Exploring GOV.UK as a system

By 2021, GOV.UK had gone through two major crisis response projects: Brexit and Covid-19. We’d paused our work on the platform, moving fast to deliver much needed content and services to users.

The challenge

The pace and pressure of these projects led to building bespoke solutions rather than iterating, and we’d started to undo previous work to streamline and improve the site.

When the dust settled, we knew we had to make a range of updates to platform and how we worked on it.

I collaborated with design and product leadership to define the GOV.UK strategy for 2022–23. A key focus of the strategy is to ‘fix the basics’, laying the foundations for ambitious future delivery that depends on a solid, resilient platform.

Build a simple,1 joined-up2 and personalised3 experience of government for everyone4
The strategy would be realised through a range of deliverables: 1. A resilient and scalable platform; 2. Empowered departments; 3. Content distributed across platforms; 4. Content that is accessible and available at the point of need

What we did

We launched a discovery to investigate how to build tools and processes around the foundations of GOV.UK: what it does, how it fits together and how people work on it.

I worked with stakeholders to shape the brief and helped the team define, scope and deliver the work.


Interviews with publishers revealed that many were misusing content types because they weren't fit for purpose. This hinders navigation by undermining the IA.

These issues were exacerbated by teams using fragmented resources: tech docs, component libraries and content guidance were siloed and contradictory .

Finally, there was little information on how past decisions were made, or why.

We explored structured content

Publishers needed content types that had flexible features. To achieve this, we explored how to structure content and separate it from its presentation.

Structured content also unlocks content distribution across the site, meaning we could build personalised features for users who have signed in and shared their data with us.

An illustration of guide content, showing different ways it could be personalised using structured content
Guidance could be tailored to users by providing contextual information. This is powered by structured content that can be pulled from databases across government.

We prototyped flexible templates

We designed and prototyped a template to deliver several different content types. Features are controlled by the publisher, providing greater flexibility and reducing content type misuse.

Publishing would be controlled with permissions instead of needing separate applications for different content types.

An illustration of a flexible template for GOV.UK, with a range of options for publishers to choose
Flexible features and a permissions-based model would let us reduce the number of applications we maintain.

We brainstormed better documentation

Research revealed that there were no standard processes for teams on GOV.UK to rely on when working. Many people didn’t know what resources existed, and knowledge often disappeared when team members left.

Most pressingly, we needed a way to make sure that work done was always aligned with the GOV.UK strategy. Teams needed to understand the why, not just the how of decision making.

We started pulling together all the known documentation and rewriting it in a user centred way.

An illustrated example of what good documentation on GOV.UK looks like
Documentation doesn't have to focus only on the technical parts. The way something is made should be defined by the purpose and strategy behind it.


To make teams fall in love with these ideas, we brought them to life with stories, prototypes and future scenarios.

It was important to bring people along, and teams were invited to collaborative sessions to build on and iterate the ideas.

Making sense of a complex system isn't just about good documentation or solid foundations. It's also about talking to teams to understand how they interact with and understand it.

Changes to systems should never be top-down; an iterative and collaborative approach is vital.


Taiwo Aboyede (product management), Jenn Philips-Bacher & Sally Creasy (content strategy), Rik Williams (content), Marina Filiba (service design), Rebecca Cottrell (interaction design), Jo Cameron (user research).