A matter of principle

By Leon Calverley, Door4.

At Door4, we’re fans of the efforts made by the Government Digital Service (GDS) to streamline and improve the way that technology is used to make citizens’ lives better.

Many of the principles that they openly embrace apply equally to the start-up tradesperson or global enterprise, as they do a government department.

If you’re creating websites, apps or software - I strongly encourage you to give these your attention. They are based on common sense, which is easy to overlook when creating fancy, modern digital things!

Start with user needs

Don’t make assumptions about your users. Speak to them, and use the data to hand to establish what they want and need.

Challenge accepted norms - and never, ever assume that your users think and behave like YOU do. They don’t!

Do less

Focus on your core - what is the ‘least’ that you can do. Don’t try to conquer the world, when you should start with your own backyard. Concentrate on a smaller product, and iterate to refine.

Otherwise you risk creating a large, incomplete monster that is costly to maintain.

Design with data

Base decisions on real life data. Find a way to gain insight from the information you have to hand and identify useful, new sources.

Data (almost) always conquers instinct. You have many data sources available, on users, behaviour and preference. Use them!

Do the hard work to make it simple

Remember that ‘simple to use’ is not ‘simple to make’. If you’re creating a service, it is your responsibility to make it easy to navigate for your user. The onus should not be on your user to ‘work it out.’ Invest in independent testing, to ensure that your users can navigate your tools.

Iterate, then iterate again

Nobody ever built the perfect service first time round. Premier products are the result of ongoing attention to detail, data-driven improvements, user testing and fresh ideas. Think about the early mottos of Google and Facebook: “Launch early and iterate”, and “Move fast and break things” respectively. Even if you’re not the Cabinet Office, or a local authority, these principles are valid and can help you create brilliant things. Whilst the government are often criticised for getting things wrong - the GDS (essentially civil service, not MPs) gets it bang on the money.