Skip to main content
Creating a new NHS England: Health Education England, NHS Digital and NHS England have merged. More about the merger.

10 ways the NHS digital service manual can help you

If you want to build easy-to-use digital health services that put people first, Adrian Smith explains why the NHS digital service manual is a great place to start.

This blog post will take just 5 minutes of your time, but it could well save you hours of unnecessary work (and head-scratching).

Photo of researchers looking at what works best for users of NHS services online

Researchers focus on what works best for our NHS service users online

If you design or build products or services for the NHS and you’ve never heard of the NHS digital service manual, then it’s time to take a look.   

The service manual has been put together to help NHS teams design and build consistent, usable digital services that put people first.

It’s been through rigorous user research and offers a range of styles, principles and guidance to help with design, development, writing content and accessibility.

Here are 10 ways it can help you in your day-to-day work:

1. Design principles

If you’ve never looked at the service manual before, the design principles are a good place to start.

This set of 9 simple principles guide our design work and can help you with decision making. They help make sure digital teams respond in a user-centred way to the unique challenges presented by designing for health and care.

2. Prototyping tools

The service manual is not just about guidance though. It also helps you to build more efficiently, saving the NHS time and money.

So, whether you’re wanting to create a basic NHS webpage or build a complex user journey, our prototyping tools will help you to speed up that process.

The prototype kit lets you create HTML prototypes of NHS services and you’ll also find a series of page templates, which will make sure your design is consistent with other NHS services.

3. Production code

This is where you can get the code you need to start building user interfaces for NHS websites and services.

This code is borne out of the expertise behind the NHS website (, which is Europe’s biggest health website. It will make it easier for you to build consistent, accessible, mobile-friendly NHS products and services so that you can focus on meeting users’ needs.

4. Styles, patterns and components

It’s important that your website looks and feels like an NHS service, and these tested styles will make sure your colours, icons, layout, spacing and typography are all on point.

There’s also a collection of components you can use – whether this be form elements (like buttons or error messages) or content elements (like images or warning messages). 

5. Accessibility guidance

The NHS is for everyone, so our digital products and services need to be for everyone too.

It’s no good spending months designing a fantastic new product, only to discover once it’s live that it does not work for some people.  

Our accessibility guidance explains what every member of your digital team can do to make sure that your service is inclusive.

6. Inclusive language guide

Designing digital products is not all about tech. One of the simplest ways we can make our services accessible to all is by being aware of the language we use.

If you want to be sure that you’re writing in a respectful way about age, gender, disability, sexuality or mental health, then this guide to inclusive language will give you some important hints and tips.  

7. Content style guide including the A to Z of NHS health writing

Our popular content style guide is there to answer all your questions on health writing. It draws on what we know from user research about making content easy to understand. Is it a GP surgery or a GP practice? Do we use urine or pee?

One of our content designers actually tackled the latter question in what’s become known as the “pee and poo blog”. In it, she illustrates how NHS content designers research and choose the words that work best for the people who use our services.

8. Forms guidance and how to ask good questions

When it comes to building forms or transactional services, it’s often said that the answers you get depend on the questions you ask.

The forms guidance in the service manual can help you to understand which questions to include, how to write them well and how to write any additional content for your form.

It will help you design better digital forms and, if your service still needs them, paper forms.

9. PDFs and guidance on why we do not use them

Whether you’re a digital or communications professional, you’ve no doubt spent more than a few hours of your working life discussing the use of PDFs.

Here’s a handy guide on PDFs, why we do not use them and what we encourage you to do instead; useful for forwarding onto colleagues who insist on emailing you PDFs “for the website”.

10. We're a community - come join us!

You may (or may not) have noticed that there’s a little ‘d’ in the NHS digital service manual.

NHS Digital is responsible for maintaining the service manual, but it’s very much an open house.

Anybody who follows our design principles and guidance can propose new features, comment and get involved in moving it forward.

On the community page, you’ll find links where you can propose a new component or pattern. Or you can help us develop or improve existing components, patterns or guidance.


You can email us at [email protected] or join us on Slack.

Related subjects

Matt Edgar, Associate Director of Design and User Research at NHS Digital, explains why user centred design is vital in a pandemic – not a ‘nice to have’ – in the first NHS Digital Design Matters blog post.
Conducting user research remotely is challenging but can yield unexpected benefits. Brigit O’Sullivan, User Researcher at NHS Digital, describes what she learned working as a user researcher for the NHS App during lockdown..
Lucy Ha, Product and Delivery Management Graduate, explains how the NHS digital service manual is helping organisations quickly build accessible, consistent digital products and services needed to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


Last edited: 2 March 2022 8:51 am