Afterlife – Stephen McCarthy

Government Digital Service

Main piece of work:

All departments/ areas within government onto one website: (used to have many websites per department)

History in design:

Harry Beck: London Underground design; led the way for world design

UK road signs: set up for rest of world

Ministry of Information

Tom Eccersly

Design research room: most famous piece- national rail identity

Designing in government today:

Over 300 designers

– multi-disciplinary teams

– build things: want make things better and fix things

– work collaboratively, in the open; blog everything they do, conversation between designers (not just within government)

– all designers can code: work with developers and prototype things, understand how it can work; learn to code!

– research and designing is separate: someone designs then someone else researchs it

– all designers are expected to spot problems; make something the best it can be

Design principles:

  • Start with needs: user needs not government needs
  • Do less: only do what needs to be done, what government should do – e.g. Don’t need to make a government version of twitter
  • Design with data: understand where things are going wrong, design on the feedback got
  • Do the hard work to make it simple: make it easier for the user
  • Iterate; iterate again: keep making it better
  • This is for everyone: design for people of all capabilities
  • Understand context: used on mobile/desktop/iPad
  • Build Digital Services, not website: cater for all ways people interact with government
  • Be consistent, not uniform: similar experience with all services your interacting with
  • Makes things open makes things better

Desifners that are employed:

  • Service designers: look st back end process, how services are offered to people – e.g. If someone applies for a passport: how it is process. Piece together all fragments of services under one department
  • Interaction designers: passing of number of questions, refine the shape of user journey
  • Graphic designers: content and interaction design, simple info hierarchy- how it’s read
  • Content designers: editors, writers, rewrite complex words for readers to understand
  • User experience (UX designer) is everyone’s responsibilty

Graphic design in context of government:

communication information in a way the user can understand

– design should never get in the way of context – except when important

– every element in the page should have a clear purpose

– happy when people say things at boring

The Crystal Goblet by Beatrice Warde, 1932: an essay on typography

Don’t ask: how should it look, ask: what should it do

Graphic design is not something thrown in at the end of the process.

Graphic and interaction designers in government:

  • Words and typography: no images are used so words are most important, ‘make your words count’. ‘New transport’ typeface (only one used). Needs to be considered and consistent, legible and iconic font. Avoid long lines of copy: max 75 characters
  • Layout: grids, give structure to content; clear hierarchies; simple, single column gird
  • Page furniture and colour: consider colours, clear
  • Space: enhances clarity and legibility, make use of white space
  • Hierarchy: what the user needs to read
  • Tempo: aid easy reading, speed bumps for reading; important information in bold
  • Affordance: design that shows you how to use the product; have everything you need on one page
  • Visuals: always ask why is it on the page?
  • Iconage: used to use icons but they were more for decoration; don’t use too many icons on a page, clear information
  • Time: respect people’s times, don’t ask unnecessary questions; pacing more important – small, bite-sized chunks better than one long page
  • Don’t assume others would behave as you would
  • Low frequency use; novice users

Tips for designing in government:

understand your user

– start with less

– mobile first; most people use on mobile

– keep asking why and remember the big picture

Our culture:


  • Propaganda for civil servants to help them do there work
  • Find what works not what’s popular

Author: ellenreiddesign

First year Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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