Brighton & Hove City Council

A roadmap to give Brighton’s citizens easier and better access to the services they need online.

Brighton & Hove City Council are evolving their approach to digital, partly inspired by the work that Government Digital Service are doing, and also because they, like all local government institutions, need to find ways to deliver services with dramatically reduced revenues from central government.

Brighton approached us to help them rethink their site: they needed some immediate work on the information architecture for a new version of the site, and also needed our strategic advice on understanding how best to redesign sections of the site in future without our help.

The process

In our early discussions with the council, we realised that there were two very different workstreams.

The site refresh

The first task was to develop a top-level information architecture and design to suit an upcoming site refresh.

Other councils are undertaking an enormous cull of their content, sometimes cutting 90% of their pages. We couldn’t tackle the thousands of pages within the project (there was no time to collaborate with the dozens of departments), so the proposed design only affected the top 2 or 3 levels of the site.

We completed a content audit, some usability testing, and some card-sorting. This led to a revised site-map and wireframes. With some spare designer time, we turned the wireframes into a visual design that tested well.

The refreshed site has been received very positively by the citizens of Brighton and has reduced significantly the time it takes to find desired content.

Clearleft helped us develop our skills as designers, developers and communicators, guiding us to a solution that is customer-led, mobile first, with clear and simple content.

Jake Barlow, Head of Marketing

The prototype and roadmap

The other workstream was to develop a prototype for one frequently-used area of the site. The intention of the prototype was two-fold: to show the council the process of redesign (so they could repeat it later) and to give the council a library of interface patterns enabling later work to be more efficient. We worked very closely with their team to ensure knowledge transfer, and to make the responsive prototype a guiding light for other departments.

The council also needed a roadmap: which sections of the site needed a redesign first? How would they choose what to work on in future? Where did they want to be in 5 years, and how would they get there?

We began the process with some strategic work: we used the KJ method with a wide group of web editors at the council to gain a consensus of how the site could be improved. We then used a forced ranking exercise to prioritise eight different strategic objectives to guide our work.

The research and early usability testing showed that there was a great appetite amongst the citizens to self-serve through the website if only it was easier. We chose parking as the subject of our prototype.

In a workshop with frontline staff, we identified the questions and tasks that citizens have when interacting with the council around parking. We also built empathy with citizens by spending time behind the counter of the parking office and listening to the issues they face (for example, not knowing or remembering the names of the products they wanted).

By discovering the nature of the design problems associated with parking, we were then able to spend time sketching a variety of user journeys and design ideas with the team at Brighton, using a ‘mobile-first’ approach.

We then sketched the interface in greater detail, and created a semi-functional, responsive, HTML prototype of the sketches, ready for usability testing. We tested the prototype with a variety of citizens on phones and laptops. In between testing we iterated the prototype based on what we learned.

Finally, we packaged the prototype and the library of patterns into a crate – a specially crafted site for staff at Brighton to use for reference.

After we were done with the production work, we armed the team at Brighton with as many resources as we could to help them advocate and prepare for thousands of staff for coming changes to the website.

What we learned

The way the council name things (often because of government guidelines) has a significant impact on usability. Some of the biggest wins to usability came from very simple re-labelling, and restructuring the content away from the traditional, department-centric approach towards a citizen-centric approach.

We’ve also developed a strong understanding of the challenges facing other public services across the UK, and refined our ideas about how to use the available resources as efficiently as possible.

Clearleft helped us develop our skills as designers, developers and communicators, guiding us to a solution that is customer-led, mobile first, with clear and simple content.

Jake Barlow, Head of Marketing

The impact

Helping the people of our city was immensely satisfying for Clearleft.

The new design has reduced the amount of time it takes for citizens to complete tasks, and made it accessible to more people on many different devices.

The buzz created by our work led to a series of presentations to senior staff and politicians at the council to advocate for our agile approach to design.

We’ve helped the council develop a roadmap for improving all of its digital services over the next few years. By putting citizen needs first in the design work, we made a persuasive case for a change in the council’s approach to customer experience.


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