Archive for 'govuk'
If you have any interest in the Directgov->GovUK transition, you are hereby ordered to make a cuppa and read this by veteran (sorry!) e-government blogger Alan Mather for a bit of historical perspective.
It's long but it's important. This isn't the first time a new unified government website has made big promises. Some things are different this time; much, though, isn't. 'Some will take what I say below as an attack on GDS,' he acknowledges; 'that's far from what it is, it's an attempt to look ahead and see what is coming that will trip it up and so allow action to be taken to avoid the trouble.'
In a post on the (then) Alphagov blog in April last year about design principles:
Given it has 3.5% UK market share and Microsoft are trying to persuade everyone to shift off it, we assumed IE6 is dead (actually, we were a tad ruder than that).
The blog post was illustrated by a photograph showing design principles scribbled on cards, and stuck around the room (which was in the old COI headquarters of Hercules House). See that 'IE6' one disappearing off the top? There's a very good reason why the photo is cropped precisely there. Clue: four letters, begins with F.
I think this is a well-intentioned mistake. Gov.uk is a clean slate, a rare opportunity to force people to upgrade, for their own good. GDS is a future-oriented operation, charged with leading a revolution in the delivery of public services. Oh - and cutting costs, too. Ask any web developer about the cost, in terms of both person hours and opportunity cost, of supporting IE6.
This effective endorsement of the continued use of an 11 year old browser is entirely contradictory to that mission. Sure, they'd take some flak for it. But it would be an opportunity to promote the message of 'Government’s preferred online security advice channel', GetSafeOnline, which states quite categorically: 'Always ensure that you are running the latest version of your chosen browser.'
I feel somewhat obliged to highlight the latest blog post by Stephen Hale, head of digital at the Dept of Health. As regular readers will know, Stephen switched the department's web publishing strategy over to WordPress just over a year ago, and he's written subsequently about the joy of making such a move.
The countdown is now well and truly 'on' for government's move to its new bespoke web platform: in less than a week, Directgov and BusinessLink will have been switched off. Government departments' corporate sites will make the transition over the next few months: initially as 'islands', but reaching a critical mass 'in around February', according to the Inside Inside Government blog. A post on another Health blog quoted a completion date of April - and that certainly tallies with conversations I've had.
All of which leaves Stephen in reflective mood.
In DH, since we switched our main content management tool for dh.gov.uk to WordPress, we’ve expanded the range of people who can publish DH content. We’ve been able to do this because it’s now dead easy for people to do it. WordPress removes complexity for the editor – form relates to function pretty well.
As a result the digital team spend much less time publishing than we once did, and less time training and supporting editors. So we are able to focus more of our effort on ambitious uses of digital for health and care, and our policy engagement work.
- which is exactly the message I have been pushing around Whitehall for several years. How great to see it reflected back on a *.gov.uk website.
Stephen's post closes:
I’m expecting [with] the publishing tools for the Inside Government bits of GOV.UK ... our editors won’t need a manual and a training course to do their jobs. From what I’ve seen, it’s looking good.
Is it just me, or is that a veiled threat?
Reported by the Telegraph today:
Those applying via computer or mobile phone for services ranging from tax credits, fishing licences and passports will be asked to choose from a list of familiar log-ins to prove their identity... Under the proposals, members of the public will be able to use log-ins from “trusted” organisations, chosen to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible, to access Government services grouped together on a single website called Gov.uk... A user logging onto the site by phone would be asked to choose to select from a logo from one of the trusted brands, such as Facebook.
Two days ago, on the blog of email newsletter service MailChimp:
[We were convinced] that adding social login buttons to our app were essential to improving our depressing failure rate... I was shocked to see that just 3.4% of the people that visited the login page actually used Facebook or Twitter to log in.
Even a 3.4% drop in failures is worth having them there, right? Maybe not... Do you want to have your users’ login credentials stored in a third-party service? Do you want your brand closely associated with other brands, over which you have no control? Do you want to add additional confusion about login methods on your app? Is it worth it? Nope, it’s not to us.
Of course, the MailChimp position is slightly undermined by the use, immediately below this very blog post, of 'Sign in with Facebook' and 'Sign in with Twitter' buttons on their comment form. They argue in the comment thread that commenting is a very different user scenario; and it's a view I have some sympathy with.
The date for transition from Directgov to GovUK is fast approaching, and we now have a sight of the homepage which will greet visitors on opening day. And as GDS head of design Ben Terrett acknowledges, 'it’s significantly different from any of the other homepages we’ve released so far'.
Back in April last year, when a small group of people were starting to think about an alpha for GOV.UK, the expression “Google is the homepage” was coined... People often misunderstood this to mean we thought the homepage should look like Google. We compounded this problem by making the homepage look like Google.
A brief review of previous iterations shows just how deeply that thinking went. Note in particular the one with a Google Maps aerial photo being used as a zero-effort equivalent of Google's 'doodles'.
This isn't the only instance of 'inspiration → implementation' in the GovUK design, by the way. When Ben was appointed, he wrote on the GDS blog:
In many ways the problem is similar to problem [Jock] Kinnear [sic] and [Margaret] Calvert faced when designing the road signs in the 60′s. Kinnear and Calvert proposed one consistent system. One designed with the clarity of information as it’s [sic] goal. From then on Britain had a solution that became the definitive standard and was copied around the world... Sound familiar? Swap signage systems for websites. Swap vehicle traffic for online traffic. That’s a challenge no designer could resist.
Six months later, which typeface did they choose as the new design's base? (New) Transport, Margaret Calvert's digital-friendly update of said 1960s road sign work. Well, I suppose that's one way to meet said challenge. But I digress.
Instead of trying to emulate Google, they've switched to more of a signposting strategy - which looks more like (very) old-school Yahoo. (Or indeed, Directgov.) A bold decision, which almost feels like a backward step... but a decision based on evidence. It all leads to a fascinating conclusion, which Ben describes as follows.
The people who visit the homepage do so because they are lost. They’re not on the right page, and they’re not comfortable using search, so they go to the homepage to try and help them find what they’re looking for.
Or, if I might dare to paraphrase, your own on-site search isn't worth worrying too much about. If they're going to be comfortable doing with the concept of searching, they'll almost certainly have come to you from Google (65% of traffic) anyway. (All the more reason, I'd say, for using Google Custom Search or the paid-for Site Search.)
The move also coincides with the removal of one of my favourite features of previous iterations: search suggestions as you type. When done well, it's an invaluable navigation tool in itself: and in fact, I'm now finding myself expecting to be offered search suggestions, when I start typing into the Search box of any large-scale site.
But it may not be gone for good:
I look forward to reading that forthcoming blog post. (Update: now published.)
Consistency of government departments' visual identity has been on the cards for quite some time. In such austere times it's increasingly indefensible not to; it's how the citizen sees it anyway; and there's evidence, from home and abroad, that it can be beneficial. I blogged back in 2010 that, with a new government taking power, it was an idea whose time had come; and the Single Government Domain project was always likely to be the trigger.
A couple of months back, I received a tipoff that the new logo style had been agreed; and that departments were starting to factor it into future comms plans - but I didn't want to blog about it until the details were made public. Looking through the GDS Github account this morning, I came across a publicly accessible PDF file entitled 'HMG Identity System', carrying Cabinet Office branding, dated January 2012, and uploaded in the last fortnight. It confirms the tipoffs I had received.
If you've been following the evolution of the gov.uk project, it won't come as much surprise to learn that each department gets a single identifying colour. (Health get two - one of which is NHS Blue.) For the most part, the colours will be broadly familiar from existing departmental palettes: Education's orange is the most striking exception. Departments' sub-agencies will also fall into the same system, and will inherit the colour of their parent department.
All logos are to be dropped in favour of a digital-friendly Royal Coat of Arms, except for those departments whose current identities use a particular 'heraldic badge or crest' - the Home Office and MoD are noted specifically, but I assume the Wales and Scotland Offices would be covered by this too. (NIO's use of a crest seems somewhat half-hearted, so I guess they'll use the common one.)
There will also be 'auxiliary icons' for use in certain circumstances: the crown as seen already atop gov.uk, and a somewhat unpleasantly squared-off Union Jack.
The document says it can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation, but there's no indication of how it will handle extra-long names such as Defra's.
It's very simple, surprisingly so in fact. The choice of typeface - Helvetica Neue, I assume? - doesn't immediately say British, in the way that Gill Sans might have done. It'll be very easy to forge; and, I fear, very easy for arms-length bodies to get wrong. But purely subjectively, I do quite like it.
Update, 11 May:
The 'new look' is in fact already 'out there', if you know where to look. I've had it confirmed by the Dept for Education that they've been using it on their website since 'the start of April', making them the first dept to do so. However, implementation is patchy: the 'old' DfE identity is still in evidence: I'm seeing an old logo as their website's favicon; on their Facebook page; and despite their claims to have changed it, as their Twitter icon and profile background.
There's also photographic evidence of the new style in use by the Teaching Agency, a DfE executive agency.
I haven't yet found evidence of any other departments using it yet. If you have, do please leave a comment.
A bit of extra background for anyone who's interested:
- The Dutch government rebranded all ministries with a consistent (royal crest) logo and typeface in late 2007. The work was led by design agency Studio Dumbar. (Warning: Flash heavy.)
- Canada and Germany have had consistent departmental identities for ages. France adopted a common logo (Marianne) in 1999, but its application is somewhat variable.
- The introduction of a consistent NHS identity was exemplary: 95% of people now recognise it spontaneously. This website explains what they did, and why.
- The departments of the Northern Ireland Executive share a common visual identity (hexagon-based logo and typeface): but the website about it seems to have been rationalised. The Scottish government doesn't appear to have any kind of identity for its Directorates... which I guess is consistency of another kind.
My attention has been drawn to the commitment on page 42 of yesterday's Budget 2012 document.
from 2014, new online services will only go live if the responsible minister can demonstrate that they themselves can use the service successfully
It's so simple, it's brilliant. And quite funny too.
But don't overlook the non-highlighted bit which follows. It's a commitment, the first I'm explicitly aware of, that:
all information is [to be] published on a single ’gov.uk’ domain name by the end of 2012
In other words, the Single Domain will at least be 'dual running' with all departmental websites within 9 months. But it's surely more likely, given that efficiency is a key selling point of the Single Domain strategy, that we'll see all departmental websites closed by then. There was no deadline mentioned in the Martha Lane Fox report of November 2010, or in last October's ICT Implementation Plan.
Update: blogging on the GDS's WordPress.com-based site, Mike Bracken adds some clarification:
We're working with colleagues across Government to get all information for citizens and businesses (what's currently covered by Directgov and Businesslink) published on GOV.UK by the end of this year and this gives us the hurry up. We're also working towards migrating Departmental sites onto 'Inside Government' but that will take a little longer, with a more gradual transition as current contracting arrangements for individual Departments come to an end.
The next phase of the gov.uk beta programme was opened last night: a six-week public testing phase for the 'Whitehall' information, now renamed 'Inside Government' (complete with tautological URL). Ten departments are covered initially, including all the obvious online big-hitters such as Health, BIS, Defra, FCO and DFID.
It looks very much like the rest of the gov.uk platform - as you'd expect, with a Global Experience Language - so it feels more like an extension than an enhancement. This is most striking with the individual department 'subsites': a unique 'spot colour' aside, and with an unexpected exception made for the MOD crest, all look identical and carry the same navigation. Departments aren't going to recognise these as 'their' sites - but that's kind of the point.
It's far too early to make definitive judgments about the presentation, not least because the team admit it's much more unfinished than previous previews. It's hard, therefore, to decide what's deliberately minimalist, and what's just 'not done yet' - and therefore, hard to offer helpful criticism. A lot of the pages feel very plain, probably too plain. In particular, I'm not fond of the very 'boxy' presentation of many pages: see the main News or Publications pages as good examples. I just don't find my eye being guided anywhere, and I don't get any sense of significance. But maybe they just haven't been 'done' yet.
Writing on the GDS blog, Neil Williams describes the 'custom publishing engine properly tuned to the needs of multiple users and publishers across Whitehall, and built specifically for the kinds of things governments produce. ... On average, publishing to GOV.UK was 2.5 minutes faster than WordPress and 11 minutes faster than Directgov,' he claims: I've already taken him to task on that one.
As a website, it's what they said it would be, and it looks like we knew it would look. So it doesn't feel like much of a leap forward, and could actually be quite a tough sell around Whitehall. But this part of the gov.uk project isn't about a website. It's about redefining how government departments see themselves, present themselves, and talk about what they do. And that's w-a-y more difficult than building a website.
I blogged earlier today about Saul Cozens and his 'v0.1 alpha' WordPress plugin for embedding gov.uk content via WordPress shortcode.
The great news is, Saul has uploaded it to a public repo at Github, meaning it's now:
- dead easy for you to download, and keep up to date
- possible for you to fix, enhance and generally improve it
Saul has very
foolishly kindly given me commit privileges on it, and I've done a bit of work on it this evening - a bit of error handling / prevention, adding basic parsing of gov.uk's multi-page 'guide' content (including any videos!), and general housekeeping.
In other words, it's now less likely to simply fail on your page. It's likely to fail in more complicated ways instead.
There's one substantial catch: and this is an appeal for help.
It adds a number of extra formatting options, to create things like information and warning 'callout' boxes. And whilst there are PHP based libraries for Markdown, which we can bolt on easily, there's nothing instantly WordPress-friendly for this new govspeak.
Yet. If you know a bit of ruby, if you've got a bit of spare time, and if you want to help expand the reach of govuk's content to charities, community groups, local government, etc etc... now's your chance.
If you fancied one of those £73,000pa developer jobs, I bet it would look great on your application.