On dropping the name “Inside Government” from GOV.UK

There’s an adage in writing circles known as “kill your darlings”, based on a quote by William Faulkner (“In writing, you must kill all your darlings”). The theory goes that writers should be ruthless about cutting the bits of their work that they love the most, if that’s what the story demands. If you love it, you’re not being objective. If you’re not being objective, it’s likely you’re holding onto it for the wrong reasons and should let it go.

Dropping the words “Inside Government” from GOV.UK, which we quietly did in yesterday’s release, felt a lot like killing one of our darlings.

“Inside Government” has been the name for the government section of GOV.UK since the beta launched in Febuary 2011.  An original idea which hit the team’s delivery manager Pete Herlihy in a flash of inspiration (and absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with having recently seen a similar name on the BBC website), the name immediately struck a chord with me.

I felt it encapsulated our proposition (information about how government works and what it’s doing) perfectly. It had none of the stigmas of its alternatives. It’s been the name of our product, our blog and our team. I loved it at first sight, and love it still.

But it was not central to the story, and had to go.

In round after round of user testing, almost nobody has repeated the words “Inside Government” back to us. When asked what site they were using, people just said “GOV.UK”. “Inside Government” did not feature in their mental model of the site at all.

When we then drew users’ attention to the name and asked them what it meant, enough people thought it implied “internal to government” or “intranet” to have us worried.

So we’ve dropped it completely from the navigation banner and all other places on the site.

We will have to address the needs it was intended to meet in other ways:

  • to signal the change of proposition when moving between sections of GOV.UK, we’re now using the words “Departments and policy” both on the search results page and on the new homepage. This label will no doubt evolve as more agencies and non-departmental bodies join the site.
  • to help users landing directly on government pages when what they really want is mainstream services or information, we will continue to ensure the design gives as many clues as possible as to the kind of content you’re looking at. And, as always, GDS and department content designers need to take care at all times to include prominent calls to action on the any government pages which have related mainstream user needs.

Internally, we’re also starting to phase out the name and refer to the “government section” of GOV.UK.

By taking it away, we’ve taken away nothing. It was not achieving its goals and may even have been making things worse. We’ve killed one of our darlings to make the product stronger.


  1. Adam Bailin (@adambailin)

    I think this is a really good product decision. It's really difficult to kill features that you've held dear for so long but if it's not working.... Still in awe of GDS's willingness to learn from the journey!

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  2. Tim Manning

    Good move. For me it always communicated the wrong 'purpose'. The purpose is to communicate, engage and inform, not reveal some internal workings.

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  3. Nathan Wall (@_Nathan_W_)

    Neil, it's been a delight to watch the journey of 'Inside Government' unfold over the past few years. The name has changed, but the intent lives on. A rose by any other name perhaps? The way you guys continue to experiment, the pace at which you iterate is an inspiration to those of us dealing with exactly the same issues. Let's see how well the new label works. I'm looking forward to that blog post too.

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  4. William Perrin

    i raised with bob kerslake in his recent twitter thing the poor provision of information about who does what inside departments. it is the reason many companies need lobbyists.

    it's unclear who to contact about say policy if you are a company concerned about regulation, for instance. one of the weaknesses of thesectionthatusedtobecalledinsidegovernment was that it didn't help explicate this - the 'role' bit for most board members is weak to disappointing and that is often as far as it goes inside large departments. and the practice of publishing up to date organograms on (itself quite wonkish and inaccessible) is either slipping or they are becoming harder to find on (maybe i am missing something but it's hard to make sense of)

    of course much of this is down to departments i assume not volunteering this information, but as it's a generic issue i thought i would raise it here. any views?

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  5. Good Practice Exchange

    Really like the external focus of this change. Our site is in the process of being redeveloped, and we're examining what we mean by lots of phrases we've taken for granted. Nice to know that those further along the journey have also had to "kill their darlings!"

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  6. Ross Chapman (@rosschapman)

    Respect due.

    One other element I don't understand is the use of colour. We have green for some sections and blue for others. Has user testing (similar to the results found here) shown that users understand the differences?

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  7. simonfj

    Damn it! How dare you. Now a citizen won't know which glass houses to throw stones at.

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