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  1. Service manual
  2. Design
  3. User accounts

This guide explains when to use user accounts and how to design them.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

To pass point 13 (make the user experience consistent with GOV.UK) in your service assessments, you must use GOV.UK design patterns and guidance.

Read the guide on using, adapting and creating patterns before you start designing or building anything.

When to use user accounts

Avoid making users create accounts if you can because they’re:

  • a barrier for many users and will reduce completion rates
  • difficult to build and maintain

Only use user accounts if your users are likely to need to review or update their data across multiple uses of your service.

Alternatives to user accounts

If you want to let users check the status of a transaction, you can give them a unique reference number and ask for this along with their name or email address. This is what many delivery companies do.

If you need to verify someone’s identity, you should consider using GOV.UK Verify.

If you decide to use user accounts

Follow these rules if you decide to use user accounts:

  • don’t make people create an account until they have to
  • use clear and consistent language
  • use effective signposting
  • minimise distractions for the user

Don’t make people create an account until they have to

Let people use as much of your service as possible before they need to create an account. For example, most shopping websites let you browse without having to create an account first.

If users can avoid creating an account at all, even better.

Use clear and consistent language

For consistency with other GOV.UK services, use the phrase ‘Create an account’ instead of ‘Register’, ‘Sign up’ or something else.

Similarly, you should use labels like ‘Create a username’ and ‘Create a password’ rather than ‘Username’ and ‘Password’. This helps people to understand that they’re not being asked to enter an existing username or password.

Use effective signposting

People come to your service to use it, not to create an account. This means you should make it clear what you want or need people to do.

Show a clear difference between creating an account and signing in. Presenting the options side by side isn’t enough - people will miss one of them or not understand the difference.

If you can, ask people if they’ve used the service before and then direct them to either sign in or create an account.

Minimise distractions for the user

If a user fails to create an account, they might not be able to use your service at all.

Account creation screens should be solely about that task, so strip out any distracting content or links.

Don’t use National Insurance numbers for identification

You shouldn’t use National Insurance numbers to verify a user’s identity. Find out how to protect your service against fraud if you currently use National Insurance numbers to verify identity.

Discuss user accounts

Discuss user accounts on the design patterns wiki.

You may also find these guides useful:

Published by:
Design community
Last update:

Added a line to explain that National Insurance numbers shouldn't be used to verify a user's identity.

  1. Guidance first published