Weeknote 18

Dave House has left the building

On Thursday, we said goodbye to the GOV.UK Design System’s long-standing interaction designer, Dave House, who's leaving GDS for pastures new.

I’ve worked with Dave since my very first day at GDS nearly 3 years ago, and I’ve learnt such a lot from him, so I was really sad to see him go. I don’t want this to read like a eulogy, but I really couldn’t let him leave without saying a couple of things about what it’s been like working with him.

First things first, he has done a phenomenal amount of work on the Design System itself, the enormity and complexity of which is far too great for me to do justice to here. Suffice to say though, the GOV.UK Design System would not be what it is without him. Not even close.

But what I have valued about working with Dave above all else, more than the pixel-perfect attention to detail, the unwavering focus on gnarly problems and the shit hot design work he’s done, is Dave himself.

Dave’s one of those super generous people that will always take the time to deliver a patient explanation to anyone who asks. Whether it’s a technical issue, the background to a historic design decision or a quick summary—complete with post-it-based diagrams—of how phase cancellation works (Google it).

We work on a pretty technical project, which can sometimes be challenging for those of us without a coding background, so I’ve been incredibly grateful to have him to turn to at times of “WTF?!”. As an example of that, Dave put together this brilliant 7-part tutorial explaining how to apply basic CSS styling to a page and used it to teach some of the less technical members of our team (myself included) a bit about CSS.

Truthfully, I would not have survived in this team if it wasn’t for Dave, and my other brilliant colleagues who have taken the time to help me understand the project and bring value to it.

To come to work every day with people you can create with, care with, and laugh with (and only very occasionally want to throw things at) is by no means a universal experience, and I feel lucky beyond measure to have had that here.

Dave House—it has been a privilege and a pleasure of epic proportions to work with you. Go out there and smash it.

Publishing a new pattern in the GOV.UK Design System

On Thursday, we published a new pattern—Ask users for bank details— which was contributed by Adam, Amanda and Gemma who work at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). We’ve been looking at how we can make our contribution model more inclusive and more sustainable. This contribution was part of an experiment to find out if we could leverage the knowledge and experience of someone who’d contributed successfully before (Adam, in this case) to help others to contribute.

We agreed up front that we would offer the team minimal support while they were developing the contribution, asking them to note down any times they felt stuck or might have wanted extra help and report back to us at the end.

We met with them for one hour to kick off the work and agree some acceptance criteria, but then we left them to it. We then came back together for another hour at the end to go through the pattern together before sending it off to the Design System working group to review.

The team did a fantastic job, evidenced by the vast quantities of positive feedback we’ve had since its publication.

Contribution takes a lot of time and investment to make possible—time and effort which can feel fruitless at times. But this example gives me hope that we’re moving in the right direction with our contribution model, empowering more people to get involved and growing the Design System with input from the wonderful community that underpins it.

Naming things is hard, scoping things is harder

On Wednesday, I caught up with Dave, a designer at the NHS, to talk about naming things in design systems (my favourite thing). We had a good chat about some of the challenges around naming conventions, and swapped some ideas to address them.

Something that comes up time and time again when I have conversations like this one, is how often the naming of components and patterns is hampered by the lack of a clearly defined scope.

The GOV.UK Service Manual says “If you’re having problems naming your service, it might be because you haven’t scoped your service correctly.” and in my experience, this is just as applicable to naming design patterns.

Often when we’re grappling with the question of what to call something, it’s actually a proxy for a more fundamental confusion about what the thing actually is.

To use a recent example, when we were planning work around the bank details pattern, we considered naming it “Help users to get paid”, “Help users to pay or get paid”, “Ask users for bank details”.

With the first and second options, we would have needed to extend the pattern to accommodate not just bank details, but cheques, payments by card, standing orders, Direct Debits, as well as how to support users who don’t have bank accounts.

As well as making the pattern much bigger and more complicated than it already was, it would have also overlapped with our pattern for asking users for payment card details and potentially others in the system.

So while the conversation was, and often is, centred around the name of the thing, the real question is more existential: Where does this thing start and finish?

Maybe I’ll write a thing about this.

4 more blog posts

In the past week alone, there have been 4 more blog posts published as part of the 10 More Blog Posts initiative I kicked off back in August:

Folks, you are all superstars and having the tiniest hand in helping you find your voices fills me to the brim with pride.

Other stuff

Those were the biggest, most time-consuming things. The other things that happened were: