Designing content for services (not channels)

As more government services become digital by default, the online section of a service becomes a key part of what people experience when they interact with government. But it’s not the whole service.

I’m designing the content for the Apply for a Budgeting Loan service at Department for Work and Pensions. It helps people on benefits who need a small loan quickly (for instance, if their washing machine breaks and they need to replace it). People will soon be able to apply online.

As part of designing the service, we are researching the ways people want us to communicate with them and aim to allow them to choose the channels that suit them.

They might choose to receive updates on their application by text message and get confirmation of their loan offer by letter. Or getting an email update might be more convenient for them.

One message, different channels

There’s a big difference between designing content for a service and writing copy for a specific channel. We consider content a crucial part of the entire service, not in isolation.

Why? Because this is how the user sees it — not as a single letter they receive, but in the context of the information they’ve read and interactions they’ve had to get to that stage.

Each channel is merely the way of delivering a message. When someone tells us they’d prefer to be contacted by text message, they (quite rightly) expect the information they receive in their text to be accurate, consistent and fully joined up with the rest of their experience in applying for a loan.

The user owns the content

This service design approach to communicating with users can lead to questions about who “owns” a particular bit of content. There’s a simple answer: the user. Their need dictates the message and their preference dictates the channel.

It’s one of our biggest challenges as content designers in government: to change the culture so that all service content, regardless of channel, is designed around the user.

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