The UK government's design principles and examples of how they've been used.
1. Start with user needs
Service design starts with identifying user needs. If you don’t know what the user needs are, you won’t build the right thing. Do research, analyse data, talk to users. Don’t make assumptions. Have empathy for users, and remember that what they ask for isn’t always what they need.
- Why we care more about effectiveness than efficiency or satisfaction by John Waterworth
- 10 tips for working with your user researcher by Kieron Kirkland
2. Do less
Government should only do what only government can do. If we’ve found a way of doing something that works, we should make it reusable and shareable instead of reinventing the wheel every time. This means building platforms and registers others can build upon, providing resources (like APIs) that others can use, and linking to the work of others. We should concentrate on the irreducible core.
- Adapting the GOV.UK Design System for the NHS by Tim Paul and Dean Vipond
- GOV.UK: a journey in scaling agile by Jen Allum, Nick Tait and Alan Wright
3. Design with data
In most cases, we can learn from real world behaviour by looking at how existing services are used. Let data drive decision-making, not hunches or guesswork. Keep doing that after taking your service live, prototyping and testing with users then iterating in response. Analytics should be built-in, always on and easy to read. They’re an essential tool.
- Mixing methods: a recipe for research success by Haur Kang and Louise Petre
- How to use data in user research when you have no web analytics by Louise Petre
4. Do the hard work to make it simple
Making something look simple is easy. Making something simple to use is much harder - especially when the underlying systems are complex - but that’s what we should be doing. Don’t take “It’s always been that way” for an answer. It’s usually more and harder work to make things simple, but it’s the right thing to do.
- Building a better GOV.UK, step by step by Gabrielle Acosta and Sam Dub
- Start taking payments in one day with GOV.UK Pay by Katie Bates, Lewis Dunne and Till Wirth
5. Iterate. Then iterate again
The best way to build good services is to start small and iterate wildly. Release minimum viable products early, test them with actual users, move from alpha to beta to live adding features, deleting things that don’t work and making refinements based on feedback. Iteration reduces risk. It makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons. If a prototype isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.
- Things to consider when designing in alpha by Chris Thomas
- Using A/B testing to measurably improve common user journeys by Mark Mcleod
6. This is for everyone
Accessible design is good design. Everything we build should be as inclusive, legible and readable as possible. If we have to sacrifice elegance - so be it. We’re building for needs, not audiences. We’re designing for the whole country, not just the ones who are used to using the web. The people who most need our services are often the people who find them hardest to use. Let’s think about those people from the start.
- Using persona profiles to test accessibility by Anika Henke
- What we found when we tested tools on the world’s least accessible webpage by Mehmet Duran
7. Understand context
We’re not designing for a screen, we’re designing for people. 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? Have they never used the web before?
- Researching in context by Amy Everett
- Hey GOV.UK, what are you doing about voice? by Sam Dub and Mark Hurrell
8. Build digital services, not websites
A service is something that helps people to do something. Our job is to uncover user needs, and build the service that meets those needs. Of course much of that will be pages on the web, but we’re not here to build websites. The digital world has to connect to the real world, so we have to think about all aspects of a service, and make sure they add up to something that meets user needs.
- What do we mean when we talk about services? by Stephanie Marsh
- How we approached service mapping by Gabrielle Acosta and James Butler
9. Be consistent, not uniform
We should use the same language and the same design patterns wherever possible. This helps people get familiar with our services, but when this isn’t possible we should make sure our approach is consistent.
This isn’t a straitjacket or a rule book. Every circumstance is different. When we find patterns that work we should share them, and talk about why we use them. But that shouldn’t stop us from improving or changing them in the future when we find better ways of doing things or the needs of users change.
- Introducing a simpler, data-informed publishing experience by Rob Rockstroh
- Introducing the GOV.UK Design System by Amy Hupe and Alice Noakes
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. Share code, share designs, share ideas, share intentions, share failures. The more eyes there are on a service the better it gets - howlers are spotted, better alternatives are pointed out, the bar is raised.
Much of what we’re doing is only possible because of open source code and the generosity of the web design community. We should pay that back.
- Opening up the GOV.UK Design System for contributions by Ignacia Orellana and Amy Hupe
- Doing the hard work to make things open by Paul Smith
You can download a set of posters of the Government Design Principles.