GOV.UK releases design principles

Emphasis on focus and designing for the user, along with openness

We've previously reported on both the prototype and beta launches of GOV.UK, a site set to replace Directgov. Now, the team behind the redesign has also revealed its design principles document, showcasing 10 points that drove the direction of the new website.

We spoke to Emer Coleman (EC), deputy director digital engagement and communications, about the design principle document, its contents, and how it could benefit the wider web community.

.net: Why did you decide to put the design principles document online?
EC: Our design principles are the very first draft (in alpha), and will be developed and updated over time with further releases. We believe they will get better if we share them with a wider audience. The beta version of the design principles document is planned for this summer and the version 1 release is for autumn.

.net: Much of the emphasis appears to be on focus and also designing specifically for users. Are these things you think are often lacking in government websites?
EC: Martha Lane Fox in her 2010 review of government digital services said that "the overall user experience is highly inconsistent" in the government digital estate. While there are some government websites which are user-focused and designed for users, there are many that are not. The key focus of Government Digital Service is user, user, user.

.net: There appears to be a trend towards openness regarding principles and style guides of late; why do you think this is the case? Are companies and organisations realising implementation is key rather than thinking their process has some kind of special secret sauce?
EC: Yes, perhaps companies are realising that implementation is key and that sharing and getting feedback will improve the product. The digital world's culture of sharing – for example, open source code – shows how this openness and feedback improves and enriches the product.

Along with the design principles, we've also shared the two other beta releases of the GOV.UK domain, the first release on 31 January with citizen content, and the second release on 28 February with 'Inside Goverment' content. We have also shared our code on GitHub.

.net: Finally, do you think your document could be used as a general framework for designers and developers?
EC: Our design principles are intended for people building digital services for the GOV.UK domain. Mostly they're common sense, but we hope you will agree with the thinking and, ultimately, we hope that they get shared in the same way people reference The Economist or The Guardian style guides. That's a big ambition, but there's no point in doing this unless we aim high.