Prior to 2020, if you found yourself thinking about government design or communication, you may have alighted upon gov.uk, that excellent example of how design has aided the government to communicate with its citizens in a way that is open, accessible and straightforward.
Since that pivotal work by the Government Digital Service in 2012, it feels like the relationship between the UK government and the design and communications industries has rumbled along pretty quietly, with nothing enormously noteworthy taking place. Until, that is, the arrival of a pandemic.
Suddenly the public messaging coming out of the government mattered more than it had since the world wars. So did it deliver the kind of simple, clear communications that won GDS so many accolades in the past? Let’s take a journey back over the past nine months to find out…
IN THE BEGINNING
By the time Boris Johnson made his first speech imploring British citizens to ‘Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ on March 23, it already felt as if the UK was on the back foot against coronavirus, with the numbers of positive cases rising exponentially and most other European nations already in lockdown.
That simple nine-word message, while lacking finesse, was clear and to the point. The blunt slogan, a series of three-word statements, was also in keeping with the other three-word slogans – Take Back Control, Get Brexit Done – that have come to define Britain in recent years, with this brash, instructional approach brought over into the pandemic messaging from the off.