5 Things I Learned About GDS From Future Learn's Content Design Course
To gain a deeper understanding of the Government Digital Service guidelines, I completed the Future Learn course and this is what I learned

Future Learn's Content Design course was recommended to me as a great way to introduce myself to the Government Digital Service (GDS) guidelines. The guidelines were put in place to standardise the existing digital standards.

I found the four-week course to be eye-opening; I couldn't possibly sum up everything that I learned in a short blog post. Instead, I wanted to share 5 of the most interesting points.

The importance of the GDS guidelines
Everything from applying for a new drivers licence to checking the bin schedule is completed on a government website. As time goes on, more of your everyday tasks are being digitalised and you expect to be able to complete them successfully online. The GDS guidelines aim to give you the information that you need, at the point that you need, in the right format to complete tasks.

Designing with language that people understand
7.1 million people in England have low literacy skills; using complex language makes your content inaccessible for them. At that point, you either lose a conversion, lose their interest, or end up spending time and resource to help them understand the content.

There are some brilliant (free!) tools that you can use, such as the Hemmingway app which analyses text for its level of difficulty and highlights areas that you could simplify.

Don't dumb it down, open it up!

Let's get rid of jargon
Sometimes, website copy can be simple to read... Apart from a few confusing capital letters that are bunched together. The GDS guidelines state that if it is the first time you are using an abbreviation or acronym, then it should be explained in plain English, unless it is well known, like UK, DVLA or MP. Only then can the acronym be referred to by the initials.

You shouldn't have to google 'What does xxx mean' to understand the content on a page.

The content lifecycle
Researching, designing, reviewing and publishing content is something that 99% of content designers do. But, it can be very easy to skip fact-checking your work; never iterate on the content and never delete or archive the work.

Do you complete all of the steps in the content lifecycle?

A fact check scrutinises your work, not only to see if all of the information is correct but to see if it accurately follows the style guide.

It is important to iterate on your content after it is published, to make sure that the users can find all of the information they were looking for. This can be done by collecting quantitive and qualitative data. Once you have analysed the data, you may see opportunities to improve your content.

Deleting or archiving content can improve the user experience on your website, by stopping people from accessing outdated content. This is a process that needs to be carefully managed, as traffic will need to be redirected from the old page to a new one.

Designing with accessibility in mind
1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability. Are you taking steps to ensure that 20% of people can access the content that you have designed? To simplify the process of accessible design, GDS breaks down 4 principles of web accessibility. Accessible content is:
  • perceivable
  • operable
  • understandable
  • robust

To wrap up
This course has been a great resource in my quest to create useful experiences for people. It has reframed my approach to designing for disability as beforehand I was unaware that 1 in 5 people have a disability and what simple steps that we can all take to improve their online experiences. I honestly think that anyone with an interest in UX design should complete the course; it is free so there is no reason not to start learning more about content design!