The secret to gov.uk's near perfect UX: Content Design

A conversation with Sarah Richards

Gov.uk is perhaps the most prolific website of the last 10 years. It stands out because of its simplicity and timelessness. Its no-frills design and content didn't come easy. Just try and strip down thousands of pages of content to the very core, leaving only what's necessary to help its visitors to get the information they need, and to complete their goal. All the while dealing with many different stakeholders (and their politics). But that's exactly what Sarah Richards did. 

Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards

What should it look like, that bit of information that people in a particular situation, really need? Sarah Richards and her content and design team at GDS (Government Digital Services in the UK) asked that question, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, for just as many situations and pieces of content. 

They found most of their answers by going after and using the data that was available to them, and by creating user stories and job stories (a practice also used in software development), where you create a little story to tune into the particular need you would need the content for. It creates space for different forms and formats of content, by not assuming that the solution would for instance be a web-text, per se. It could be an image, a flowchart, a video, a map, a calculator, or something completely other than that. 

Sarah named their practice 'Content Design'.

My own, battered and dog eared copy of the book

My own, battered and dog eared copy of the book

In her book, also titled 'Content Design', she shares its core approach and tactics. I really enjoyed reading Sarah's book and attending her workshop on content design. I learned a lot of new skills that I have already put in practice in a few of my projects. I'm sure those skills can be helpful for you, as well. So, have a listen to this episode and our conversation. You'll hear what it was like to work on gov.uk during the first few years (spoiler alert: it was not completely void of stressful situations), how Sarah and her team implemented their methods and what content design entails. 

Please note:
Unfortunately, I have been very clumsy with the recordings, so this episode's sound quality is way below the standard I set for myself, and I'm so so sorry about that. Podcasting is very humbling in that way: I'm constantly reminded of how much I still have to learn...