In the cross-government content community, we’ve been talking a lot about the crucial part content plays in coherent services. Helping colleagues from other disciplines understand the value of user-centred content is one of the goals of GOV.UK’s content operating model programme.
Lead Content Designer at Department for Work and Pensions, Melanie Cannon, has been reflecting on some content design principles that are useful for anyone working in services across government.
Content design principles
Design content for the service, not the channel
A service begins when someone starts to interact with government and ends when they finish. It isn’t just the part that’s online - it includes offline methods of communication like letters, too. No matter how we deliver the message, we design it as part of the whole service.
Focus on removing content, not creating it
We know that most people don’t read most words on a web page. That’s why it’s important to make sure that every word on a page is there for a reason. Including anything that isn’t absolutely necessary makes it less likely that the crucial content is read. Removing content is the best way of finding out if it’s needed in the first place. Often, the answer is ‘no’.
If we need to choose between clarity and elegance, clear content wins every time. We design for every person who needs to use our services. We do that with straightforward journeys and uncluttered pages. We’re unapologetic about using plain language: not just simple words that are easy to read, but words that are easy to understand.
Use evidence to make decisions
We work with user researchers and analysts to spot which parts of services aren’t meeting the needs of people using them. We find out which words our users use.
We take time to make sure we only ask people for information that's essential. We design with evidence, test with real users, and iterate to make the service better.
Help service teams communicate clearly
If we’re not communicating well with each other, it’s unlikely we’re communicating well with people using our services. That’s why we challenge the use of jargon and work with service teams to write sprint tasks that everyone understands. A team that doesn't communicate clearly can't work effectively.
These principles are not only useful for content designers to think about, but also colleagues working in all of the areas that touch content design - service teams, policy, communications and operations.
If you have any thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you.
Melanie is the Lead Content Designer at the Department for Work and Pensions. You can follow her on Twitter.