Dezeen Magazine

Ben Terrett on 10 principles of good digital design

UK government website redesigned according to 10 new design principles

London Design Festival: the UK government has launched a new website in beta designed according to 10 principles devised by Ben Terrett, head of design at the Government Digital Service, who spoke to Dezeen at the Global Design Forum this week (+ audio).

Graphic designer and digital technology expert Terrett is leading the transformation of the British government's digital strategy, including simplifying the once sprawling array of government websites.

"When you interact with the government it should always be the same," he said in his talk earlier in the day, explaining that consistency is vital to making the user experience similar. "This is how Amazon and eBay built things."

His team in the Cabinet Office have developed 10 principles of good design to guide their work, which they have made public in the belief they will be useful to other designers. The principles are:

1. Start with needs
2. Do less
3. Design with data
4. Do the hard work to make it simple
5. Iterate. Then iterate again
6. Build for inclusion
7. Understand context
8. Build digital services, not websites
9. Be consistent, not uniform
10. Make things open: it makes things better

The most important one is the first, Terrett told Dezeen. "Start with user needs, not government needs – what the user is trying to do, not what the Whitehall process is. The other most important one is 'make things open'. We believe that if you share work it makes it better," he added.

The principles are intended to guide the government in making digital services but could also be used in other industries. "Actually, a lot of people have said they're just good principles for designing anything," Terrett said.

Open source and collaborative design was one of the emergent themes during the day at the Global Design Forum, with speakers including Tom Hulme of design firm IDEO and Anab Jain of Indian collaborative design practice Superflux arguing that these new ways of working are already having a major impact on the industry.

Terrett also believes digital design will be the next step in the evolution of Britain's design history. "Britain has always been brilliant at big public sector design projects – Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir's UK road signs, Bazalgette and the Crossness Pumping Station, the Tube map that was copied round the world – all these projects are by civil servants and have been copied around the world," he said.

This time, however, digital innovation will not come from huge companies but from smaller businesses. "Part of what we'll be doing is trying to navigate that and plug into innovation" around the country, he added.

The Global Design Forum is a new conference launched at the London Design Festival that brings together designers, critics, technology experts, trend forecasters and trade and government representatives to discuss the global agenda for design.

See all our stories about London Festival 2012 »