There are currently more than 600 designers across different organisations helping government work better for users.
Our new Design in… series profiles the design teams in different organisations, looking at how they are structured, how they work and what it means to be a designer in the public sector today.
The role of Parliament is to hold the government to account. The House of Lords and the House of Commons represent the public’s opinions and scrutinise the making of new laws. Government cannot raise new taxes or spend public money without Parliament's agreement.
The Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) user research and design team is made up of user researchers and designers, product and service managers, and performance analysts. The PDS team is currently working on projects to make it easier for users to find information about their MP and a new Parliament website.
In this interview, we talk to 3 members of their team about what led them to their roles, the unique challenges they face, and why collaboration is such a big part of their work.
Rachel Elliott-Potter, UX designer
A fundamental part of any design role is problem-solving. Here, there are always problems to be solved, which keeps me motivated and excited. The volume and diversity of people you get to meet is amazing. What makes it even better is that they really want to share their knowledge with you and help by getting involved in the work you’re doing, which is something I think is really cool.
I decided to join PDS for a few different reasons. The main reason was that building a better digital presence and experience for Parliament is really exciting and motivating. It’s something that really matters, something that can make a difference to society. What we are delivering is going to be a massive shift, for the better, from what we have now. Also, there’s a certain weight to having UK Parliament on your CV.
I’m surrounded by some amazing people here and there is a real sense of ‘team’ that I haven’t experienced before. We work in an agile, multidisciplinary environment in which everyone has respect for one another, their experience and their opinions.
From my perspective, it gives a real sense of pride that you don’t get with most other employers. Parliament is such a special organisation to be involved with, particularly at this time when there is so much happening from a digital perspective.
Jack Craig, Design Lead
I joined 18 months ago as a designer, and as the team grew, I progressed into Design Lead. When I initially saw the job advert, I disregarded it. I hadn’t set out to work in the public sector. But the job specification stayed with me and got under my skin.
When I think about my career path, I’ve been attracted to the challenge of helping bring traditional organisations into a digital world. Parliament represented an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t resist. The procedural side of Parliament is different to any other job. The history and intricacies are really interesting to learn about and ultimately this is work that affects all of our lives.
We encourage co-design from the start. I think when we try to engage with people from outside the digital service they can be sceptical at first. However, it’s great because they can give us their feedback and input on what we’re building, and I think they enjoy and appreciate it too. It’s also important because the procedural stuff can be really complex. If we designed it in a silo, we would inevitably make mistakes and so it helps to reduce that risk from the outset.
It’s rewarding. You go home thinking about the problems you’re trying to solve. We’re helping to make Parliament more inclusive, relevant and open. As a designer that’s the type of challenge I want to work on.
Jeanette Clement, Head of User Research and Design
We have a small but versatile design team, with each designer embedded in a multidisciplinary team. We’ve scaled really quickly over the past 6 months, from one product team to 6. We are still changing our ways of working and our processes – change is hard but it means we are trying to be better.
We take the same approach for our team as we do for a product – it’s hard to get everything right the first time, but we keep learning, being open about what we’ve learnt, and improving.
All our designers have different spikes in skills and experience and they have to be flexible in the areas that they work on. The whole team comes together weekly for a meeting and design crit. This gives them the opportunity to feed into each other's work and get feedback themselves, ultimately so they can help each other develop and grow.
Sometimes pushing the culture and mindset towards being user-centred can feel like rerouting the course of a big ship. Growing a team isn’t a solution in itself. You’ve got to engage the whole department and organisation.
The best thing about my job is that no one day is ever the same. I can focus on speaking to members of the product teams, observing and asking questions and identifying if there are patterns or consistencies to the problems arising. I work with other supporters to try and unblock any issues.
Talking to other people in the organisation is vital. Explaining why we work the way we do and how it will ultimately be beneficial to the organisation and our users. Understanding how we can work more efficiently together, championing user research, product and design and trying to hit the sweet spot of advocacy without irritation.
It’s important for us to talk and listen to others from outside our bubble. Hearing stories of success and failure helps us to hold up a mirror to ourselves. It shows us different perspectives, and it shows that it’s not all ugly.
We all came to work at Parliament for different reasons. Empowering citizens to better understand and influence democracy was one of mine. I get a buzz from taking a leading role in the modernisation of Parliament. As you can imagine, in a traditional, hierarchical organisation, a woman in jeans and trainers championing the role of design in bringing the work of Parliament to the people is a bit of a surprise. But a welcome one.
Government is hiring. If you’re interested in joining a community of more than 600 designers working across departments, you can see our current vacancies at www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk.