Mark Hurrell.

GOV.UK step by step and replatforming

Step by step is a GOV.UK pattern that joins up all the interactions and content needed by someone using a government service
Most users arrive at GOV.UK from Googling component sections within a service, so step-by-steps provide contextual background of things they may not have have known about. Those interactions and content are often split between many departments, so making a step by steps requires extensive negotiation from GOV.UK
Services only comprise a fraction of the pages on GOV.UK. The website contains everything the government publishes about its policies, and all the details about government itself. Each of these layers of information relate to each other in numerous significant ways (for example, it is important to know which minister is responsible for road planning)
Topic pages bring together everything on GOV.UK about particular subject. GOV.UK contains approximately half a million pages. The taxonomy we created for it contains thousands of topics
The new topics provide rich metadata to improve search and API access. To implement any of this, we had to rebuild the hundred database architectures and design templates across GOV.UK to make them compatible with each other
We used this as an opportunity to build a modern component-based front end architecture, allowing GOV.UK teams to make design iterations far more efficiently than manually rebuilding the same design element across a hundred different layouts had previously allowed
As a result we were able to rationalise and simplify the design across GOV.UK, and significantly improve accessibility

GOV.UK step by step and replatforming

Product design direction for Government Digital Service

2015  2019

The intent behind GOV.UK was that putting all government information and services in a single place would give people a simpler user experience and a coherent view of how it fits together. When the site went live, we’d brought together content from 1000+ websites but the work of making sense of it all was just beginning.

Spread over half a million webpages and tens of thousands of transactions, a host of problems needed fixing. For users, any government service would require multiple interactions, depending on supporting information that was hidden in different places without consistent naming or tagging or interlinking. For civil servants, reports and the data supporting policies were almost impossible to find. Historical information (even whole services) were orphaned and hard to track down. This caused enormous failure demand for users, and a lot of wasted time for civil servants, academics and critics. The original GOV.UK architecture had allowed individual content areas to be developed autonomously, but provided no way to create site wide information architecture, design iterations or compatible API functionality.

We rebuilt GOV.UK from the ground up. Because of budget constraints we couldn’t increase headcount, so we did it in the background of running the live site. This time, we built GOV.UK around a navigation architecture and taxonomy for the services and documents the UK government provides or publishes.

“Step by step” is the user-facing part, which provides a simpler and more accessible way to navigate common user-journeys. In doing so, it reduces failure demand (usually people contacting call-centres). Underneath step by step, a complete subject taxonomy gives better metadata for search engines and procedurally generated navigation elements. It also gives civil servants a clearer picture of how government works, and the additional metadata allows for greater transparency for critics and academics. As part of this replatforming, we standardised and componentized GOV.UK’s design templates, reducing 100+ page layouts to about 10, improving accessibility and making it cheaper and faster for teams to iterate, experiment and ship. See also: GOV.UK brexit business readiness, GOV.UK voice and the GOV.UK Design System

In 2019 step-by-step was awarded a D&AD Wooden Pencil and GOV.UK was listed by FastCo Design as one of the most important design ideas of the decade, saying it “comprehensively redesigned the way in which citizens of the UK accessed government services.”

Step by step service design was led by Kate Ivey-Williams, navigation and taxonomy work by Alex Torrance, and the complete overhaul of every page layout by Mia Allers. Sonia Turcotte and Jeremy Yun worked on redesigning search and the publishing apps, and at times we had additional design from Rebecca Cottrell and Joe Lanman. Step by step strategy with Lou Downe and Neil Williams, and product research from Benedict Singleton. And the work of many multidisciplinary agile teams.

Selected projects