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Guest post: Sharing some user-centred content principles

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice, Content

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.

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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’.

Be clear

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.

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  1. Comment by Dan posted on

    "Focus on removing content, not creating it"

    Yes, yes, yes. Something I'm trying (and often struggling) to get across in my current role.

  2. Comment by Melanie Cannon posted on

    Thanks Dan, I'm glad this resonates. Hope you find this post helps with your conversations.

  3. Comment by Stefan posted on

    "A service begins when someone starts to interact with government and ends when they finish"

    You're spot on in saying that designers need to take a broad view of the service, but I'd argue that this description still isn't broad enough.

    From <a href="">something I wrote a while back</a>:

    <blockquote>Service providers overwhelmingly set the starting point too late, and almost as often set the finishing point too early. The first thing that happens, they might say, is that the customer calls our contact centre, not spotting that from the customer’s point of view that might already be a long way into the journey. The last thing which happens is that our actions are completed and we have done what we were supposed to do for the customer, not spotting that in many cases that is only one stage of a process which has no meaning to the customer until the wider process of which it was part has also been completed.</blockquote>

    • Replies to Stefan>

      Comment by Melanie Cannon posted on

      Hi Stefan, thanks for your comment. I agree, the more we can challenge the view that designers only work on the digital part of a service, the better. Taking time to map out and understand the whole user journey is an important part of our design process.