Reflections on content design at ONS

In May 2019 our Head of Content Design Kieran Forde wrote a blog post: Five ways content designers are changing the ONS. 

After an eventful couple of years helping the ONS make its Covid-19 products as accessible as possible, and as  Kieran prepares to depart to pastures new, we’re revisiting that post to reflect on how far we’ve come in each of those 5 areas. 

1. We contribute to multidisciplinary teams 

The biggest change since 2019 is the size of our team – in 2017,  Kieran was the first and only person with content design in their title at ONS. By 2019 there were 6 Content Designers. Today, there are 20 content design roles across ONS. This partly reflects the fact that ONS publishes a lot more content each year – we have published 3.2 million words so far this year! We also play a big part in helping shape statistical outputs and work closely with the teams that develop them to help them create better, more user-centred content.  

This growth also demonstrates how much more involved we are in producing the products and services the ONS provides. A big shift we’ve seen since 2019 is that we now have content designers embedded in product development teams, such as the Census survey design and rollout earlier this year, and our senior content designers who are currently working on the products and features we’ll use to share the findings of this year’s Census.  

The other big change we’ve made this year has been to change how we structure our content teams. Where we used to be structured based on our job families – content designers would manage their work separately to data visualisation or data journalism teams – we now work in cross-discipline “functions”, each with a separate aim. This means we work collaboratively with people in other content roles by default, and our increased focus helps us to more deeply understand and solve problems for our users. 

2. We use research and data to improve the way ONS collects and shares the country’s statistics 

Back in 2019 we were using analytics and dashboards to understand how users were interacting with our content. We still do that, but we have also found ways to add to that and understand even more. We can now ask users questions about any page on the website – this gives us valuable ways to quantify how our content is performing, and to get open-ended feedback from users. 

We also use tools which show us where users are scrolling and clicking on a page, and how this varies by device. 

We have dramatically increased our efforts to make the ONS website more accessible, and we run now run training for all our content creators on how to work inclusively. Our accessibility guidance is constantly updated, including our most recent work on making hyperlinks more accessible. 

3. We’re part of the ONS content design community of practice 

Our community brings together content designers from across the ONS. Many of us work in Digital Publishing on content and products relating to the ONS website, but the community also includes people working on content design (whether it’s in their job title or not) from other parts of the organisation.  

We meet monthly, and every member takes a turn to plan and host our meetups. We use our time to run content crits, show and tell each other about our work, and to talk about how we can work together to promote best practices, such as pair writing 

4. We’re part of something much bigger 

Just as we did a few years ago, we still have strong links to content designers in other parts of government. We work with colleagues who support the wider Government Statistical Service to improve standards of presenting and sharing statistical content across many government departments. We also team up with people in user-centred roles from other parts of government to learn from each other.  

We also work with the ONS International Development Team to help statistical institutes around the world. We have shared our work at international showcases, and one of our colleagues recently travelled to Ghana to support their plans for publishing the findings of a recent census (expect more on that visit in a future post!). 

5. We take training very seriously 

A big part of content design at ONS is about helping others to build their understanding and capability around content design. We have expanded the training courses we offer to other teams over the past couple of years. We now run courses on writing accessibly, writing for users, how to use house style, and how to use our publishing tools and processes.   

Personal development within our teams is also hugely important – we recently had bespoke content design training for a large group of our team, and we’re attending the inaugural Lead with Tempo content design leadership conference in the new year.  

So, lots to be proud of as we head into the Christmas break, and lots to look forward to in 2022.