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Cross government heads of design update

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July 2023

Four heads of design in government stood in the street smiling at the camera. From left to right in the photo we have Nikola Goger (Ministry of Justice), Kara Kane (GDS), Sophie Boyd (DHSC/NHS England), Laura Yarrow (GDS).

Now that there are over 40+ people in “heads of design/ head of user-centred design (UCD)” roles in government, we want to leverage that to empower our community of practitioners. Our heads of design come from not just ministerial departments, but arms length bodies, agencies and the NHS, too. Currently this does not extend to local government design leaders, as this would be an extremely large group of people. 

As part of this initiative, we would love to find out more about your world, and what you need from us, so please use the contact details below to get in touch. We’re starting small, aiming to publish a short blog each month with details of what we are actively working on, and who is doing it.

What’s new?

Recently we met in person for our cross government heads of design meeting! This meeting was well attended (not just by the 4 people in the photo!) and productive. We now have a Trello board with a backlog of activities and tasks that different heads are taking responsibility for. We encourage all heads of design across government to attend this meeting held on the first Tuesday of every month, and engage with some of the shared topics that we are all focussing on (and bring your own ones too).

Although we meet monthly online, our next in-person meeting will be in Autumn, if you are heading up a design team in government please get in touch below to be added to the invite.

What happened in our cross gov design leadership meeting

In spring, heads of design across government met in London to formalise a number of things:

  • how the group works and our collective objectives
  • agree on our terms of engagement in the group
  • what tools and processes do we agree to use/ follow to do our work
  • what initiatives and topics we are covering, and who is responsible for them

We got together to discuss a few initiatives in a lean coffee format — where people suggest topics and then vote on which they want to discuss. First up was to brainstorm all the shared initiatives we want to be working on. Now that we have grown the community of design leaders in government, the chance of duplicating our work is high so we want to avoid that where possible.

One of these areas of potential duplication is shared training, so we want to  reduce the effort of producing courses and training across departments. Currently each department is producing its own training, for example: introduction to UCD, Figma training and so on, and we are not sharing or reusing it outside of our organisations which we want to change. We talked about how we can start to audit and log what training exists and which organisation has created it. We decided that an MVP (minimum viable product) could be to start matching learners to these organisations running the training rather than creating new training internally. The next phase would be whether we can start to centralise some of this training and how that might work.

Another hot topic was working out what tools the heads of design can and cannot access across government. If we want to collaborate, we need to know what tools are available to all to enable us to work together. This is ongoing, but an audit has been done and we are now setting up the ways to collaborate.

We meet to assess the progress on all these initiatives each month, and are looking forward to sharing more of our work with the design community going forward.

Useful information and events

  • GDS is working with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to informally explore a community of practice around “life experiences” in relation to public services. This will be a convening of 14 countries from around the world that are leading the way on developing services that target specific life experiences like starting a family or retiring. At the moment this is a closed event to build the initial community of practice, but do get in touch if you want to be notified of the future work of this group.
  • Design System Day 2023 will be held from 10 to 11 October this year in Edinburgh. To stay up to date please sign up to the Design System mailing list.
  • Don’t forget the Service Design in Government conference (SDinGov) is running 20 to 22 September. Heads of Design from GDS, HMRC and NHS Blood and Transplant will be speaking at this event. Come and say hi!

Who’s working on what?

  • Laura Yarrow (Head of Design, GOV.UK, Government Digital Service) is working on making the design leadership group’s work transparent to all in government
  • Nikola Goger (Head of Design, Ministry of Justice) is working on a repository for all our cross gov heads of design work, and an audit of the tools we can all use
  • Chris Taylor (Head of UCD, Home Office) and Laura Yarrow are working on a pilot for a workshop about building relationships with stakeholders, potentially to pilot in Autumn
  • Paul Moran (Head of Service Design and User Research at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency)  is creating connections with the Public Policy Design community
  • Simon McCartney (Head of Service Design, HM Revenue and Customs) is working on performance management for heads of design across government
  • Simon McCartney and Chris Taylor are working on how we make UCD training work better across government, and avoid duplication of training materials and courses
To get in touch with the Heads of Design across government, you can reach us on this email address: 

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