Open government

The British government’s new website GOV.UK is officially released today, replacing both the Directgov and Business Link sites. It’s the first major project from the Government Digital Service, representing a major, design-led overhaul of the way the government communicates with citizens

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The British government’s new website, GOV.UK, is officially released today, replacing both the Directgov and Business Link sites. It’s the first major project from the Government Digital Service, representing a major, design-led overhaul of the way the government communicates with citizens

Many CR readers will be aware of the GOV.UK website, as it has been in its beta phase since the beginning of the year. Now fully in place it will be one of the most visited sites in the UK, dealing with anything from car tax renewal and passport applications, to learning more about employment rights or benefits.



As a whole it represents a radical overhaul of the government’s digital services provision, and a drive to make government itself more open and accessible. Set up last year the GDS is transforming not just the British government’s online presence but, potentially, the way it acts, talks and works with the public. It’s part of a “digital by default” strategy incorporating all government services, transactions and publishing. With a team right at the heart of government in the Cabinet Office, led by the new executive director for digital, Mike Bracken, the GDS hopes to build products that will, it claims, “stand shoulder to shoulder with the sort of digital experience that users come to expect from daily interaction with the giants of the web.”



Earlier this year the GDS announced a head of design, Ben Terrett, previously design director at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, London.

In July, his team posted their Design Principles to the GDS blog. This list of ten GDS design commandments (shown above) gives a good indication of what to expect from the government’s new-look single domain website, and why us, the users, are at the heart of every design decision the team has made. The emphasis has been on simplicity, clarity, and a stripping back of anything that gets in the way of a user’s journey through the site. There are few images, no extraneous colours, or other details. It’s all about quick and easy access to information.

And to convey that information, all the GDS sites will use an updated version of a classic British typeface.


Dye-line information sheet for Transport, distributed to sign manufacturers by The Ministry of Transport, 1967. © Image courtesy of Margaret Calvert and A2-TYPE


GOV.UK debuts the online use of New Transport, the redrawn version of the Transport typeface (above), that designer Margaret Calvert has worked on with studio, A2/SW/HK. The original face, designed by Calvert and Jock Kinneir between 1957 and 1963, is still in use across the British motorway signage system.


Drawing of New Transport by Margaret Calvert © Image courtesy of Margaret Calvert and A2-TYPE


“New Transport, a digital version of Transport, has qualities which appear ideally suited for use as a web font,” says Calvert of the GOV.UK project. “It is simple, clear, familiar to the public – in the context of the UK road signs – and therefore unlikely to date. Details such as the curve on the end of the lowercase l (borrowed from Johnston), and the obliquely cut terminals of the curved strokes of the letters a, c, e, g, j, s, t, and y, were specifically designed to help retain word shape, (when slightly letter-spaced, for place names).”

This is a massive public design project with many different facets. The November issue of CR, out on October 24, will include an extensive feature on the GDS and their work on GOV.UK. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the site or check out the GDS blog at and tweets at @gdsteam

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  • graham wood

    i like the way the symbols look three dimensional they look real and the button with start here on it looks real and theres nice shading on the picture of the computer screen which will look real and help me know i am ok when i look at it on my computer screen because the picture tells me it is on a screen so when i look at my screen i know i am ok because there is a picture of a screen but i wish there was less words and more pictures

  • The old site really was turning into a birds nest of hard to find information, broken links and outdated PDFs. The new site looks like a big improvement and if all involved stick to the Design Principles laid out initially then it should be a great success.

  • Looks great, wish the French government did the same …

  • Similar to, the Icelandic government’s information outlet.

  • Joe

    It’s almost the exact same, except not really though!

  • Man I hated directgov. Happy days.

  • These guys must have had to climb a mountain to untangle the mess that was Directgov. Interested to see how they consume all government department sites too. My only (minor) gripe is that they haven’t spent a little more time refining the GOV.UK logotype in the header of each page, feel a bit loose.

  • david

    Given the amount of money they were already spending on avoiding speaking to us and (in)directing us to direct gov via endless automated phone call options, it’s great that they’ve spent even more money on helping us do all the legwork when everything could easily be dealt with by speaking briefly to a well-informed human being on the other end of a freephone line, not to mention generating a few jobs in the process.

  • 4. Do the hard wonk to make it simple

  • …is an apple app?

  • Decimal

    @David: I guess they could but if those were new Public Sector jobs paid from taxpayer’s money the right-wing press would be all over it. If they out-sourced them, the PS unions would be all over it. There’s an accessibility argument for older people but I doubt the Treasury would listen right now. Some councils have phonelines and ‘1-stop shops’ that may fill some of the gap.

    I think it’s good they cleaned it up but they’ve thrown out almost any hierarchy of information. If they really followed point 3, Design with data, wouldn’t that include picking out the most used pages and emphasising them? It’s the lists on sub-section pages where this becomes a bit of an issue: