GOV.UK 'brand refresh' to target 'broadest possible audience'

GDS and commercial partners have begun a research process exploring ‘associations’ with proposed new designs
Screenshot: GOV.UK

By Sam Trendall

14 May 2024

The Government Digital Service has begun work in earnest on a significant revamp of the “brand identity” of GOV.UK. A major aim of the overhaul is to better reach users that do not currently engage with government’s online platform.

GDS’s ambition to grow GOV.UK and take the platform in a “new, ambitious and exciting direction” was first trailed last year – shortly before the launch of a new-look homepage for the site. A "growth strategy" published by the unit included a nine-point plan for ongoing work, covering the development of the pending GOV.UK app, as well as expanding government’s reach into social-media platforms and, finally, an intent to “expand and update GOV.UK brand guidelines”.

PublicTechnology.net logo with the text "this article first appeared on PublicTechnology"The government expects that the wider GOV.UK refresh is likely to result in a “different look and feel” to users’ experiences, CSW's sister title PublicTechnology has learned – both on the website itself, and via the app and external channels.

Although targeted research to support the revamp is now under way, it is likely to be some time before citizens see any tangible changes, as the Cabinet Office – which houses GDS – intends to conduct “rigorous” testing of proposed updates, with a particular focus on issues of accessibility and inclusion.

On 20 March, GDS entered into a one-year, £100,000 contract with specialist digital user-experience research firm Lnet, which has been retained to support the government tech unit with “research and insight that will inform the development of a new brand identity for GOV.UK”.

This research process will explore both users’ emotional or intellectual “associations” with possible new designs, as well as their experience of accessing services and information via an updated GOV.UK.

“This new brand identity must appeal to the broadest possible audience, and enable the brand to expand into new channels and services,” the procurement notice says.

It is understood that the costs of fulfilling this engagement is covered under the umbrella of GOV.UK’s existing operating costs.

The text of the contract reveals that the research process will begin with “implicit association testing”. To support this, Lnet will be tasked with the “recruitment of GOV.UK users and non-users” and then designing “experiments to test and optimise a range of new brand designs against a set of target associations” that GDS would like the designs to engender in users.

This experimentation may cover “implicit or semi-implicit association testing as well as conscious qualitative discussion of designs with test subjects”, the contract says. Following the completion of these initial tests, the supplier is expected to provide GDS with “feedback and recommendations for optimising across and within design routes” going forward.

Also included in the contract is the delivery of testing various user journeys on proposed new versions of GOV.UK against specified benchmarks. Once again, Lnet will be tasked with recruiting participants that currently use GOV.UK, as well as those who do not.

These people will then take be asked to take part in “experiments to measure and compare user experiences between [two] variants of equivalent service journey prototypes”.

As well as asking for verbal or written feedback, this process will “include biometric tracking that can capture and measure physical emotional responses that test subjects themselves may not mention or notice”, according to the contract.

‘Keeping pace with technological change’

Across both the association and user-journey testing initiatives, the supplier will be expected to “involve GDS user researchers in the experiment design and delivery as far as is practical, such that they develop knowledge and skills that can be shared with the broader user research community”.

The contract adds that the firm will “present experiment design and results to the GOV.UK leadership team… [and] ensure team and relevant stakeholders are involved throughout the research process”.

In response to enquiries from PublicTechnology, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “GOV.UK is essential to life and work in the UK, and it is important that the brand keeps pace with technological change, changing user needs and appeals to the widest possible audience. To improve user experience, we are looking at ways to refresh the GOV.UK brand, to make it quicker and easier for all users to access services and to reach underserved audiences.

"The Government Digital Service is also working to deliver information in the formats users want by expanding the GOV.UK brand onto new channels, such as apps and social media. Rigorous testing will take place with users ahead of any changes being made public, to ensure they have a positive impact on user’s experience and that trust in GOV.UK is maintained”. 

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