We’ve put a lot of time thinking about our digital design principles recently.
The digital team has been up and running for a year, but it’s taken us this long to really understand the problems we’re trying to solve and how to approach these from different disciplines.
As a service, we have a set of challenges that make us unique:
We have 2 important audiences – online users and advisers. We need to provide tailored information for their different needs that fits together seamlessly.
We’re helping people solve problems, and complex ones at that. This demands practical, actionable advice and not just information about rights.
To help us develop content and services that better meet these challenges the team has put together some digital design principles.
These are principles based on experience of the real problems we’re trying to solve. They’re the product of trial and error, and lots of discussion.
They help us make sure we’re designing with the same purpose across all aspects of design – visual, UX, content, service and even the change management that goes alongside new products.
These principles are a benchmark for everything the digital team does, and the way we work. They also guide what’s in and what’s out of scope.
They’re both aspirational and achievable. We might not get them perfectly right every time, but they’re what we should be striving towards – no matter what we’re working on.
The principles interact with each other at all stages of our work. Although they’re for digital, they can just as easily be applied to other service design work.
Here they are in more detail:
Start with people’s needs
- everything we do is based on people’s needs
- needs come from real people – online users, clients and advisers, not the organisation or policy
- people’s needs are based on problems, eg ‘as someone who suspects they’ve been trafficked, I need to get help so I can get out of my situation’
- needs are collected through research and data
- we don’t assume anything – the digital team isn’t the audience, and we don’t try to be
Design with data and research
- every decision should be informed by research, eg content, CMS development, design, usability
- use resources like Google Analytics, Google Trends, SEMrush, Petra – these are our ports of call when making decisions
- do as much research as possible – with real people who’d be using whatever you’re working on
- try not to assume – question everything
- only the people who use our products know best
- we iterate with data and research too (it’s not just a big bang)
Help people solve problems
- identify problems through research and solve them with advice
- don’t just give information or explain the law without solving problems
- make content active and actionable
- we define how we meet needs with ‘acceptance criteria’ – a set list of criteria which explain what it takes for us to solve people’s problems
- make our solutions easy to find, externally and internally
Collaborate with the whole Citizens Advice service
- within the digital team: content designers, designers, researchers, developers, delivery managers, data scientists
- but also outside the team: policy experts, subject matter experts, campaigners, news team and advisers
- use Slack to get the team’s opinion on a problem, no matter how small
- everyone can contribute to the conversation
- don’t struggle alone – there’s a group of smart and humble people around you, ready and willing to pitch in (and you can return the favour one day)
- understand the importance of the role that we have in the service
Give practical and tactical advice
- this is where we add value
- give our online audience the advice that no one else is saying
- we find the best tactics by learning from advisers, subject matter experts and by doing our own research
- we can really push the boundaries – and replicate what Citizens Advice has been doing for years in a different space
Understand the different audiences
- know online audience needs and adviser needs
- sometimes we can meet the needs of both at once
- sometimes we’ll have to design only for advisers, or only for the public
- know where this line is, and when we have to write separate pieces
- this is achieved through research
- different subject areas have different audiences
Use one voice
- use a consistent tone of voice and style across the organisation
- apply the the same consistency to tools, the branding and design
- the style guide and 2i people are the guides for this
- be consistent not uniform – there will be exceptions to the rules but they need to be discussed and justified, preferably with research
- test the style regularly
- think about accessibility not as a bolt-on, but as an integral part of the design process
Share early, fail fast and then improve
- don’t spend too long on something without a second opinion or a crit – don’t strive for perfection
- do small pieces of work that can be iterated
- any work will always benefit from a fresh pair of eyes
- build quick prototypes of tools that can be tested as soon as possible
- test content and the language we’re using with our audiences as early as possible
- aim for a minimum viable product, then fill the gaps
- failure is not a weakness – it’s part of the process
Keep making it better
- be prepared to release products and publish content that aren’t perfect, because digital is never finished
- content and products will never be perfect, but we make the best decisions we can with the data we have at the time
- monitor live content and iterate based on data
- it’s our job to keep learning and never stop