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

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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In our October print issue we have a major feature on the rise of Riso printing, celebrate the art of signwriting, examine the credentials of ‘Goodvertising’ and look back at the birth of D&AD. Rebecca Lynch reviews the Book of Books, a survey of 500 years of book design, Jeremy Leslie explains how the daily London 2012 magazine delivered all the news and stories of the Games and Michael Evamy explores website, offering “data-driven insights into logo design”. In addition to the issue this month, subscribers will receive a special 36-page supplement sponsored by Tag celebrating D&AD’s 50th with details of all those honoured with Lifetime Achievement awards plus pieces on this year’s Black Pencil and President’s Award-winners Derek Birdsall and Dan Wieden. And subscribers also receive Monograph which this month features Rian Hughes’ photographs of the unique lettering and illustration styles of British fairgrounds

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