GDS opens lab for testing online government services

GDS is best known for creating the portal, which was awarded Design of the Year by the Design Museum in 2013.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has set up a user research lab to help government teams to build user-friendly digital public services.

GDS hopes Whitehall departments will use the lab to help develop digital services that best meet user needs, as part of plans to redesign and digitise the 25 highest-volume services across government.

The testing environment allows Whitehall teams to closely monitor how people interact with the redesigned websites and will help them to "empathise with the people that they're producing services for", according to the Cabinet Office.

The government estimates that providing space for testing in-house is 25 percent cheaper than using external labs.

The Cabinet Office said that a number of research teams within Whitehall who already have contracts with external rented labs will move their projects to the new lab, which is located at GDS' headquarters in Holborn, central London.

The lab opened in July and is now booked "for months in advance", the department added.

DVLA redesign

For example, it has already been used extensively by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to test its redesigned services, such as accessing driving and road tax records online.

The lab includes technical equipment to allow researchers to record facial expressions, track eye movements on the screen and monitor where someone moves and clicks their cursor.

Researchers also conduct interviews and workshops to learn about people's habits, lifestyles and thought patterns. This information is all fed back into the wider team developing digital services, to help inform process and design.

Accessibility technology is also available, such as large screens for visually impaired people, an induction loop for the hard of hearing, and a joystick and compact keyboard for mobility impaired individuals.

24/7 government services

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "You can bank online at midnight and shop from your bedroom so people rightly expect high-quality digital services from government.

"That's why we built the award-winning GOV.UK – a simpler, faster and cheaper set for government information and services – and we will continue to innovate with this new digital lab."

Government digital director Mike Bracken said: "We're building services which are so good, people prefer to use them. Thorough research with actual users is critical to that, and especially to our exemplars: 25 of government's highest volume transactions, which are being transformed into digital-by-default services."

These 25 'exemplar' services are due to be rebuilt end-to-end and moved online by March 2015, which the government says will save £1.2 billion.


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