Ben Terrett on designing GOV.UK

This continues a story I started on my own blog where I wrote about my previous job as Design Director at Wieden & Kennedy London. This is the one where I write about joining GDS as Head of Design. Later on I’ll blog about the design in more detail and answer questions and stuff.

When I first met Tom Loosemore and Mike Bracken, they stressed the real change happening within Government. They talked about the huge opportunity GDS presented to change the way Government approaches ‘digital’. That this was a real moment in time.

Martha Lane Fox

Picture borrowed from Paul Clarke

At the launch of GDS just before Christmas Francis Maude (our Minister) and Martha Lane Fox both spoke in the same way Tom and Mike had a few months earlier. This was really important for me. Important because if we are to achieve anything we all have to believe in the same mission. We all have to be heading on the same direction.

Britain has a great history of delivering big, public sector design projects. We have a rich heritage of design. Festival of Britain, Ministry of Information, Kenneth Grange, Design Research Unit. (More on that later.)

Kenneth Grange talking about his work

The design challenge here seems to be – don’t avoid the obvious. Government websites are needs driven and what people want to do is get in, get what they want and then get out. Quickly.

What we’ll be doing for the beta of GOV.UK won’t be finished. The design will be in beta as much as the rest of the site. We won’t get it right first time round. We’ll be putting stakes in the ground. Sketching out ideas we think might work, testing different solutions and setting a course for where we want this thing to head. It’s a huge, complicated task.

Simplicity will be valued


In many ways the problem is similar to problem Kinnear and Calvert faced when designing the road signs in the 60’s. Before they came along Britain was littered with different signage systems all using different symbols, colours and typefaces which was at best confusing and at worst dangerous. With an exponential increase in vehicle traffic the government knew something had to be done. Kinnear and Calvert proposed one consistent system. One designed with the clarity of information as it’s goal. From then on Britain had a solution that became the definitive standard and was copied around the world

Sound familiar? Swap signage systems for websites. Swap vehicle traffic for online traffic. That’s a challenge no designer could resist.

head of design

Picture borrowed from Russell Davies


  1. If you succeed in the same way as Kinnear and Calvert did then you’ll have done very well indeed.

    Best of luck

    DW x

  2. All the best with it – as you say it’s a fantastic opportunity. And talking of public sector design heritage, let’s not forget Frank Pick’s inspiring work with London Underground ;-)

  3. Sounds like a fascinating job, Ben. Congratulations again. Good to know something’s going in the right direction somewhere ;0)

    Good luck!

  4. Ben – sounds like a fantastic challenge and really look forward to seeing how it evolves.
    Very best of luck. CM

  5. Please address the user interaction issue on the government job website, it is tediously inaccurate for anyone just wanting to examine the options available which most other job sites offer. But on the subject of the above post… fantastic news! in this day and age of knowledge through online sources as to any information let alone something as trivial as say, the government will be greatly received. Best o’ luck

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