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    A version of the new-look site in use

An interview with Ben Terrett about the Government's digital design principles

Posted by Rob Alderson,

It’s all very well talking of “the importance of good design” but it’s a term often used and understood in wooly ways. So it’s always refreshing to see an organisation put their money where their mouth is and set out what they see as the fundamentals – all the more so if that organisation is part of, oh I don’t know, the British Government.

The British Government’s Digital Service (GDS) has recently released in Alpha a set of ten design principles which will act as the guide on the path towards a single domain.

Evolving from a 2010 report by the Government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox, the ten ideas are an interesting read for all designers and are part of a wider drive to rebuild Britain’s reputation for public design excellence.

The former Wieden+Kennedy creative has no qualms about the magnitude of the task he faces but is clearly buzzing with any pressures it may bring.

“Direct.gov has the same number of views as something like Facebook. That’s what’s really exciting about the job, the numbers are just massive. You do feel greater responsibility as you are effectively designing for the whole country. That is why it’s so important to get it right.”

“You do feel greater responsibility as you are effectively designing for the whole country. That is why it’s so important to get it right.”

Ben Terrett

Ben likes the long-term nature of his project and the new challenges involved with focusing on one overall project rather than lots of little ones as would be the case at an ad agency. And he stresses that these principles are “definitely a draft.”

“The idea is that the alpha is the show what we believe are good principles for designing a digital service and we’ve tried to back that up with examples."

“We had quite a few of them, then we went down and were stuck on nine for quite a while and now we’re up to ten. I think they are sort of obvious but always worth restating."

  • Principles

    The ten principles

And Ben is keen the ideas are released into the public realm to see what people think as soon as possible.

“We get things out as quick as we can – rather than just debate it in the office we want to see what people make of it. The response has been really positive.

“The nicest thing people have said is that they would not expect something like this from the Government. People have also said they’re good ideas for anything, not just websites.”

He hopes that they will help prove that the Government is serious about good design, but this is a restoration rather than a new direction as far as Ben is concerned.

“Britain has a brilliant heritage of public services design – the National Festival, Margaret Calvert, Kenneth Grange– but it kind of stopped in the 1980s/90s. We should be able to get that back and the future is obviously online so this could become the digital equivalent of the road signs.

“I think that is possible –  that is the standard we want to set, not just in terms of visual design but in terms of navigation, accessibility and everything like that.”

And if they can achieve that it will help attract the best young design talent too. “I really want for us to become a place where young people want to come straight from college, attracted by the scale of the thing – there’s not many challenges of this size in this world – there’s also the mission to make peoples lives better. And there’s great talent involved here, we have hired people from the Guardian, Google, Airside and the BBC recently.”

  • Gov2

    The Ministry of Defence website (old version)

  • Gov3

    The Ministry of Defence website (new version)

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.