A simpler, clearer GOV.UK

Four years after it was launched, visitors to GOV.UK were struggling with an unpredictable and inaccessible experience.

We wanted to make things better for users, but this was difficult: variable designs and a complicated front-end made iterating at scale impossible.

The challenge

Over the years, the site had become complicated and difficult for both designers and developers to make sense of. Layouts, design elements and code were iconsistent.

Having over 100 templates also made accessibility and layout improvements almost impossible.

A grid of some of the layouts on GOV.UK in 2016
These were just a few of the inconsistent layouts across the site

What we did

Content pages are visited more than any other pages, so our starting goal was to reduce the number of content page layouts on the site. These were made up of 140 templates, all with different design elements.

Research and design audit

To get started, I combed through four years of research on GOV.UK. This helped us to see the bigger picture and approach the problem holistically.

We reviewed the current templates and layouts to figure out how we could improve not just the design, but also the accessibility of the site.

Illustrated post it notes with notes about accessibility written on them A photo of a woman reading some posters on a wall
We used accessibility profiles to help us review the templates for accessibility issues. We also tested on a range of devices, which gave us much-needed insight into how users of older technology experience the site.

Consolidated and tested designs

To achieve our goal of creating accessible, consistent and usable layouts, we stripped the designs back and used as few elements as possible.

We made improvements to the accessibility by applying global changes to the typography, links, focus states and semantic structure of the templates.

We used a range of methods to test our designs and measure success, including:

  • Internal confidence surveys for those who worked on templates
  • Usability testing with users on mobile and desktop
  • AB tests to measure the success of layouts and components at scale
A photograph of a man using GOV.UK on his mobile phone
In 2016, 40% of our users were on mobile devices. By 2023, this percentage had grown to over 60%, making the mobile improvements even more important.


We reduced the number of unique layouts from 140 to 10, making it more straightforward for teams to iterate GOV.UK at pace. A smaller number of layouts and design elements also meant we could simplify the front-end architecture.

User experience improved as the predictable design allowed users to focus on the content they needed.

Accessibility improvements to font size, touch targets, colour contrast and layout improved the mobile experience as well.

Developer and designer confidence in making changes increased, and teams felt less stressed and more able to innovate.

This work helped kick off the first, early explorations for a GOV.UK Design System. The streamlined design and front-end also laid the foundations for simpler publishing tools, unified navigation and rapid iteration at scale.


Nick Colley & Paul Hayes (front-end development), Humin Miah (product management), Imeh Akpan (user research), Jane O'Laughlin (delivery management).