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The British government has just rolled out a new version of its website which it claims is “simpler, faster and clearer” than the previous version.

It was created using a set of 10 design principles that aim to make websites more consistent and user-friendly.

It’s a good initiative as government websites aren’t known for being easy to use, but has it actually resulted in a decent user experience?

Now it just so happens that I’ve lost my driving licence, so I thought it would be useful to kill two birds with one stone and test the site by finding out how to order a new one.

But first, here are the 10 guiding design principles...

Design Principles

  1. Start with needs. Use data to identify real user needs and design around those.
  2. Do less. Government should only do what only government can do. If someone else is doing it - link to it.
  3. Design with data. Use real world behaviour and user testing to aid the development process.
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple. “With great power comes great responsibility - very often people have no choice but to use our services. If we don’t work hard to make them simple and usable we’re abusing that power.”
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again. The best way to build effective services is to start small and iterate wildly.
  6. Build for inclusion. Accessible design is good design. We should build a product that’s as inclusive, legible and readable as possible.
  7. Understand context. We need to think hard about the context in which they’re using our services. Are they in a library? Are they on a phone? Are they only really familiar with Facebook?
  8. Build digital services, not websites. “Our service doesn’t begin and end at our website. It might start with a search engine and end at the post office. We need to design for that.”
  9. Be consistent, not uniform. Wherever possible use the same language and the same design patterns - this helps people get familiar with the services.
  10. Make things open: it makes things better. “We should share what we’re doing whenever we can. With colleagues, with users, with the world.”

The homepage

The new homepage certainly scores points for simplicity. Plenty of white space with prominent links to different departments and services.

It’s not the most attractive website to look at, but then it doesn’t need to be. People come to Gov.uk to find information, not to be sold to, so there’s no need for flashy images or massive calls-to-action (CTAs).

There is also a prominent search function and lower down the screen there is a large banner directing users to take a tour of the site and further links to the ‘most active’ sections on the site.

It’s definitely a simple layout and makes it obvious where I need to go for my driving licence query.

One thing that appears to be lacking is a link to contact numbers. Often people go to websites looking for telephone numbers or postal addresses, so it would be useful to have this included on the homepage.

Driving, transport and travel

Sub-sections of the website are equally simple and consistent with the overall design. A white background with blue text links makes it obvious what the next step is and where I need to go for driving licences.

The next section is essentially an FAQ sheet with a list of queries associated with driving licences. It has a list for almost every question you could hope to ask about driving, including how to apply for a new licence in the event that it has been “lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed.”

The application process

A big, green CTA makes it obvious how to start the process, however at that point the clean, simple new site reverts to a grim, cluttered site that doesn’t appear to have been included in the redesign.

This is slightly disappointing bearing in mind the principle that designs should be consistent across different government services. 

However the site is still in Beta so it could be that other sites will be updated to match the new design once they have some user feedback.

Conclusion

The new Gov.uk site is extremely clean and simple to use, and should make it easy for users to find what they are looking for.

By stripping out everything except essential links the design team have made the site as simple as possible, and the lack of any images should makes load times much quicker.

There is also a mobile optimised version of the site that looks identical to the desktop site. This can only be achieved because the design team has adopted such a simple layout for the desktop site.

                         

This highlights the fact that the team have adhered to their own principles of designing consistent digital services that understand the context of the user’s visit.

Now if they could just get the DVLA to buy-in to the same principles then it would make the task of getting a new driving licence much easier.

David Moth

Published 18 October, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1674 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Lucinda Brook

Great 10 points. I can't but feel that using some simple icons would be more intuitive for the user. As we know - people gravitate and de-code images much more quickly than words so some simple icons for each section header would aid the user experience in my opinion.

over 3 years ago

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Julie Woodgate

They're an interesting bunch behind gov.uk and they've got this right.
If the author's only criticism is of a linked site for driving licence applications I think they have succeeded... not least because they are indeed following their principle of starting simple and iterating - and presumably the other linked sites will follow suit.

over 3 years ago

Stephen Greengrass

Stephen Greengrass, Global Content Strategy Manager at Bupa

I really like the principles - but I do struggle to see how application of these has led to some bizarre navigational choices on the site...

over 3 years ago

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David Clark

Agree with Lucinda - when I see a page of text and hyperlinks a bit of my brain is saying "where's the icon" - its twenty years of windows I think!

over 3 years ago

Dominic Brenton

Dominic Brenton, B2B Web Communications Manager at Ordnance Survey

You mention the lack of phone numbers: I suspect an objective of the project is to reduce call volumes by encouraging users to self-serve through the use of FAQs, which you also mention. Text links work well on the desktop version of the site but links could have been wrapped in much bigger, more tap-able buttons on the mobile version. I'd be interested in a comparison of success rates on the new site versus the old one!

over 3 years ago

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Chelsea Uddo

"There is also a mobile optimised version of the site that looks identical to the desktop site."

The site is responsively designed - "mobile optimised version" is a misnomer.

The site contains 1 set of code which will 'respond' to the context it is being viewed in (device, orientation, browser)therefore what you see on mobile is 'identical to the desktop site' because they are the same thing.

Suggest amending the article to include the use of resposive design.

over 3 years ago

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James Robertson, Web Marketing Manager at www.venuebirmingham.com

Seems strange to me that they bang on so much about usability - and then violate one of the most core usability principles that's been known for years - changing the colour of visited links.

Doubly strange when they've gone to so much trouble to implement standard, blue underlined text as links.

I'll give 'em credit where it's due though: at least they don't open external links in new windows.

over 3 years ago

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Philip Hoyle

Just a shame that there are so many errors in the content. At least ten errors have been spotted in the limited company/business section alone, some of which could potentially land a user in trouble with fines etc. I'd recommend anyone relying on the website to do screen prints in case the information is wrong. They should have kept the decent information from the old Business Link website which was far more useful and more importantly, accurate!

over 3 years ago

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Sakarias Sjögren

I don't really subscribe to the view that an icon would make it easier to digest this content. From working with a very similar (ie. diverse content) site, creating icons that are instantly decodable is a huge challenge. Imagine, for example, designing an icon which represents 'driving licences' but is different to 'driving tests' or 'MOT and vehicle insurance'. Not to mention the fact that in the UK you refer to something as simple as vehicle tax as 'Road fund license' 'car tax' 'tax disc' etc. etc.

over 3 years ago

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