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Design language for Government users

  • Role: Lead designer
  • Organisation: UK Government

The services on GOV.UK are the most visible part of digital teams work in Government. But we also deliver many services that sit outside of GOV.UK for Government staff.

GOV.UK has an instantly recognisable design language thanks to the work of many great designers at the Government Digital Service (GDS). The most distinctive elements of the design language are the crown logo and GDS Transport font but they are only licensed for use on GOV.UK. Due to these licensing restrictions, the design language for government staff services is not as strong or as clearly defined as on GOV.UK.

Reuse and building on top of GOV.UK design system

Without a clearly defined design language, Government departments can waste time and effort re-inventing solutions, or leaving services essentially ‘undesigned’. I was the lead designer on the project to fix this.

A design language is the visual language of digital services and products. Like any language, it relies on rules to help users understand how to use it. It explains those rules to its users, guiding teams on how to consistently implement the language across a service.

The design operations team at the Home Office set out to create consistent guidance that could be used across Government when designing staff services. We wanted to lay the foundations for a more consistent experience that teams could build upon over time. Our services, whether public or staff facing, should inspire confidence and trust, and meet the highest accessibility and usability standards.

This work is aimed at reducing the cost and effort in delivery teams. It also aims to produce a distinctive set of HO branded services that inspire confidence and are a more cost-effective, usable alternative to 3rd party products.

We're not re-inventing things we already know work well for users. We are building on what we already have in the GOV.UK Design System and collaborating directly with the team working on it. We already document patterns and components that aren’t documented elsewhere in Government. Most of these are from Government staff services. We share these across Home Office and Government in part to help Government staff services meet the same standards as public services.

Creating a design language has the same goals. Staff services should not suffer because they cannot use the GOV.UK design language.

Collaborating across Government departments

We’ve been trialling this design language on a variety of services including our service delivery manual, some of our case working systems and our internal tools. We also have trails running in other Government departments to make sure it can be something used beyond the Home Office.

We’ve purposely designed this work to be used across departments. We want other departments to be able to pick it up and re-use it, reducing wasted effort across Government. We have collaborated with GDS, Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure our work will scale.

A breakthrough

My favourite feedback so far has been how the work is both underwhelming and a complete breakthrough. So far in research users have ignored the visual design of the services and just got on with their jobs. This is exactly the result we want for a design language for Government staff services. The design language should build trust and be a base for designing a very usable service. We have achieved that.

The design language
A screenshot of the Home Office design system
A screenshot of Home Office delivery manual An example of one of our Home Office accessibility posters