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Make things simple for your customer – it’s not hard

Blue Latitude Health|21st October 2013

Earlier this month, we attended the inaugural Festival of Marketing that took place across London. Industry experts talked passionately about ways to tackle the current challenges of this era of marketing, but also reinforced one of the oldest adages: keep it simple.

It can be easy to overcomplicate design and lose sight of what your website is aiming to achieve. Many elements can distract from delivering your services effectively and achieving a strong user experience. One session stood out for its simplicity and logical approach to design. That session came from the somewhat unlikely source of Gov.uk. The website was developed by the Government Digital Service to combine all of the UK Government’s websites into a single domain.

Gov.uk homepage

Russell Davies, Creative Director for Gov.uk, has described the changes to the site as a revolution. The result has set a new standard for government digital services, but also for any company who has a website.

So how have they revolutionised the website which resulted in the team winning the Design Museum’s 2013 Design of the Year Award? The site was referred to by a Daily Mail article as boring.com. If ‘boring’ means a hardcore focus on delivering services, then ‘boring’ may be its biggest compliment.

Russell’s primary message is that the internet is where your business lives. It is not a marketing tool. Forget about segmentation, and focus on action. Concentrate on activities, not audiences. The needs of a user should be central to the design. Understand what your user does and wants to do and help them do that. Simple.

Gov.uk lives and swears by three little words: simple, clearer, better. Russell explains that the website is not going to be successful using a model akin to that of Daily Mail, which aims to attract as many people as possible to feed them full of advertisements. A website like Gov.uk is about doing things and not viewing things.

Why is this relevant to us? In essence, the main similarity between a government website and a pharmaceutical website is that both are service orientated and not brand focused. On many pharma websites, the user is looking for information and services. That is all.

Russell and his team took the approach that web design should flow from the viewpoint of service delivery, and the success of their website should be an inspiration for design concepts in our sector.

The 10 principles that the Gov.uk team live by are:

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

The most important principle is the first: to start with user needs. An example of user-focused design can be seen in the update to statutory maternity pay information. On the old site this information was spread across a number of pages, had countless hyperlinks and presented a complex and confusing process to the user. A ‘smart answer’ design was introduced. The user answers a series of five questions, which generate the amount of maternity pay that the particular user is entitled to.

Gov.uk - maternity pay and leave

Something as simple as using data on what your user is searching for can help to improve their experience. For example, Gov.uk includes a table of bank holiday dates on their site, but Google Analytics showed that a majority of users were actually searching for ‘when is the next bank holiday?’, so this is the information that is now displayed most prominently on the page. You have access to user data. Use it.

Gov.uk - bank holidays

The transition to the new site may have posed a lot of issues. Many companies would have launched an expensive campaign to educate the public on the new website and all material would have needed to be reprinted. This would have resulted in a lot of waste and expense. Instead, a solution as simple as redirecting the old URL to the new URL solved this issue. Users of the old sites find themselves redirected automatically to the new site, but find themselves with a cleaner, simpler experience. Result.

These examples show how simple design can improve overall user experience. How inspiring it is to see the UK government paving the way in digital services! Taking Russell’s teams approach to design and services into consideration can only lead to a better website. ‘Surely you shouldn't have a worse website than the government!’ were Russell’s tongue-in-cheek closing words. A challenge if ever I heard one!

Read more about user-centred design in the second issue of Perspective magazine, downloadable below.

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