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Showing the thing: a different approach to content for importers and exporters

Posted by: , and , Posted on: - Categories: How we work, Product changes
Show the thing

The GDS content team are believers in iteration and continuous improvement. We spend a lot of time iterating: making improvements to GOV.UK's content based on user research and insight from analytics.

But what do you do when you’ve got a more fundamental problem?

The problem with content for importers and exporters

Firstly, there’s a lot of content on importing and exporting. If you count PDF publications, it runs to thousands of pages.

That’s arguably more than an ordinary business person could be expected to read and digest.

The content has accumulated over a period of years from a lot of different sources, rather than necessarily being planned. That’s part of the reason why it tends to be organised in categories that make sense to government (eg ‘export procedures’ and ‘export regulations’) instead of categories that make sense to users.

The 'one government at the border' project confirmed that importers and exporters need better guidance from government. And there were concerns that users might be missing out on government schemes through lack of accessible information.

This hasn’t happened through lack of effort. The existing content is maintained by a lot of very knowledgeable, dedicated people in a number of different departments and agencies. But now it’s got to the point where it’s really difficult to see how the content can be improved by iterating it.

Government has set itself a target to get 100,000 more companies exporting by 2020 (PDF, 110KB) so it’s important that we find a way to help those people make government guidance more accessible.

Introducing the content improvement ‘pop-up’ alpha

Based on a short discovery and some conversations with people around government, we believed there was a big opportunity to make things better. But we needed to prove it both to ourselves, and to other people around government.

When you want to make a big change, you can achieve more by showing the thing than you can with a thousand meetings. It’s the approach we took when creating GOV.UK in the first place. It lets you build a genuine, common understanding of how the thing will work. And it gives people confidence that you can deliver.

So we set ourselves a target of 12 weeks to build a prototype to prove it’s possible to make government guidance on importing and exporting. We’re going to make it much, much simpler by:

We pulled together a multidisciplinary pop-up team so we can focus entirely on this project. This was important: when you’re trying to solve a big, complex problem, you need time and space to understand the user needs and the source content, without being pulled onto other work.

What we’ve done so far

You’re welcome to view the prototype and track our progress in adding things to it.

And the code is on GitHub if you want to try something similar.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Teresa posted on

    You need to proof read the prototype text i.e. "Find overseas buiness opportunities"

    • Replies to Teresa>

      Comment by Holly posted on

      Hi Teresa,

      We've fixed this typo now!

      Thanks for spotting it and letting us know.



  2. Comment by steve posted on

    Why is there such an aversion to using the word 'Customs' in the title of content about importing & exporting or customs related matters? This term is Internationally recognised and widely understood by traveller's/ importers/ exporters alike.
    Use the word that every one understands

    • Replies to steve>

      Comment by Holly Challenger posted on

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for your feedback. We agree that it's important to use the language of our users.
      Is there anywhere in the prototype that you think this term would be helpful?



      • Replies to Holly Challenger>

        Comment by steve posted on

        Hi Holly, thank you for getting back to me.

        The term would be most useful on the GOV.UK home page as a header (or at the least 'Customs - imports & exports) under which information on 'imports and Exports' would be better placed. Currently you would have to look under 'Businesses and self employed'. I've never come across an international Customs website where Customs matters are not clearly identified as such. If you search 'customs' on GOV.UK it will show 'HMRC' but take a look at the HMRC home page - can you see anything that immediately identifies 'Customs' matters. Its time that Customs profile was raised, the Customs business facilitates trade in goods of £100's of bn a year. If the Govts aim is to promote export then use of the Customs facilitations available should be more visible and not hidden away.

        • Replies to steve>

          Comment by Holly Challenger posted on

          Hi Steve and Tim,

          Thank you both for your feedback on this - we're grateful to get as much feedback from stakeholders as possible.

          We plan to carry out user testing with importers/exporters in phase 2 of the project (more on this soon!). As part of this testing, we'll look at how traders would find the GOV.UK customs guidance from Google as well as our homepage. We'll iterate the guidance (and make product recommendations where needed) based on this user feedback. We'll blog about our approach to the testing as well as the findings. And we'd welcome your thoughts at this stage too.

          Many thanks,


  3. Comment by T.A. Gordon posted on

    Holly, I have to agree with Steve - we've seen the steady elimination of the word 'Customs' over the past few years and you need to know it really annoys UK traders, as it makes it extra-awkward for them to search for the guidance on international trade that they need to run their businesses. It's also a clearly defined legal term in much of the EU legislation we have to use. It would be great to see the word become acceptable again.