"We're trying to get design out of the way"
Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in our final movie from Design Indaba in Cape Town, Ben Terrett, head of design at Government Digital Service, explains the design principles behind the new Gov.uk website, which combines all the UK Government's websites into a single site. Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.
"There were thousands of websites, and we folded them into Gov.uk to make just one," says Terrett. "The reason to do that really is to ensure that the user doesn't have to understand government to find something out. They just go to one place and it's there. They don't have to know which department has what information."
Terrett explains that the core idea behind it was to make it as simple and intuitive as possible for the user. "People only go onto government websites once or twice a year to find out a particular thing," he says. "So people shouldn't spend time relearning how to use it. The core of all our work is focussing on user need."
Terrett sought advice from Margaret Calvert, the graphic designer who, along with Jock Kinneir, designed the UK's road signs, which have been imitated around the world. Terrett cites her work as one of the iconic pieces of British design he took inspiration from: "There is this huge catalogue or canon of projects that have got this fantastic heritage of this public sector sort of design work," he says, also citing the London Underground tube map and Joseph Bazalgette's sewer network. "The more you look at it the more they were trying to do a very similar sort of thing to what we're doing."
The Gov.uk site only uses a single font and has been stripped of any graphical flourishes. "Something we're trying to do in particular is let design get out of the way and let the user get to what they want," Terrett says. "You shouldn't come to the website and go: 'wow, look at the graphic design'. We haven't yet achieved that in most web interfaces; they're still getting in the way [and] you can see the graphic design everywhere. We need to get past that."
Terrett believes that, with new technology like Google Glass simplifying or even removing the user interface altogether, websites will eventually catch up. "Google Glass and other things that we don't know about yet will prompt people to think harder and work harder on that stuff," he says. "But there's a long way to go and I think it's a fascinating challenge, a really exciting challenge."
The Gov.uk website is shortlisted for this year's Designs of the Year award, alongside high-profile projects such as Renzo Piano's The Shard and the Olympic Cauldron by Thomas Heatherwick.
This movie features a MINI Cooper S Countryman.
The music featured is by South African artist Floyd Lavine, who performed as part of the Design Indaba Music Circuit. You can listen to Lavine's music on Dezeen Music Project.
See all our Dezeen and Mini World Tour reports from Cape Town.