Copywriting of the year? The decade?

Mike Reed
18 December 2012

GOV.UK, the new face of the UK Government online, is – surely against all the odds – a model of effective copywriting (and design, come to that), and a staggering achievement.

 

Recently Ben Terrett, the Government Digital Service Head of Design, invited me in to have a look around their offices. Ben and I know each other a bit from times gone by, and he’d seen some of my admiring tweets about GOV.UK.

I can’t report much on what I saw inside the offices, so apologies for that. But I don’t think it’s breaching any code to say that the team looked large, extremely well–organised – and happy.

There was a real energy about the place, which felt more like a big, busy creative agency than a government office. Which is quite something in itself.

So rather than risk being bundled into an unmarked car in the middle of the night, I’ll say no more about my trip around the GDS office. But I think what Ben and the team have done is almost beyond belief. And should be lauded from any rooftop you can find. (They’re not a client, before you ask, and this isn’t a pitch to make them one.)

 

Open any page on GOV.UK and you see their incredibly sensible design principles in action. The information is as straightforward and jargon–free as it can be. The layout is supremely uncluttered, and the hierarchy of information clear as a bell. You get the most important stuff first, and supporting information supplied cleanly and concisely.

Read all that again, and remind yourself – this is the Government. Surely, no single client has even been more guilty of creating content so stuffed with impenetrable jargon and acronyms, so paranoiacally hedged and caveated, and so unnecessarily long–winded than the Government? Any writer called in to work on a public sector project knows it’s true.

 

And then you get this. Open, white pages. Big, clear, type. Simple phrases and short sentences. Words that, in the main, just about anyone over about 15 could understand.

FROM THE GOVERNMENT.

The clarity and lightly–worn sophistication of the site would be a tremendous achievement for any client, given the complexity and range of information it has to impart.

That this should have been achieved by the least likely client of all makes it an even greater triumph. And an even more important one, because the information is critical to every single citizen.

If you’re trying to find out about your tax status, or benefits for your disabled child, or your rights as an employee, the clarity of GOV.UK must feel like a godsend.

Very, very few creative projects live up to words like ‘revolutionary’ or ‘transformative’, much as they would like to. This one really does.

This team understands its audience, and puts their needs first. It understands its crafts and tools to a supreme degree. It understand the potential of what it can do, and appears to be doing everything it can to realise it. GOV.UK is a masterpiece. I just cannot praise it enough.

More power to Ben and the team. They’re doing something astonishing.

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