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The current state of design

Categories: Events, Learning things, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting

Gov.uk was officially switched on yesterday, replacing direct.gov and Business Link. It's all part of the government's 'single domain strategy' – a move which will eventually bring all government sites into one place.

Gov.uk crown logo

As part of Supercool's 'Conference Tour 2012', Josh and I went to the Theory of (R)Evolution conference run by Shropgeek the other week. There were lots of good talks but the one that really stood out for me was by Paul Annett, Creative Lead at Government Digital Services (GDS).

GDS was set up in 2011 to revolutionise the way government carries out its digital projects, and how we interact with the government online. The idea has been to change the approach from large, lengthy (and pricey) outsourced IT contracts and move more in-house; to be more efficient and transparent.

Although GDS is a relatively new department, it already has some staggering stats:

  • They've closed down 1,500 government-run websites – so far. The plan is close down around half of the remaining 600 or so. 
  • Long-term contracts have meant that it has previously cost up to £50,000 to change one line of code on a live site. (Red tape is really expensive.)
  • Currently, 1 in 3 phonecalls to government agencies are about a failed online transaction. By eliminating these calls, it's hoped that call-centre costs will be reduced by £1 billion.
  • Despite now using Gmail and, what you might think would be prohibitively expensive, iPhones and Apple Macs, GDS's overall IT costs are already 80% less than those of direct.gov.

The most interesting part of the talk for me, however, was hearing about their approach to design. Just the idea of a government project using words like 'design', 'usability' and 'user-experience' is virtually unheard of in this country – but Gov.uk is showing some real innovation.

Paul took us through the GDS design principles; a brilliantly articulated guide for any large development project. Loosely it's about keeping projects small (as in cutting out any 'bloat'), simple, open and agile. 

An example of the design principles in action

The design principles also include a style guide for written content, which is something even small organisations can follow with regard to writing good web copy.

Of course whilst the Gov.uk site is all shiny and new, content will be tidy, and easy to both find and understand. It'll be interesting to see if, and how, that changes as more content is added over time.

But at the moment it feels a bit weird to be so proud of the government's website.

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