80% of UK Government spend is on its services, and with over 10,000+ services, most built for a non-digital age, there is a need to modernise.
Historically, UX has often been an afterthought for third-party vendors when building solutions such as citizen portals, despite the success of these platforms relying on adoption and usability.
So how can public authorities ensure they create modern, convenient services that create processes that can be initiated by citizens and help to promote ‘self-service’?
The five core UX elements of digital government
Effective digital services revolve around five core UX attributes: accessibility, usability, readability, findability and desirability. By understanding different user needs at each stage, and applying this knowledge throughout the design process, organisations can go a long way in promoting an inclusive culture.
Being accessible in a digital age means being available on multiple devices and channels. Consider where your audience is, what channels they use, and how they access the internet. Beyond this, it’s vital to cater for a range of ages and disabilities too. For example, those with hearing loss, or visual impairment.
People shouldn’t need training to use your service. It should be clear and simple to follow even for the least technologically adept of us. Creating as few hurdles as possible and asking for only the information you need can work towards ensuring maximum engagement.
Forget jargon, and disregard nominalisations. Speak in plain text, so simple in fact that a twelve-year-old can understand it. Research shows that content designed in short, easy to digest sentences goes a long way in helping us to understand what it is you’re trying to convey.
Users should easily be able to find content, or functionality that they assume to be present on a website. It can be a very frustrating experience if there is no logic to the structure of your site or application, and users cannot easily find what they need.
Desirability is conveyed through image, identity and the emotional aspect of design. The more desirable on the eye, the more likely a user is to return and actively want to use a product or a service.
Public bodies are also under an added emphasis to adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These technical guidelines are in place to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities and older people with changing abilities due to ageing. WCAG provides common definitions for accessible content which public bodies can benchmark against. (Find out more about WCAG Guidelines here).
Developing your UX strategy
Understanding these core UX principles provides a platform from which to develop further digital services.
The first step to driving digital excellence and delivering an excellent user-experience is to have an effective strategy and an inclusive culture that permits digital evolution. Only by attaining cross-organisational buy-in can you truly adopt a ‘digital-first’ culture and move forward digitally as an organisation to the benefit of citizens. Many organisations have done this successfully and thrived as a result.
Fortunately, authorities don’t have to re-invent the wheel. The early adopters from the private sector lead the way. The public sector stands on firm ground here - learning from their experience.
What this means is looking to the likes of Monzo and Revolut in financial services and how they have revolutionised digital banking. Or Facebook and Instagram in the world of social media where an app keeps us all connected and harnesses the UX that they invested millions of pounds in to perfecting. The experience delivered all share common traits – they are easier to use than their traditional predecessors and are centred on our changing user needs.
Digital strategies for public services centred on user needs is a dramatic step forward in helping improve best practice UX. Testament to this is the Gov.uk Technology Code of Practice, where at the core of the 11 point plan are user needs, inclusivity and accessibility.
Future proofing your UX strategy
When Gov.uk went live back in 2012, it was built with the foresight that it should be optimised for mobile usage, despite only accounting for 19% of total traffic at the time. Today, that figure stands at over 50%. This clear indicator of the upwards trends towards mobile, shows that Government’s need to factor in multi-device design when developing their digital infrastructure. On top of mobile browsing, there are opportunities to develop specific applications suited to mobile, again centred on accessibility and making it easier still for citizens to interact with services, or to communicate with authorities.
Improving UX has always been about what the user needs, where they need it, with as few barriers in their way as possible.
We must be mindful of the five fundamental aspects that help us deliver an effective UX: accessibility, usability, readability, findability and desirability. Adhering to these, and ensuring we meet each one will go a long way to improving the services provided to citizens.