Building a better GOV.UK, step by step


A screenshot of the Apply for your first provisional driving licence step by step page
The 'Apply for your first provisional driving licence' step by step navigation page

Since GOV.UK launched 6 years ago it has been the home of government’s online content and the starting point for online services.

Every week millions of people use GOV.UK to do complex and sometimes life-changing tasks, such as learning to drive, registering a birth or starting a business.

We want to make these tasks as easy as possible - by making content simple and user journeys intuitive. This is good for users because it makes it quicker to get things done. And it’s good for government because it reduces unnecessary contact and casework.

Why we need to look at end to end services

We know users face challenges carrying out tasks. There’s a lot of information to find for a start. Depending on the task, there might be appointments to book, forms to fill in, applications to be made and tests to take.

And what makes this even harder is that each step needs to be done at the right time and in the right order.

That’s why government needs to look at every step of this task. From the first thing the user does, to the last thing they need to do. We need to look at services from end to end.

The difficulty government faces when trying to make this easier is that people’s real-world tasks do not always fit neatly with the way government is organised into departments and agencies.

For example, a business wanting to hire their first employee needs information and services from 5 different areas of government before they can hire them:

Step Government department or agency
Check you can afford to take on an employee Department for Work and Pensions
Register as an employer HM Revenue and Customs
Check a potential employee’s right to work in the UK Home Office
Check a potential employee’s criminal record Disclosure and Barring Service
Set up a pension scheme The Pensions Regulator

Organising GOV.UK by topic and task

Rather than organise GOV.UK around the structure of government, we’ve been working to organise content around user needs at scale. So, rather than being organised by department, content on GOV.UK is now organised into a single site-wide system of user-centred topics.

This topic structure will power new ways to search and browse the site, making things much easier to find.

But we want to go further - we want to make things easier to do.

So about a year ago we started experimenting with a new way for users to navigate GOV.UK. These experiments evolved into what we now call step by step navigation.

It looks like this on GOV.UK:

A screenshot of the 'Learn to drive a car' step by step page
This page outlines the process for learning to drive a car

It means that, for the first time, we can show the user everything they’ll need to do to complete a task, whether that’s Learning to drive or Employing someone.

The navigation follows you throughout your journey, indicating what to do now and next. It also shows you previous steps you might have missed. For example, getting a provisional driving licence before booking a driving theory test.

A screenshot of the 'Apply for your first provisional driving licence' step by step page
Step by step navigation appears alongside content of each step

Step by step navigation is designed to work with all existing content types and transactions on GOV.UK. Where appropriate, transactions can be broken down further using the separate task list pattern.

Developing the design

The design evolved over 8 rounds of research and iteration, including an in-depth review at the brilliant Digital Accessibility Centre in Neath.

Around half way through the lab research we began testing the pattern on GOV.UK. Analytics data showed that the first examples of step by step navigation were getting a lot of traffic. For example, learn to drive a car was used 1.24 million times in the first 6 months.

We ask users for feedback with the ‘Is this useful?’ survey banner at the bottom of every page on the site. This showed users were finding it useful.

A screenshot of the 'Is this page useful?' banner
The 'Is this page useful?' banner

We also ran a remote user research study where we asked users to complete a series of tasks before and after 3 step by step journeys were published.

The study showed the step by step navigation resulted in a significant increase in users’ successful task completion, as well as an increase in confidence they could use GOV.UK to find what they needed.

Scaling the approach

With encouraging data coming in, over the past 6 months we’ve been working to scale this approach so it can be used for the more complex tasks users need to do. These include:

As this table shows, the content that sits within these journeys often crosses multiple government departments and we need a collaborative approach to make these journeys better for users. Creating a new process for cross-government working to support this has been equally as important as designing a new way of navigating.

Over the past 6 months we’ve collaborated with more than 15 different departments to publish 25 step by step journeys.

We’re also indebted to the team at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency who helped us map the first journeys: Learn to drive a car and Become a driving instructor when our work was still in prototype form. They’ve written a great blog post about the process.

Next steps

We’ll be continuing to work with departments to map and publish step by step navigation for some of the most high priority and complex user journeys within government. As we do this we’ll keep a close eye on performance data to ensure this approach is still working well for users.

If you’re in a department or agency team and want to work with us to put together step by step journeys, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at modelling-services@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk.

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