View the latest event here:

9–11 September 2015

McGrath Centre, St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

A community not a library: design patterns for government services

Caroline Jarrett Effortmark and Government Digital Service
Tim Paul Government Digital Service

Session type: Tutorial
Session duration: 90 minutes

About this Tutorial

At GOV.UK, we aim to build services that are ‘consistent, not uniform’.

But when we looked at some of our services, we discovered that we weren’t consistent. For example, we found that even for something as simple as asking for a date of birth, we had a variety of different ways to do it - and we learned that some of them are much more successful than others.

We wanted to share best practices between designers, and to help them to learn from our extensive user research efforts.

So we decided to create some design patterns. We’ve seen previous efforts at creating pattern libraries: full of great advice, but that can so easily turn into historic shelfware.

We’re planning this tutorial in three sections.

1. Introduction and description

  • how we created the first version of the patterns
  • the tools and approaches we have been using to create and maintain them

2. Interactive exercise:

Pros and cons of the selected approach - we’ll get conference attendees to use and contribute to the patterns.

3. Lessons learned and next steps

  • what we would do differently if we had to start again
  • our recommendations to somebody like us who is just starting doing it
  • what we’re planning to do next
  • call for contributors

Our main theme is: the primary value of the patterns is in the conversations that they create. We’ve been delighted that contributors have become a wider community that actively discusses, challenges, and updates the patterns.

About the Speakers

Caroline Jarrett

Caroline Jarrett is a user researcher and forms specialist. She helps organisations to make their forms easier to fill in, and to make business processes more effective.

She helps teams to:

  • Find out about their users through user research
  • Learn about best practices
  • Evaluate whether the ideas they’ve found on the Internet will work for them
  • Create, communicate, and evaluate their research.

Tim Paul

Tim is a designer specialising in large public sector digital services. He works for the Cabinet Office in the Government Digital Service (GDS), where he helps departments transform their services for the GOV.UK website.

Before GDS, Tim led the design team at Transport for London, where he was responsible for the design of services like the Journey Planner and Congestion Charging.

Session Types

Need help planning which sessions to attend? We've provided a breakdown of our various session types below.

Case Study/Experience Report

A presentation and discussion of real-life (not theoretical) experiences of the application (or mis-application) of service design techniques. Case studies and experience reports include some discussion of lessons learned and an indication of how novel the work is.


Participants learn a new approach, tool or technology through using it to solve one or more practical exercises. Any software/hardware requirements are disclosed in the session description.


A session focused around some specific tool, technique or issue. Primarily led by the speaker, tutorials usually include some elements of interactivity or individual / group exercise.


An in-depth working session on a specific topic. May include paper presentations.