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Design Principles from the British Government

AliceL Design Principles Aug 15, 2014

I've been browsing the net and came across these web design principles phrased by the British government website designers. Here are these principles:

  • Start with needs
  • Do less
  • Design with data
  • Do the hard work to make it simple
  • Iterate. Then iterate again
  • Build for inclusion
  • Understand context
  • Build digital services, not websites
  • Be consistent, not uniform
  • Make things open: it makes things better

Let's see what they mean by the above principles in more details.

Start with needs.

"The design process must start with identifying and thinking about real user needs."

A website should be designed with a user in mind. The needs of this user have to be thoroughly interrogated, not just assumed. Plus, it's good to remember that what users need is not always what they ask for.

Do less.

"Government should only do what only government can do. If someone else is doing it â?? link to it."

I really think this is a great advice. If you say you are an educational website don't try to sell pepperoni on it (unless it is essential for education that is). Focus on the things you are here to do in the first place. This way you'll save money and energy and do more good to your users.

Design with data

Try to learn from the real users and their behaviour, understand their behaviour and collect this data. Than use the data when designing and developing the service. I can not say this better than this - "This is the great advantage of digital services - we can watch and learn from user behaviour, shaping the system to fit what people naturally choose to do rather than bending them to a system we've invented."

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"

This is really about user experience. You want your users to have a pleasant experience with whatever services you are offering. Don't make their life harder by making yours easier. If you do not know how to make it simpler ask someone who does, read blogs written by professionals, Google it!

Iterate. Then iterate again

"Iteration reduces risk. It makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons."

Start small, then iterate. Do the A/B testing, test with real users. Add features and do refinements according to the feedback you get from the users.

british gov website

Build for inclusion

"We're designing for the whole country, not just the ones who are used to using the web."

I think this is a priceless advice. If you start the design thinking about those people who might not use the web daily, you surely will make a better website for everyone.

Understand context

"We're not designing for a screen, we're designing for people."

Think about the context in which your visitors will use your services. Will they browse the website on a phone? Are they familiar with the web at all? Remember - most likely your website will be visited by a diverse group of people with different technologies and needs. You want them all to be able to use your services, don't you? Otherwise it's just a beautiful design that is not relevant and not useful for anybody, you included.

Build digital services, not websites

"Right now, the best way to deliver digital services is via the web, but that might change, and sooner than we might expect."

Do your services really begin and end at your website? Most probably not. People need to find you somehow,thus your services might begin with a search engine. There is logic, isn't it? If your website is an e-commerce your services might end with a post office. Right? Well, shouldn't you design for that? Yep, you should. Besides, it's good to remember that technologies are moving fast, who knows what digital services tomorrow brings. Look into the future.

Be consistent, not uniform

"Every circumstance is different and should be addressed on its own terms."

Using the same design patterns and language whenever possible is good. But we can not imagine every possible scenario and create rules for it. What we can do is have a consistent approach and hope that users will understand and trust it.

Make things open: it makes things better

"We should share what we're doing whenever we can. With colleagues, with users, with the world."

Per the UK government website designers sharing code,designs,ideas etc makes the design better. How? Well, the more people see a service the more issues are found, the more new ideas are offered and implemented and the better end product.

I have to say the UK government's website is one of the best designs I've seen, especially for a government website. It's very clean, simple and easy to use. So what do you think about their design principles? Share your thoughts in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Lagno

Hey all! I’m Alice, I’m a copywriter who is passionate about all things related to web design. Check out my G+ page

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