Improving the effectiveness of detailed guides has been a priority of ours for some time now. In particular we've been working with departments to move the content that was either not meeting a clear user need or not guidance from this format (and setting up redirects, of course).
In the process of this content review, we have concluded that there is still a need to retain a separate format (the "detailed guide" or an evolution of it) which contains task-oriented information for professionals or practitioners. A user need that this format is designed to meet might be something like:
'As a manufacturer of medical devices
I need to know how to register my product
So that I can market it in-line with registration.'
This is a more specific proposition than what detailed guides were used for in the past, but that format still provides a good home for this information.
Welcoming back the detailed guide
In a few days, the button to create detailed guides will be back. But to create a detailed guide (or make a new version of an old one), you will now have to enter the user need or needs that the guide is designed to meet. This is to help ensure that every detailed guide is created to meet a defined, task-oriented need for a professional or practitioner audience. It will also give us a database of which users each guide is aimed it, so that in future we could create landing pages specific to professional subject areas (see below). Lastly, it ties in to a bigger project about capturing user needs for each piece of content on GOV.UK to help us measure our performance.
At the moment, we expend effort solving the same user experience problems twice in HTML publications and detailed guides - that is, how to make long structured content easy to read. It also places unnecessary cognitive load on users ("why are these two pages different?")
We want to consolidate the templates for both formats, and test the result with users. This will be a design story in an upcoming sprint.
Finding detailed guides
The major difference between HTML publications and detailed guidance will be how you navigate to them, and what navigation options you'll be given from them. In line with the browse work currently going on for GOV.UK, detailed guidance will still appear for browsing purposes primarily under 'services and information' rather than 'departments and policy', both because it meets a different kind of user need and because lots of organisations often contribute guidance to the same specialist area. We are also considering landing pages for particular specialist areas, e.g. the energy industry or construction.
At the same time, we'll be looking at improving findability of these guides from organisations and topics, as for many users there is a strong association between the guidance and the organisation which provides it.
What's in a name?
Detailed guides used to be called specialist guides. We changed this after testing on GOV.UK export content showed that users didn't understand whether they were a 'specialist' or not. We're reflecting on whether that was the right call, given what we've learned since and what we now know about the content coming our way from agencies and arms-length bodies. We suspect that the export audience was not representative, because the line between expert and amateur is blurred .
So we're going to do some further testing to find the words that make sense to the users of these guides. We may find that the best word is 'specialist guide' and we'll have to change it back to what it used to be. We live and learn, and will continue to make decisions based on the best user evidence we have at the time.
Iterate iterate iterate
Improving the format and navigation for detailed guides will continue to be a priority for GOV.UK, because so much of the content from agencies and arms-length bodies which will be moving onto GOV.UK in the coming months is guidance for specialists. We'll keep blogging about our progress.