Back in May of this year I tweeted about how impressed I was that London-based agency ustwo had released an update to their “Pixel Perfect Precision” handbook, which included a new section on accessibility.
The handbook, written so that new members of their team can quickly get up to speed on how they’re expected to work, was notable in that it pushed accessibility as a skill designers and developers should be giving consideration to. That it does so in such an open and inviting way is a great thing.
As the Accessibility Lead for the GDS I spend my time sharing that view; across the GDS, and across wider government, and the web community. I was contacted by ustwo and invited to go and speak to their designers and front-end developers about my role in the GDS, how we work, and the kinds of things that accessibility here encompasses.
One of the first pieces of work I did at GDS last year was to create icons for different types of content on GOV.UK.
The icons (appearing as they did in various different guises) have been a part of the site since the alpha back in 2011, but this month we’ve removed them.
This post provides a bit of background on why we’ve made that decision.
In the past few weeks, a small team in the Government Digital Service has been working to make significant improvements to site search on GOV.UK.
When GOV.UK came out of beta in October 2012, replacing the Directgov and Business Link websites, there were around 3,800 pieces of content. Six months on, and the bringing together of information from 24 departments and 31 agencies has added around 52,000 additional documents. In that time, it’s become even harder for users to find what they’re looking for using site search on GOV.UK. And our analytics data and user feedback have consistently told us that search simply hasn’t been good enough. Time for some improvements.
Here’s what we’ve done in the past couple of months.
Recently, we asked the Centre for Information Design Research (CIDR) at the University of Reading to review the GOV.UK Style Guide to ensure it meets the needs of users online. They’ve completed their review, and we asked them to write about how it worked.
Information design research
At CIDR, we extend the influence of design research into projects that make a difference to people’s lives. Examples of these kinds of projects include work with the National Offender Management Service to develop a structured communication tool for reducing conflict between staff and prisoners, and with the NHS to improve communication between carers of people with dementia and clinicians.
We use research-based knowledge of how people seek out and respond to information, how they read on paper and on screen, and how text can be written and organised visually so that it helps them understand and use information effectively.
Our work involves multi-disciplinary teams – much like GDS – typically bringing together insights from human-computer interaction, psychology, information science, linguistics and graphic design. We test different solutions to problems, often working in partnership with companies or organisations to help us get feedback from their members or users.
Last Friday Rebecca Kemp, Joshua Marshall and I visited the opening of the ‘Design that Makes a Difference’ exhibition at the Royal College of Art. Josh is our accessibility lead and Rebecca leads the Assisted Digital programme. Organised as a collaboration between the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and the Norwegian government, the exhibition is about “inclusive design” and “showcases 20 leading projects from the UK and Norway that demonstrate the benefits of people-centred design thinking”.
Last night we were surprised and proud to win the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.
That picture sums up what I want to say. This is not just a win for GDS, this is a win for everyone across government.
In that picture there is a fraction of the team who have worked on this at GDS: designers, content editors, developers, product managers, operations, strategy, engagement, and project management people. There’s the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, and Rohan Silva, Senior Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister. Pippa Norris from Ministry of Defence, Roger Oldham from Ministry of Justice and Adam Bye from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There’s also Margaret Calvert (who designed the UK road signage system in the ’60s) and our little award.
The Design Museum’s annual ‘Designs of the Year’ awards exhibition launched last week. As usual it’s an eclectic mix of architecture, fashion, digital, furniture, products, transport and graphics. Category winners and the overall winner will be decided by a jury and announced to the public on 17 April 2013.
We’ve released a beta version of the Digital by Default Service Standard, a big step towards fulfilling one of the actions established in the Government Digital Strategy last November. Read more
Before Christmas, Ben Terrett asked the design team to think of one thing we’d like to change on GOV.UK. My choice was easy; add high resolution graphics to the site so it looks better on high pixel density devices.
Rather than write a report about what I’d like to change, I took the opportunity to get going and actually implement hi-res icons and logos on GOV.UK. Read more
At GDS we intend the web to be the primary platform for publishing things like policy, speeches and detailed guidance, with any print documents taking a supporting role. As a consequence legibility online becomes hugely important, because the reader will be using these texts to either implement government policy or form opinions about it.
At the very least the material needs to match the legibility of the printed or pdf documents it is replacing – a job which webpages don’t usually manage. Generally the internet has favoured universal access to material over the quality of that material, but at the moment here at GDS (like many other publishing organisations) we’re wrestling over how we can combine the two. Read more