After Life – Stephen McCarthy

Today we had the pleasure of having Stephen McCarthy come into the studio for todays after life session. Stephen is head of design at the Government Digital Services. Because of this, it makes him part of the cabinet office, therefor so is part of the government. This means he is essentially designing for everybody in the country.  The Government digital services were set up in 2011.

What they do?

The Government Digital services work with the Government to make all the digital services that the Government offer better. In a sense, they work on the relationships between the citizens and the Government. The Government Digital Services designed the website with the aim of helping people to do something.
The Government websites used to be a mess. This is because there was over 300 different departments that were part of the government, in turn there were loads of different websites, this made it hard to correlate between all the departments. So the government digital services replaced all the  websites with Steven said the the websites is not finished and it never will be finished. They have an in house design team updating and fixing it on a daily basis, trying to understand user needs by researching every day. Everything that the Government Digital Services do has a consequence on people’s lives.

Other designs for the UK public services.

  • London underground map – uk was leading the way
  • Margret Colbert – first standardised system for road signs – in the 1950’s
  • Typeface used on roadsigns is used on the website – Transport
  • Offical war artist
  • Toms ecersly – designed for the ministry of labour
  • Design research unit – british rail identity. Decided in the 50’s to have one identity for the national rail.

Design in the government today.

There are now 300 designers working for the Government now all over the country. They work in multi-displiniary teams, this means that the design is evolved from the very start of the process. They build things and work collaboratively in the open. They have the GDS blog which explains the processes, what they do, why they make certain decisions, and why something work and why other things don’t work. All the designers at GDS can code, to the extent that other countries have taken the code they have developed and used it for their own countries, however Stephen actually came out of university and couldn’t code.
In the GDS, user research is a separate area of expertise to designers, however the two work closely together. This means that the research done isn’t biased by the designer resulting in accurate feedback.
At GDS all designers are expected to spot problems and fix them, to ask questions and question why you are doing that certain thing. Their ultimate goal is to make this thing the best it can be.

Design principles at the Government Design Services.

  1. Start with needs (user needs)
  2. Do less – Only do what needs to be done, don’t need to make a government version of twitter, can use things that are out there
  3. Design with data. Design with feedback e.g. from google analytics
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple – Makes it easier for the user to use
  5. Iterate. Then Iterate again – Constantly improving and making it better
  6. This is for everyone – Designing for people with access needs, bad internet connection etc. Bad eyesight, struggling with big cognitive loads, dsylexia
  7. Understand context. – How do people use these things, iPad, iPhone etc
  8. Build digital services not websites – Building how people interact with government services.
  9. Be consistent, not uniform. Made easier by websites, should be a similar experience on all services
  10. Make things open: it makes thing better.

What sort of designers do they employ?

  • No one person can be good at everything,
  • There are 4 different roles at GDS:
    Service designers – Backend of the services e.g. application and how it is handled at the other end
    Interaction designers – Designs detail interaction that the user needs to make – refine the shape of the user journey
    Graphic designers – enabler for content and interaction design – simple information and hierarchies
    Content designers – deal with words, background of writer – complex government words they translate into words that users will understand.
  • No UX designers – the user experience is everyones responsibility.

Being a graphic designer in the government

  • Graphic design in the context of government services mainly involves communicating information in the most legible and sensible manner. Its all about understanding.
  • Design should never get in the way of the content, except for when the user needs it too.
  • Design should almost be invisible
  • Every element on the page should have a clear purpose – keep it simple let content shine.
  • We are happy when people says thing are simple or even boring.
  • The Crystal Goblet – an essay on typography by beatrice warde from 1932
  • Don’t ask: how should it look? Ask: what should it do?
  • The context in which users interact with our services should always be considered
  • Graphic design is not something thrown in at the end of the process – considered right from the start and work hand in hand with content designers etc.
  • Challenge what is being communicated

Some of the things they care about:

  • Words and typography:
    Words are the most important thing on the page, words are the service. Never use Lorem Ipsum, you can’t tell if the design is going to work with this, you need to understand the content.

    “Make your words count”

    Typography – New transport. Set sizes for body copy etc. Set by user research over the years. Most utilised element of the design tool, needs to be considered. Henric Cogle worked on new typeface. Legible easy to understand but iconic.
    Avoid long lines of copy – mac 75 characters or 2/3 of the page for body copy.
    Fewest number of typographic styles.
    Be consistent.

  • Layout:
    Grids give structure to your content , when used effectively they enable clear hierarchies and groupings, grids should be responsive across al devices, keep it simple.
    Page furniture – key lines boxes and panels, try using whitespace first.
    Space between elements give structure, helps group content and form hierachies. Enhance clarity legibility and readability, relives cognitive load on user
    Hierachy – what do we want the user to read first?
    Tempo – Aid easy reading, don’t use too much information.
    Affordance – easy to know what to do next.
    Don’t use UI to explain UI “click the button to do UI”.
  • Visuals
    Only use when there is a need
    Why is it on the page?
    Iconography – only when they need to help aid a person e.g. passport photo application page.
  • Physical space
  • Time behaviour
    Respect people’s time – pacing can be more important than overall time spent. Small bite sized chunks can feel quicker than one long page.
    “you are not your user” the user may behave differently to you
    Low frequency use, novice users, little or no learning, broad range of devices.

Tips for design in the goverment

  • start with less
  • mobile first
  • keep asking why
  • remember the big picture




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