Gov.uk – swapping vehicle traffic for online traffic

The government website https://www.gov.uk/ is by far my favourite website in the world. It isn’t image based, it has no instagram feed, no interactive video, no parallax scrolling, no cool and trendy ads, but it is a joy to use every time I go on it. It is a shining example of brilliant web design and the power of a first rate font.

The website started as a portal for all of the government’s websites back in 2013 when they knew they had to change the way they approached ‘digital’. It soon saw 24 ministerial departments and 28 other organisations redirecting their URLs to gov.uk.

The government’s design team knew that this was a ‘digital signpost’ for millions of users, and so they looked at the classic typeface for British road signs created by Margaret Calvert back in the 1960s. The success of the Calvert font can still be seen today on every roadside, dual carriageway and motorway sign you see. We don’t even think about the font, we just see the sign clearly and indicate.

calvert road signage font

The subtly raised version of Calverts font was used throughout the website as its typeface and sets a benchmark for linking the public sector to its private clients. The design won the prestigious ‘Design of the Year 2013’ at the Design Museum awards, and has also won a D&AD ‘Black Pencil’ award too. Its biggest award has been the success of its usage though. Every day the site makes life better for millions of people coping with chores from getting a new passport, renewing their tax credits, paying their taxes or getting a hire care licence code for their summer holiday. Being a website it’s also open 24 hours a day.

It never fails to deliver. It uses everyday English throughout and a very basic colour palette to minimise confusion. It has simple short instruction screens that click through to the next task clearly, so you never feel overwhelmed or scared of the task at hand. Every possible question the user might have about that particular task has been thought through. That is crucial when dealing with their users and another secret of its success.

Britain has a great history of delivering big, public sector design projects such as the London Underground map, however people often don’t think of digital being part of this mix. With this website it most definitely is. It was designed with clarity of information as its goal. The British public sector has provided a solution that has become the definitive standard and been copied around the world.

I just love it.

Clare Owen  |  Customer Services Director