When people talk about web design they sometimes take good editorial work for granted. We've already talked about how we are identifying user needs and content titles for gov.uk but this post looks at how we are developing our editorial approach.
You can't please all of the people all of the time
One of Directgov's main principles was to simplify government language, but it also tried to cover all eventualities. This often meant that the content was full of caveats and jargon, making it hard to scan (and we know that people tend to scan not read).
Trying to cover all bases meant that we often bombarded users with information that most simply didn't need. For gov.uk we are working to make sure that users can find relevant content, read, understand and leave. To achieve this our content needs to be:
- easy to understand
- easy to retain
- easy to act upon (where possible - government can be complex)
We want to help our users easily understand:
- our information - do users understand that they get x benefit if they apply within 30 days of x event?
- their legal obligations, rules and rights
- how to complete their tasks (either a transaction or information)
- and trust the information so they won't have to phone to contact a call centre to double-check
Tone and style
Our editorial principles are built around being informative, succinct, reassuring, brisk (but not terse) and most importantly focusing on what you can usefully tell people they can do. We won't be giving advice so, for example, we may tell you you can get a divorce by filling in a certain form and going through a certain process - but we won't be covering how you tell your children.
The common case
We will be 'designing for the common case'. That means we will take information that affects most of our users and putting it up front. If you are an edge case or exception - perhaps affected by something that only affects 100 people in the whole of the UK - then your information will still be there - it just won't be in the first paragraph.
And we will be tracking and monitoring site activity so that if we get something wrong we can improve it quickly.
Directgov was an amazing start to the long journey to bring Government web content into one place.We are taking everything we learned and building on that understanding. We know that:
- words matter - understanding our audience, using the right terms and trusting our editors means that users get the right information in the most digestible format
- understanding matters - understanding content is more important than covering every eventuality
- iteration matters -we will keep evolving the style guide, presentation and content design as we learn
Our editorial motto could best be summed up as - understand, remember, act - that's what we want our users to do - but there is only one way to find out what works: test it.
Sarah Richards is one of the lead content designers at GDS