|Afterlife with Stephen McCarthy|

Level 5, Subject: Year 2

Today we had an afterlife talk given to us by Stephen McCarthy. Stephen McCarthy is currently the head of design for a programme of work called Government as a Platform. The idea of the programme is to build a set of shared products that make services a lot easier to create and become cheaper to run. 


Stephen works for central government within the government digital service. Loft27 works with the rest of the government to the connection and relationship between citizens and the government simple and quick. This includes websites/applications and transformed customer service.

History of design in the government:

The government website used to be unorganised, there were many different ways in which different departments portrayed there section and became a problem when looking for a specific sector for the citizens needs. They took all of the government pages and decided to put it under one roof ‘gov.uk’ in order to accumulate all of the websites and create links that are simple to navigate and easy to access.

The website is not currently finished and never will be, the idea is that the website is forever growing to cater for different needs and to develop as technology does. You are not delivering an artefact, they have consequences on every days lives.

Design’s for the uk public services have developed and been created from scratch that take a prominent role in our everyday lives, mainly found within the transport language (roadmaps- tube maps, road signs and navigation signs). Tom Ecersly has designed many posters for the government, mainly designing for the ministry of labour. The design research unit were also a large participant within the design history as they created the universal rail identity which is known world wide.

What we do?

Design in the government within the last four years, has increased to over 300 designers over the uk in order to create the most effective design. Designers within the government don’t work in singular desk formats but work within grouped team formats and work across job roles to guide a long with decisions with other roles within the department.

“Design is fluent throughout the whole process. “

Designers in government don’t just draw things up and make things ‘pretty’, the aim is to build things, to make things and fix things. They work collaboratively within the open and discuss there design process within the open to explain why they make certain decisions. they use user experience research in a separate expertise format in order to focus mainly on the outcome until the job is finished and pristine. The user experience team work together closely to the designers to get the best overall effect.

All of the designers in the government are able to code this is because of their mainly technology based format that they work on in order to create the best innovative ideas.

The design principles of the gov.uk

  • start with needs
  • do less
  • design with data
  • do the hard work to make it simple
  • iterate. then iterate again.
  • this is for everyone
  • understand context
  • build digital services. not websites
  • be consistent, not uniform
  • make things open: it makes things better.

what designers do they employee?

The design category has been split into four different categories:

  • service designers: they design the services behind the scenes, focus on redesigning the current services, piecing together all of the fragments of the different services in order to put it all together.
  • integration designers: designs detail interactions that the user needs to make/ to refine the shape of the user journey.
  • Graphic designers
  • Content designers: writing and editors, they communicate complex government information. taking the more difficult outlook and making it simpler for citizens understand.

“The user experience is everyones responsibility “


what it means to be a graphic designer within the government:

  • Graphic design in the context, is communicating the information.
  • Design should never get in the way of the content. except when the users need it to.
  • Every element on the page should have a clear purpose.
  • Happy for being boring and simple, if it gets the point across, its a simple and serious matter.

The crystal goblet- by beatrice warde 1932

  • don’t ask how it should look, as what it should do.
  • the context in which users interact with our services should always be considered.
  • graphic design is not something thrown in at the end of the process. – it should be throughout the entire process.

What they care about: 

Words and Typography:   

  • Most important things on the page, mainly focusing on the words rather than looking at imagery. never use lorem ipsum, the way in which the text sits should effect the design process and always use the body text needed. they tend to use transport (new), a set size for body text, set by user experience research over the years. they avoid long lines of copy, having a maximum of 75 characters or 2/3 of the page.

Layout and the Visual design.

  • Grids: grids give structure to the content, when used effectively they enable clear hierarchies. page furniture and colour: key-lines, boxes and panels. try to just use white space and typography keeping it simple and clear.

Physical space

  • Space between elements gives structure, it helps group content together and form hierarchies.  hierarchies: what do we want the user to read first. Tempo: aid easy reading and don’t tire users out when reading through. affordance: no call to action, don’t know what to do next, shouldn’t have full guidance, should have an incline.


  • Only use visuals when needed, they help draw the eye if they are used right. normally used for instructions/directions.


  • Digital services are better than real world, don’t ask unnecessary questions, our tuitions might not be the same as the users. small bite size chunks can feel quicker than one long page.


  • Dont assume they will behave the same as you would. not everyone is brought up the same. – not everyone is a technical wiz. low frequency use, novice users, little or no learning, on broad range of devices. s


  • start with less
  • mobile first – design for digital
  • keep asking why
  • remember the big picture.- easy to get bogged down with the detail, see the bigger picture (remember what you are doing it for?)

I found that the afterlife talk was very useful, it allowed me to see how another company works and the different roles in which are available for me after graduation. I




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