date2017 - 2018

ClientCenter for Medicare and Medicaid Services

My RolePrincipal Design Lead

Overview of the Project

During Open Enrollment from November to January, is the most visited government website, with tens of millions of users coming to view their health coverage options, see if they qualify for savings, and ultimately enroll in a plan. As such, it was important for us to not let the site sit idly as is common for government websites, but to continue to evolve and iterate on the user experience and features offered to users. Through the lens of human centered design and product thinking, we developed these core threads that guided the work of the design team:

  1. Where are the most common pain points users feel when visiting our site?
  2. Where do users drop off? How do we build our experience around the fact that this is a big enough decision that most people don’t feel comfortable making in one sitting?
  3. Does what we provide through our site meet the expectations of users?
  4. What pain points or needs haven we not addressed yet, and what features can we build to solve them?
  5. How do we navigate the amount of information we need to gather from people in a way that is logical and personalized to them?
  6. How can we make this site accessible to all Americans?
  7. How can we reduce the cognitive load on users, while giving opportunities to dig in more if they want?

Building capacity to do user research and user data analytics

Building capacity to do user research and user data analytics. Up until this point,’s research effort was mainly focused on marketing and product validation, rather than an exploration of the full user experience or an investigation into the pain points and need of our users. I led the effort to build the team’s capacity to engage in user research that focused on exploring the core pain points or needs of users, and testing out exploratory concepts to see if the solutions we were considering were even on the right path before investing resources to build. Because of this, we were able to develop a deeper understanding of the pain points our users were feeling, including confusion about what a deductible was vs a copay, the amount of time it took to fill out an application, and how savings were calculated and played a role into pricing. Through this research, we were able to identify problem areas for the design team, alongside the product and engineering team, to develop solutions that addressed our user’s core problems.

User experience refresh of our core tools

From our user research, we realized that there were some core improvements we could make to our tool’s user experience and a way we could freshen up the visual branding to be more welcoming to our users. For four of our core tools - Window Shop, Plan Compare, Find Local Help, and Application - we did a full evaluation of the flow in user research and determined there were points of confusion or areas we could increase simplicity for our users. We also update the visual branding of the site, leaning more on white with pops of blue, rather than the blue on blue that we had originally. Both of these vastly improved the usability of in subsequent user research sessions we held.

Simplifying complex processes

The application for is extensive, it can account for just one individual or an entire household. For each family situation, whether or not its you and your spouse, you and your children, your grandchildren and stepchildren, there are a lot of different make up of families today that we must make sure we are accounting for. Then after that, we must know if you qualify for any special programs because of your status or your income. And as you can tell, this application can get very lengthy, and can be overwhelming. We realized that we needed a completely revamp the application to 1). Build the application to be dynamic based on the information the person is entering throughout each stage, 2). Find a balance with introducing complex topics in a way that are easy to process (bite, snack, meal) while allowing for room to dive in deeper, and 3). Save the application state so you could return later if needed. With these improvements, we saw a drastic increase in the usability of the most important aspect of our user’s journey.

Building our accessibility capacity

As a government website that millions of people rely on, it is important for us to make it not just 508 compliant, but to exceed those expectations. To do this, we built our team’s capacity to take accessibility into account from the very beginning - from when we are still discovering the problem space to when we begin building. This has allowed us to take an accessibility-first approach, level up our teams in their understanding and accessibility skill sets while ensuring our site was usable by every person.

Building the CMS Design System

The number of tools on is 12, and that doesn’t include all the other sites that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operates. We realized that there was a strong need for a CMS Design System, that would promote consistency and thoughtful patterns for not only, but any other CMS site. So we built the CMS Design System with accessibility and device compatibility at its core. It was also important for this design system to be customized, for the visual brand and components to be tailored to each team’s needs, and thus we built the concept of a Child Design System that would still use the CMS Design System as its core foundation but customizations could be built on top of. The CMS Design System has not only streamlined our work, but the work of other teams.