Our Top Tips for Passing the Government Digital Service Standards Assessment

Does your service need to be assessed by GDS? To be able to meet the criteria, and more importantly, provide a great user experience, your service will need to consider the points described in the GDS standard.

Government Digital Service Standards Assessment


The 18 points include a great deal of UX methods and user research activities. By working closely with government and public sector organizations, conducting UX research, and participating in GDS assessments, we have gained valuable insights into what makes a GDS service successful.

We have outlined four key insights and pieces of advice, focusing on those points that are specifically related to UX and user research.

By working closely with government and public sector organizations we have gained valuable insights into what makes a GDS service successful.


Government Digital Service Standards Assessment


Understanding user needs

To give your service the best start on a successful launch, you should begin by understanding your users and their needs as early as possible in the project life cycle. Identifying user needs can begin before you even have a service to test, and often should.

These can include interviews, focus groups, concept tests, or exploration of how similar existing services are used by potential users. The first step in building a new service is to define who your users are and then explore their needs, goals, and frustrations.

In order to build a service that puts the needs of the users first, your findings should first be translated into user stories. It is also helpful to have a collection of personas that integrate user needs throughout the whole team since they allow them to visualise who they’re building the service for, and what experiences and frustrations the users might be bringing with them when they interact with your organisation.

In order to ensure that the service continues to meet the needs of your users, as well as to find out if there have been any new needs or new user groups since you began, you can test higher fidelity prototypes, testing environments, and live services as you progress.

During the GDS assessment, presenting your personas as early as possible is the best way to engage your audience. In this way, you get to show your users who will be using the service, and all your design decisions will have human context.


Government Digital Service Standards Assessment


Conduct ongoing user research

Once you define your users’ needs, user research does not end. We recommend this strategy to every client, regardless of sector. It’s essential to include user input at every stage of development to maintain a user-centric approach, ensuring your product works for your users, and validating any changes made from previous versions.

During Alpha and Beta, it is recommended to include some user research, such as usability testing, into each sprint. Rapid testing sessions can help maintain development’s velocity and steer it in the direction of users by providing a quick turnaround in plans, findings, and recommendations.

In order to assist clients with this, we often embed one of our researchers into the development team, provide an on-site UX consultancy service, and attend and participate in agile ceremonies. We know the project inside out and can target each round of usability testing accordingly, which means not only does the client have direct access to UX expertise throughout the project, but we also know the project inside out when it comes to usability testing.

During your GDS assessment, we are also available to give you a detailed rundown of all the user research we conducted and to answer your questions about how research will be conducted in the next phase.


Number of users shown by the digital inclusion scores


Assure users’ success from the start

It is your goal to make your service as easy to use as possible, for all users, through all your research and planning. To do so, you must consider and involve people of various capabilities and levels of digital inclusion.

As we plan participant recruitment at the beginning of a project, we ensure accessibility and digital inclusion are considered, and continue this throughout usability and accessibility testing. As part of your delivery team, an accessibility consultant can also help embed accessibility considerations in every step of the design process.

Keep track of where all your participants fall on the digital inclusion scale so that you can show, in your assessment, how you have included them in your decision-making. Obviously, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and some services will need to cater to lower-skilled users more than others. As an example, below is a table we used in a previous project looking at digital inclusion scores.


Government Digital Service Standards Assessment


Consistent user experience with

Using the same language and design patterns as the rest of GOV.UK is a great way to make your design familiar and user-friendly. Since these guidelines are based on best practices and user research, they can be a valuable resource for making your design familiar to users. See these links to learn how:

GDS Assessment applies to more than just the services hosted on GOV.UK, so this point is not always crucial and what works for the central government might not work for your organisation. Therefore, while referencing GOV.UK patterns is an excellent place to start, it is still advisable to test your designs with your customers, to ensure they work in the context of your service.

Improving Government service standards

The upcoming changes to the Government Service Standards are aimed at making government digital services work better for a wider range of organizations and across a broader range of channels than just digital.

As a recent supporter of a new public sector organisation in its Alpha development phase, it is encouraging to see that the updates to the standard should help make it more transferrable for similar organisations working outside of central government.


Government Digital Service Standards Assessment


Due to the fact that our client was not required to make the user experience strictly consistent with GOV.UK, point 13 (Make the user experience consistent with GOV.UK) did not apply. The new version, ‘Use and contribute to common standards, components, and patterns’, promotes participation from the UX community and encourages teams to contribute their own work so that best practices can evolve.

GDS’s efforts to continually improve the user experience of its services are evident from the way the points have been reworded, organised, and consolidated. As they are grouped into three areas of emphasis, they are much easier to comprehend, and the way in which they are presented will help teams naturally address each point and make assessments go more smoothly, as the team can be confident in presenting their research and worry less about meeting strict government design conventions.

Hopefully we will be able to support more public sector projects and work toward the new standards in order to deliver better user experiences.

If your public sector project is in need of UX support, get in touch to find out more. stich

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