Alpha.gov.uk is a demonstration of what a single central Government site could be. It's not Business Link, it's not Directgov, it's not any specific department or Government agency – but at the same time it represents all of those, and in a hypothetical future a single central Government site could exist instead of them all (the reasoning behind this is explained elsewhere).
But the last thing the Government needs is an additional website. So from the outset I wanted to make sure we weren't creating a new entity. Alphagov is the codename for the project, but there is no 'Alphagov'. It should not have it's own brand distinct from the UK Government, but at the same time we should not feel tied to existing brand guidelines. An experimental prototype is no such thing if it sticks dogmatically to the old way of doing things.
There are three distinct audiences for the Government's website; citizens, businesses and more specialist Government audiences. We wanted to ensure that sections of the site aimed at each type of audience had a distinct feel. To achieve this we've used colour and typography. Clarendon was chosen as a friendly, familiar typeface for headings in the citizen section of the site, and Stub Serif as a more stately feeling typeface in the Government portions. It's unusual to see anything other than a handful of fonts online, so by using Fontdeck, a web font service, we're able to use a more diverse range to add flavour and subtle signposting to the visuals.
In the prototype, we're representing content relating to each department by using that department's colours. Individual department logos have been culled and we're offering their content as part of the UK Government as a whole, but 'tagged' as being owned by a department (and each department would still be responsible for publishing their own content). We hope that experimenting with how the traditional structure of Government is presented online will make the site easier to use for people who are perhaps less familiar with Government's internal machinations.
The homepage was one of the last pages of the site we designed. Search logs from existing Government sites show that over 90% of traffic is people arriving at deep links, typically coming from Google to a transaction page, wanting to complete their task and leave. From this perspective, the homepage is rarely seen and very little horizontal navigation around the site is necessary, at least in the citizen parts. The original concept was to keep the homepage simple, much like Google, but in the end we had to make a few concessions internally and we're presenting a lead news story as a backdrop to the search, plus some news articles further down the page.
Iconography throughout the site is simple and single-colour, with each different icon representing different types of content. On occasion this was quite a challenge, and in some instances we're not 100% happy with the final icons, but again because this is a prototype they do the job of representing different types of content for different users.
The deeper into the site you get the less time we've had to spend on some pages, but hopefully the site design gives a broad feeling of the visual direction the Government could take.
Our decisions may be controversial, and aren't always the right ones, we're sure. But we have no qualms in admitting that we're here to stimulate conversation as much as offer solutions. Let the debate commence.
Paul Annett was Design Lead on the Alpha.gov.uk prototype. You should follow @nicepaul on Twitter.