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Moving on from GDS

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I've been Creative Lead on the design team at GDS for the last two years, and I'm really thrilled about my next step. On Monday I'm joining the design team at Twitter.

I've been asked to write a blog post about my time here, and I've also written on my personal blog about why I'm excited to join Twitter.

In the beginning…

I started at GDS before it was really GDS. It was early 2011 when I was invited to meet Tom Loosemore in an unfurnished, disused government office in a 60's tower block near Waterloo. In that building a handful of hackers were plotting a revolution.

They'd been tasked with redefining government online, and challenging the way things had previously been done. Could they make something demonstrably better, in less time and costing less money? Things were already under way and Tom introduced me to a great team – it sounded like they had everything they needed, apart from a designer. Could I start Monday?

Starting from a blank canvas and with the freedom to do whatever we wanted was a dream gig, so I made a few calls to shift some other client work, and the very next week I was prototyping and designing the kind of digital services you and I have come to expect, but which traditional government processes wouldn't allow to happen.

We were confident that this was the right way to go, but that didn't necessarily mean politicians and senior civil servants agreed. So once the Alphagov project was over it came as delightful surprise when the project team was hired as part of the newly forming GDS. We'd proven ourselves with the Alpha, and we'd been given the green light to join others from across government to replace the existing online services with a more substantial, fully operational version of Martha Lane Fox's vision.

Alphagov to GDS

At first I spent a fair amount of time working on concepts for the beta of what's become known internally as GOV.UK 'mainstream' – the citizen and business published content side of the site. As the team grew and we had more hands on deck, I switched to laying the groundwork for transactions – prototyping and user testing concepts for several services which aren't yet live but which GDS will continue to work on and release over the coming months. Recently, I've been helping to document the design patterns we've worked on, so these can be shared with digital service divisions across government.

Over the two years I've been here, the team has grown rapidly from a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred, and I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the top talent in the industry – a great bunch of people to know, as well as being fantastic at what they do.

A large team has given GDS the capacity to release early versions of many new products which, for government, has been ground-breaking. But the speed of growth hasn't been without its growing pains, which we didn't have during the Alpha. I've sometimes found myself reminiscing about those early days, when life was so much simpler.

This is the first time I've worked on something of this scale, and I've learnt an incredible amount. I've done more prototyping, usability testing, and iterating than I've ever done before. I've dabbled with technologies like SASS, Jekyll, and Git, and I've learnt a lot about how design fits into an Agile workflow.

A story told

GDS is at the beginning of a big adventure. But for me personally it feels like the part of the GOV.UK narrative, which we began two years ago, has come to a conclusion. Citizen, business and government content, which was the extent of the alpha, is all now live on a 'single domain' – an ambition which felt almost unachievable when we started.

There are many parts of the project that I haven't been involved with, but I'm proud and honoured to have played a small part in the journey so far. I'll certainly be watching from the sidelines and cheering @GDSteam on in next few years.

And since I'll be working there from next week, I should probably finish by saying: follow me on Twitter.

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  1. Comment by What’s happening? – Paul Annett posted on

    […] I’ve just blogged about my time in government, over on the GDS […]

  2. Comment by alexcoley posted on

    I remember the Directgov communications team being shifted to another floor to make that space available to 'secret' contractors who were brought in without any recruitment process to plot the demise of a hudred people's jobs.