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Content design: planning, writing and managing content

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User needs

How to write and record a user need for GOV.UK.

What are user needs?

‘User needs’ are the needs that members of the public, businesses or customers have of government. These are the users of GOV.UK.

Every part of the GOV.UK website design and architecture, and every piece of published content, should meet a valid user need.

People visit GOV.UK to help them fulfil a certain task, like apply for a driving licence, or find out how to vote.

Writing good user needs means we can create content to help them do the things they need to.

Defining user needs

You should be able to prove that a user need exists. Find out how to gather the evidence you need.

How to write a user need

To create content or services for GOV.UK, you must start with the user need. It’s a simple concept, but is sometimes a bit harder to put into practice.

All GOV.UK user needs follow the same template.

As a… [who is the user?]

I need to… [what does the user want to do?]

So that… [why does the user want to do this?]

They’re written from the user’s perspective and in language that a user would recognise and use themselves.

Good example:

As a carer

I need to know if I can get Carer’s Allowance

So that I know if I should apply for it or not

This is a valid user need because it doesn’t suggest a specific solution. You might need to produce a combination of features and content to make sure the user need is met.

Bad example:

As a carer

I need to use a benefits calculator

So that I can find out if I can get Carer’s Allowance

This isn’t a valid user need because it creates a ‘need’ to justify existing content, and suggests a specific solution that may or may not be right.

Assumptions we make when designing a piece of content or service can often be wrong. We need to find the best solution to meet each user need.

Acceptance criteria

Acceptance criteria can help define a user need. Write a list of what must be done for the need to be met.

For the above example this could be when the user:

  • understands what carer’s allowance is
  • understands if they are eligible
  • can apply for carer’s allowance
  • understands how much they are entitled to

Define the user

Don’t begin the user need with ‘as a user.’ Most government policies and legislation are aimed at a clearly defined group. You should know who the user is, and define them in relationship to what they’re trying to do.

A user doesn’t have to be just one person. It can mean a broad group of people, if their relationship to the need is the same.

For example, someone applying for a child’s passport could be a parent, or ‘someone with parental responsibility.’ This could be a grandparent, foster carer or legal guardian. You wouldn’t need to write a separate need for each one.

Other user groups can be more vague, but are still defined as more than just a ‘user’:

  • a business
  • a person who has reached state pension age
  • an exporter
  • a company
  • a teacher
  • someone who wants to work in the UK
  • someone who wants to settle in the UK
  • a vehicle owner

What the user wants to do

User needs and GOV.UK content must be based on actions or tasks.

Active user needs are things like:

  • applying
  • appealing
  • paying for
  • submitting
  • sending a tax return
  • changing an address
  • claiming
  • requesting
  • challenging

Avoid using:

  • understand
  • know
  • be aware of
  • using (as in a tool or service)

You should only use ‘understand,’ or ‘be aware of’ if the user needs to know it to fulfil a certain task, like comply with the law.

Why would a user need to ‘understand’ something? If they don’t need it to take action, it’s not a valid user need. Complying with the law is still an action because it’s something users need to do to achieve something, like remain in business or avoid penalties.

Good example:

As a teacher

I want to understand Amazing Policy affecting my students

So that I fulfil my statutory obligations

Bad example:

As a teacher

I need to understand Amazing Policy affecting my students

So that I am informed.

How to record a user need

Maslow: the user needs tool

Record user needs in the Maslow tool (sign-on required - use the GOV.UK support form to request access), along with information on:


  • creates a record of the public’s needs of GOV.UK
  • shows how GOV.UK is meeting those needs
  • reports on how well those needs are being met
  • allows us to iterate and improve the way GOV.UK meets those needs

All user needs from the transition of agencies and arm’s-length bodies to GOV.UK are recorded in Maslow.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is working to associate existing GOV.UK content to user needs. You can associate detailed guides with Maslow need IDs now.

Associating detailed guides with Maslow need IDs

  1. Propose the user need in Maslow (use the GOV.UK support form to request access).

  2. Check that the best way of meeting that need is with a detailed guide.

  3. Get the Maslow Need ID (starts with 10XXXX).

  4. Add the ID to the ‘Maslow Need IDs’ field under ‘Associations’ when editing a detailed guide in Whitehall Publisher. You can add more than one ID if the detailed guide meets multiple needs.

  5. Once published, the detailed guide will then appear in the ‘Content on GOV.UK which meets this need’ section for that user need in Maslow.