Gov.uk doesn’t work for some users

July 10, 2017

I have always been a bit of a fan of Gov.uk. From a citizen’s point of view, it has transformed many aspects of transacting with Government. Whether it is re-taxing the car, applying for a passport or applying for a patent it is now quick and straightforward. Gov.uk clearly deserves many of the plaudits it has received. The principle that users don’t care about which government body a service is being delivered by – they just want the service – is both sensible and user focused.

However, citizens are only one audience for Government information and services. For many public bodies, their ‘trade’ audiences (i.e. professional users) are often large and for some, the principal target users.

We have worked for many public bodies, such as Highways England, Environment Agency, Charity Commission, Intellectual Property Office to name just a few, where a large proportion, and for some most, of their users are ‘trade’ users. They know the body that delivers the service or has the information they are interested in. In testing, they typically type the name of the organisation into a search engine and start their task from the home page.These examples are all ones who now no longer have their own websites. Typing any of the above names into a search engine lands you on the Gov.uk departmental page and, as our recent usability testing for one of these public bodies shows, these pages don’t work well! The key issues were:

  • There is no clear main navigation. Links for different types of tasks are spread around the page – many below the fold
  • The ‘main links’ at the top of the page do not persist across the department
  • The search searches the whole of Gov.uk not, as users expect, just the department
  • The header and footer navigation goes to Gov.uk content not, again as users expect, department content
  • Many of these sites have content Gov.uk cannot support (e.g. Maps) and so you are taken to the legacy sites, which is confusing – it is not easy to get back to Gov.uk from these
  • All Policy, Announcement & Publication information sits in one location on Gov.uk (with a department filter) but this is often confusing and not always appropriate

Unfortunately, the current structure of Gov.uk does not work well for many ‘trade’ users. The old departmental websites often worked better. In striving to meet the needs of the citizen, the needs of other users seem to have been overlooked. For sites where the trade users are the main users, we believe there is a strong user case for returning to a dedicated departmental website. It’ll be interesting to see the direction GDS takes.