November 1st, 2012
Something extraordinary happened a few weeks ago and I felt like I should mark the occasion: The government launched a website that didn’t suck.
No, not only didn’t it suck, this website has a wonderful user experience. Really. Not only that, but it came in without falling foul of the cost creep endemic in government digital projects. It replaced and rationalised content. It made things clearer and used plain English. It focused on what users wanted to find, not what government departments wanted to say. The team shared their code on github and accept pull requests. They set metrics for pages and continually revised and improved. They ran detailed user and accessibility tests.
I can’t quite remember when I first heard of the then alpha.gov.uk project. Possibly from one of the many folks on the web scene who seemed to get sucked into the project. This in itself was the first sign that those behind the new government website knew what they were doing, they got professionals with industry respect to work on the prototype. Over the last year or so I’ve watched it move from alpha to beta and slowly iterate and optimise. They’ve done this in public, often sharing their detailed research and testing experiences on their blog (with some interesting results, see their notes on auto-completing search). The web community in the UK has been cheering from the sidelines the whole way, because it’s really made a nice change to be enthusiastic about a government website. It’s weird when the hotest startup in the UK is a government website…
If you ever wanted a case study for a large scale user-centric redesign, this is it.
This is truly a watershed moment, and one whose lessons I hope will cascade down from central government to regional (please pay attention Birmingham City Council) and other public sector areas. The Government Digital Service is a model for how this kind of project should be delivered. They put the web it its own category and built something amazing.
Given I have pretty much hated the major policies of the current coalition, it seems very strange to be congratulating it, but for their support of this one project they really deserve it. They’ve given us a UK website to be proud of.