back to article named THE BEST THING Britain has made all year

It's a website with all the visual flair you would expect from something designed by "cool" Whitehall bureaucrats. But even though it's something of a plain Jane, the government portal has been named Design of the Year 2013 by the Design Museum in London. A suitable gong was handed to the website's team at a ceremony …


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  1. MrWibble
    Thumb Down

    Nice clean design.

    Shame half of it doesn't seem to work, or sends you back to the old site...

    1. J P

      A triumph of form over function

      Actually, you may be better off on the old sites. There are some pretty fundamental issues with the technical accuracy of quite a lot of the tax and benefits advice, which have given rise to a lot of comment by specialists in the relevant fields - eg a few gems from living tax god John Andrews (who tweets as @jmalitrg ):

      It's ok higher-paid GOV.UK says that Child Benefit is not taxable can you tell HMRC please @gdsteam

      Nice to know tax on savings interest is always deducted before you get it says GOV.UK...some will get a nasty shock

      GOV.UK says you "always" pay tax on benefits if a co director..not unpaid charity directors

      GOV.UK says you don't have to pay NI on tips paid to you … .please tell taxi-drivers @gdsteam and HMRC

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: A triumph of form over function

        "Nice to know tax on savings interest is always deducted before you get it says GOV.UK...some will get a nasty shock"

        Sure must be nasty to have so much savings that interest is significant enough to cause a shock when part of it is taxed!

        1. J P


          I take your point if it was interest alone that was the issue - but if you're a 'higher rate' tax payer based on salary etc. then you only need £1.51 of interest per year to be breaking the law if you don't pay up the extra tax over the 20% withheld at source; the interest is taken as the top slice and taxed at the highest possible rate.

          Since the threshold for paying tax at 40% is falling in absolute terms every year at the moment, more and more people are at risk, and you only need around £300-400 of savings/rainy day account to trigger the problem. I agree, you may not be on the breadline at £40k pa - but if you're the sole earner for a family of 4 in the South East, money is likely to be tight and the last thing you need is the aggravation of HMRC chasing you for undeclared income, especially if 'their own' website is telling you there was nothing more to pay...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agreed. Search for anything road tax related, it insists on taking you to the site so you can click through to the DVLA site. Obviously this is a vast improvement over going to the DVLA site directly in the first place, as my search should have and used to.

      Why have one click, when 48 will do?

  2. Longrod_von_Hugendong


    How many back handers, kick-backs and bribes were involved to win that.

    I call foul on that.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: WHAT. THE. FUCK.

      I think I can tell what the next Steve Bong episode is going to include. The bloke wittering on about the GOV.UK even sounds like him ...

  3. Frankee Llonnygog

    Global Design Award

    The London-based judges of the London Design Museum (part-funded by the Arts Council, an agency of the UK Government) has awarded it's global design award to the new website of the UK Government.

  4. Swedish Chef
    Paris Hilton

    Is it only me...

    ...or does that website look a lot like somebody let the domain expire and a domain grabber put up their standard 'search engine' landing page?

    Paris, because she's an expert at being grabbed.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Is it only me...

      It isn't just you. I thought my ad-blocker wasn't working.

      The only thing I like is the cookie manifest which still breaks the law as Google Analytics is not essential and must, therefore, be opt-in.

  5. bag o' spanners

    only took them three months to get the login page working...briefly

  6. Wensleydale Cheese
    Thumb Down

    For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

    Using Firefox 20.0

    Methinks they are assuming that I have Javascript and cookies enabled.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

      Why not code for the normal 99%? if you disabled javascript and cookies thats your problem

      1. Wensleydale Cheese

        Re: For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

        "Why not code for the normal 99%? if you disabled javascript and cookies thats your problem"

        What about the blind or partially sighted?

        From 2009, UK government browser guidelines

        Graceful degradation without scripting/ plug-ins and accessibility are required (paragraphs 41-42)

        Of course the link there now gives a 404.

        1. riparian zone

          Re: For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

          No reference to use of plain English either, or illustrations? you know, for people to focus on...where are the skip to navigation and skip to content links for screen readers...poor.

      2. Kubla Cant Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

        Why not code for the normal 99%? if you disabled javascript and cookies thats your problem

        Because in some cases the use of these sites is compulsory. Paper VAT returns, for example, are no longer accepted.

        If they want to make it compulsory, it should be compatible with whatever browser my operating system supports. In some cases that might be a character-based browser such as Lynx.

    2. Laurent Cargill

      Re: For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser.

      Same message with IE9 and IE10

      Can the developers only support a Webkit browser?

  7. Thomas 4

    Hell has officially frozen over

    A Government IT project......*that wasn't a complete fuck up*.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell has officially frozen over

      "Hell has officially frozen over

      A Government IT project......*that wasn't a complete fuck up*."

      You think ISN'T a complete fuck up?


      You are typing

  8. Frankee Llonnygog

    And now, some responses to the judges

    "… because it has rationalised multiple official websites, it saves the taxpayer millions"

    The National Audit Office has failed to find any evidence for the claimed savings

    "The design deemed best in show is something that many had given up all hope of reinventing: the UK government’s approach to information technology"

    So far, the designers have only managed to implement a new website. All online Government transactions predate their involvement, and they've failed to deliver the new ones they promised.

    "How many billions of pounds have been wasted in the government’s procurement of unusable IT systems? You really don’t want to know. So the fact that a team has finally found the formula of success, a formula that is better, faster and cheaper than most private sector companies’ efforts, is something to be shouted from the rooftops."

    Reality check - they've re-skinned a bleedin' website.

    If you want a hearty laugh, read the Government Digital Service's newly published standard (they love writing standards!) for Digital Service Delivery. Assuming you already have this badge from the Girl Guides, then you may find the tone somewhat patronising, and the content less than informative. However, printed out, and rolled up, it's useful for swatting Macbook-Air-bearing 'subject-matter-experts' upside their heads.

  9. M7S

    This smacks of a missed opportunity

    "hoped the British example of good web design would be copied around the world" and "The potential is massive"

    So that's going to be licenced then, so that we taxpayers get some kind of return? Perhaps with a bit of (court) enforcement action against other states that don't pay up?

    Thought not.

    I suspect this will be another case of our largesse where publicly funded people give away what we've paid for whilst expecting us to fork out for everyone else's stuff.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Are they stupid or just in the pocket of HMG? Oh, wait they are - obviously been told "vote for us or lose your funding..."

  11. JimmyPage

    On a more serious note

    if the UK gov does insist on "digital by default" then presumably web pages become primary sources of information. Has anyone developed a mechanism for keeping track of websites so that you can prove what version was displayed when ?

    Otherwise, I can see pages with incorrect information being put up, that people act on, and when they have to defend themselves ("the government website said this...") they find the page has mysteriously changed.

    Or are they not *that* serious about DBD ?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: On a more serious note

      1. JimmyPage

        Is that accepted evidence in court - particularly a criminal one ?

        1. Frankee Llonnygog


          Maybe not - but the snapshots on the UK gov's own national archive website probably are

    2. J P

      Re: On a more serious note

      It's been a recognised problem for some time that HMRC update their Manuals without necessarily telling you what they have changed or when - I've worked in places where it was standard practice to print out (with dates) anything you planned to rely on in advice or correspondence, and keep a copy on the file. [Said file then being sent via internal mail to a centralised scanning facility where it was converted back to a digital image for storage and subsequent retrieval]

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On a more serious note

      "Otherwise, I can see pages with incorrect information being put up, that people act on, and when they have to defend themselves ("the government website said this...") they find the page has mysteriously changed."

      Already happened to me years ago with HMRC and their online tax credit application forms, the ones that rapidly got taken down due to abuse. Even had pdf copies but apparently that's not proof of anything.

      Beware folks!

  12. hplasm



    Man the harpoons- 'tis a Brown-nose, by God!

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  14. Rob

    Oh my god, the smell!

    Sorry Jasper, nothing to do with your skill but because of the amount of quotes used from various believers in the article I thought I'd landed in a field full of diarrhoetic (sp?) cows.

    Presumably the team are still giving themselves a hefty pat on the back (excuse the pun).

  15. Crisp

    Obviously the Design Museum in London

    Has never seen a decently designed website before.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Obviously the Design Museum in London

      Followed the link in the article and I'd have to agree they haven't seen a decently designed website before

  16. goldcd
    Thumb Up

    Mixed bag, isn't it

    I've tried to find info sometimes and just kept going around in somewhat pointless loops (or get thrown into some horribly complex document, I realize 10 mins later is completely inappropriate).

    However, some of it is just 'lovely' - car tax. I don't like paying it, but does what it says on the tin with minimal fuss.

    Ages back I decided to get a proper photo-card driving license (as my old paper one was in pieces and covered in sellotape). The pile of paper forms and booklets I had spent 2 years sat on my shelf as I couldn't quite bring myself to wade into it.

    Then I randomly tried the site - and found out I just have to fill in a single form and hand over cash, and nice new card arrived a few days later (with the photo just pulled from my passport).

    As I can see some people say - it's not perfect - but there's definitely hope and whatever was spent was entirely wasted (say like every other government IT project).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mixed bag, isn't it

      You obviously missed the loophole to do that for free. Simply change your address (use friends or family), await new documents then change your address back again. They do twice as much work, deal with twice as much paperwork, you get license for free. Now if only more people did this DVLA might begin to realise how dumb and unnecessary it is to tie an address to a physical license in the first place. The address only need to be on the database not on a physical item.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mixed bag, isn't it

        When I tried to replace my battered old paper driving licence online, I was unable to as the address printed on the licence was demolished during a redevelopment, several years back.

        When I try to enter that address on the online form, I get an "Error: Invalid Postcode" with no option to enter the address manually. So I'm forced to stick with my ever more yellow, ever more cellotape covered, ever more out of date, paper licence.

        Only a minor detail in a small section of the site, but not what I would call great design... and I'm sure it's not the only such example.

      2. ed2020

        Re: Mixed bag, isn't it

        "...DVLA might begin to realise how dumb and unnecessary it is to tie an address to a physical license in the first place."

        Or they'll start charging for address changes!

  17. Risky

    I'm not a frequent visitor to the site but a few several years ago I typed in the url abd got a front page article entitled:

    "Unemployed? Claim benefit online at a time to suit you."

    I have been unemplyed though I have never claimed benefit but it I did want to I can be sure thant most of the time would have suited me ok!

  18. Gordon Pryra

    What was the design that was deserving of an award?

    All I see is a rehashed wordpress style CMS hosted in America.

    The number of very BAD design flaws however are stunning.

    1) This site will redirect you to other sites without warning. This is a big no no and on its own is enough to get you slapped by Google (for good reason)

    2) Talking of Google, how come the various pages are so badly optimized? Gov.Uk need to stop giving Google money for PPC and actually get their pages into the organic results. Its appalling that other companies can do this better than the UK Govt and have their sites selling "form filling in services" appear ABOVE

    3) Why is it hosted by a Merkin company?

    4) Ditto, why is it hosted in an Merkin data center? it matters not where the servers physically are technically, you let the edge servers take the data to where ever but they should be investing in the UK. And if our ISP's and hosting companies are crap, you sort that out along with your other claims of massive bandwidth to all.....

    5) Some 404 response headers fail

    6) Some 302 redirects in there as well, this is not great, if you have moved the data, then move it, don't sit on the fence about it coming back

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Why is it hosted by a Merkin company?

      Sigh - it's not. To be fair to GDS (grudgingly) Akamai are a content delivery network. The site is hosted in the UK

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't know a single individual who, upon seeing the reveal of the Olympic Cauldron, didn't let out a little gasp of surprise, astonishment and understanding.

    I don't know a single individual who has used who wanted to do so again.

  20. Worm

    I have looked at the website

    It is a bit rubbish, but I am sure that when it's an alpha site it will be OK.

  21. Dr_N Silver badge


    It started spamming the **** out of me.

    Supposedly due to the switch from the previous FCO site it thought I was interested by such riviting news items as Billy-Whizz Hague's African trip with Angelina Jolie.


  22. Gordon 10 Silver badge


    I have just been there and theres a grotesque banner ad for "the government" that hides the fact that 50% of the accessible material is off the bottom of the page.

    As someone else observed this looks exactly like those placeholder/squatter pages.

    BTW viewing at 1080p gawd knows what it looks like at 768.

  23. MarcusArt

    Smells like some backward dictatorship awarding themselves a pat on the back indirectly. Bollocks to it.

  24. corcoran

    Sorry, just need to ask..

    .. Am I high right now?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on, when did this go live?

    Only I renewed my car tax at the end of February and I seem to remember it being the usual shite (some unmemorable clunky shite splashed in horrid orange).

    My memory is pretty shit at the best of times, and I wouldn't consider renewing my car tax online a memorable occasion, granted.

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Hold on, when did this go live?

      No, you're right. Doesn't stop Mike Bracken claiming credit for it though, even though it predates his arrival at the UK Gov's Department of Interesting Facial Hair

  26. Flywheel

    Clueless, as usual

    When all the back-slapping has stopped, maybe the Whitehall mandarins will figure out that unless Jo Citizen all have a computing device then their everything for everybody web site will not achieve it's purpose. Why don't they ask the nice RasPi people if they could develop a cheap computer to work with all those huge tellies the great unwashed/unemployed allegedly have and do a 21st century MiniTel? Oh wait...

  27. Ben Norris
    Thumb Down


    The endless text links arn't even sorted!

  28. Zmodem

    the site has many flaws todo with registration, government user id, html emails that dont show up in some online accounts, etc etc

    they expect all the tards in the jobcenter to battle away and use and remain secure

  29. Gray Ham
    Thumb Down

    Language support?

    Am I just being a dumb Australian, or is there really no support for languages other than English (apart from Welsh) on the site?

    Aren't government websites expected to adhere to content accessibilty guidelines?

    1. GrantB

      Re: Language support?

      Nice to see Welsh though.

      Wonder how much the site cost?

      I pretty much always interact with the government online (car licensing, company office etc) so I took a look at my local equivalent: to compare.

      I would say the looks cleaner - more modern style, but achieves that by simply displaying less content. The massive advert for 'inside government' aligns to the bottom of the page does look like it fits in one screen, but then you scroll down and find more.

      So not a bad effort, and would give it a thumbs but. But design award winning? Maybe not., it just looks and works like decent site should

      1. Gray Ham

        Re: Language support?


        Agreed that the site looks much cleaner than either the or sites (the latter looks seriously overcrowded).

        However, maybe there is a trade-off here between appearance and function - a lot of the feedback we get for our own website indicates that clients value the ability to find the information they need quickly and with a minimum of in-site navigation.

        My initial experiments to find information on on anything except the simplest topics proved quite long-winded, so at present I will reserve judgement on whether this a :-) or a :-(

        1. Frankee Llonnygog

          Re: Language support?

          Ah - you are not using the clever navigational tool that makes finding content a doddle. It's called Google

    2. Richard Taylor 2

      Re: Language support?

      I would suggest that if this is the case, then it is a 'good' thing. If I am working in France I don't expect their public sector to fork out dosh to translate material for my convenience....

  30. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "will be a blow to the 7 million Brits who are not on the internet."

    Which will increase as more people lose internet access at home (defined by the DWP as a unneccessary luxury) and local libraries are shut down (defined by Eric The Pickle as an unnessessary luxury).

  31. Trustme
    Paris Hilton


    A re-coded website that links to previously built functionality (and in many areas still doesn't work properly) is a better design than the Olympic opening ceremony, or the incredible feat of engineering and design that is The Shard (regardless of your view on its aesthetics). It's apparently even better than a fully working computer system in a tiny form factor that can be delivered for £25 (because obviously the designers of the Pi didn't have any significant design hurdles to overcome compared to building a website!). Ok, I'll accept that, as long as we're all clear that because of the type of people judging this contest and their obvious view on what constitutes "design" then they are saying the gov's new website is essentially the IT equivilent of Tracey Emin's unmade bed. Personally, I think the award is well merited in those circumstances.

    Paris. The only thing more empty and vacuous than the award.

  32. arrbee

    I think the people carping at this award are just being mean spirited - surely the following page by itself deserves some kind of special mention:

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've had the pleasure of using the site

    ...and the moment I actually needed to use a so called 'eservice' it all turned to crap.

    "This service doesn’t work with some modern browsers and operating systems.

    What the service was designed to work with

    The service was designed to work with the following operating systems and browsers. Many of these are no longer available.

    Microsoft Windows 98:

    • Internet Explorer versions 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0

    • Netscape 7.2

    Microsoft Windows ME

    • Internet Explorer version 5.5 and 6.0

    • Netscape 7.2

    Microsoft Windows 2000

    • Internet Explorer version 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0

    • Netscape 7.2

    • Firefox 1.0.3

    • Mozilla 1.7.7

    Microsoft Windows XP

    • Internet Explorer 6.0

    • Netscape 7.2

    • Firefox1.0.3

    • Mozilla 1.7.7"

    No, I am not changing any of those versions to make it look worse.

    Just to put the fly on top on the dog doo, I actually have XP running IE6 at work (Enterprise build, what can I say) and the eservice STILL didn't work.

    I'll leave it there shall I?

    A design award for a brochureware front-end to a host of completely out-of-date web 2.0 rubbish?

    They can shove it up their 'Government Gateway'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've had the pleasure of using the site

      I complained:

      I am writing to complain about the level of support for modern browsers and the unintuitive and broken way in which the eservice operates for DLA applications. Over the past two weeks or so I have had enormous trouble submitting my application for my son's DLA renewal. Time-outs whilst filling in form fields were common, the whole service hangs on some screens, making progress impossible and resulting in inactivity logouts and lost information. Some text was garbled when saved, resulting in stupid typos which required alternate wording to avoid the error. Some fields were actually missing in Firefox (the 'number of days a week' field in particular). Some fields refused to accept the apostrophe character, resulting in an error message being shown on-screen and lost data.

      Basically, the whole site is shot through with problems, which make it extremely hard to use the service. When I contacted the helpdesk to inform them of this they stated that I had to use IE6 in order to use the site. This is ridiculous. IE6 is 11 years old, is lacking any modern privacy or malware threat mitigation technology, has limited functionality, is slow, and is no longer available on any new PC purchased today. In the UK, only 0.41% of online users browse the web with Internet Explorer 6, most of whom I presume to be Government employees.

      Also, this seems at odds with the Government Digital Service's goal "to make GOV.UK the best designed, most accessible Government website to date". What's going on, and can you please change it?

      And got this response:

      Thankyou for your email and for your feedback. Unfortunately as you have experienced, this online service is not compatible with many modern operating systems and browsers. A review of the service has recently been undertaken to look at what can be done to address these issues and to identify improvements that can be made to using this service.

      In the very short term we are looking to make clearer the information on the website and this will be followed up by a plan of improvements.

      I apologise for these service deficiencies and assure you that action is being taken to address the problems. A commitment has been made to updating Ministers regarding the work that is being taken forward.

      In the meantime, if you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch.


    2. Jedit Silver badge

      "This service doesn’t work with some modern browsers and operating systems"

      There was an article on this in the new Private Eye. Apparently the benefits claim form has small print saying you may have problems trying to use the site with the following systems and software:

      All Macs

      All Linux-based systems

      Windows Vista (and therefore presumably Win7)

      IE versions above 6




      In other words, this masterpiece of design is incompatible with literally every computer made in the last six years.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: "This service doesn’t work with some modern browsers and operating systems"

        To be fair, this page predates the redesign. Soon it will read:

        This page is built with: HTML 5; CSS 3; Ruby; Django; MongoDB; Varnish; Squid; nginx; and so on, and on ...

        It still won't work, but in a much more modern way.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "the government portal has been named Design of the Year 2013 by the Design Museum in London."

    I bet the deign museum also voted the iPhone the best design!

    Oi!! the 90's called and wants their designs back. W T F??

    1. Richard Taylor 2

      actually at the time

      and to give their due, the iPhone really was an outstanding bit of integrated design - hardware, software and service

  35. PeterM42

    God help Britain...

    ....if that is the best we can do.

    Maggie must be turning in her grave.

    And don't get my missus going on the subject of the HMRC site!!!!!!!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who'd they bribe to win this award?

  37. Kubla Cant Silver badge


    I've been an IT professional for about 30 years, so I flatter myself that I can find my way around a web site.

    The first time I used the HMRC site to file a VAT return it took about 20 minutes for me to find the correct page. Every quarter I improve a bit; although three months is enough time to forget the details, I've got it down to 10 minutes.

    Not for the first time, it seems the Design Museum values appearance way above function.

    1. Matt Devney

      Re: Rubbish

      You might wish to use a bookmark.

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