Design principles for health and care

By Dean Vipond. 2 October 2018Designers workshop design principles sitting and standing around a table

I’m Dean, and I’m the lead designer for the NHS website. I also work with lots of other designers in different parts of the organization. We are pleased to publish a set of design principles, for people making services and tools in the NHS. They will guide designers’ decision making, and help people from other professions understand what design is for, and how it can benefit people.

Designers working in the NHS come from a variety of backgrounds and we want to ensure they understand the unique challenges presented by designing for health and care. A clear and memorable set of design principles will help them understand what is expected of them.

The principles are published on our new digital service manual, which also includes code, design styles, advice for creating content, and guidance for accessibility. This is still in its early stages, and will grow and develop over time.

How did we define our principles?

We began defining principles last year, at a workshop organised by Nicola Gill, who, with Bob Gann, has been working on the important widening digital participation programme. A number of designers from across the NHS attended, along with people from government, and other businesses with experience in design for healthcare. It was facilitated by the excellent folk from Good Things Foundation.

We examined what principles are for, what makes a good principle (and what makes a bad one), and our experiences designing for health and care. This was a practical session, with some important discussion, but a focus on doing. We ended the day with a lot of opinions documented, and plenty of ideas of what design principles for healthcare could be.

Earlier this year a smaller group of people reconvened to consolidate all the thoughts. We reflected on what the prevailing themes were, and how to translate these into principles that were memorable and practical.

Designing for health and care

One of the group’s main inspirations were the Government Digital Service’s design principles. They are clear and actionable. Indeed, we have included some of them in our final set. However, we wanted a direct link to health and care. Nicola had the idea to refer to the NHS constitution, which is as bold and ambitious a document today, as it was when it was written in 1948.

Our principles focus on either people or process. People, so that we are always reminded of who we are designing for (people using NHS services, carers, healthcare professionals, etc). Process, so everyone is working and making services in a similar way.

After a period of further discussion and editing, our set of 9 design principles can be read on the new digital service manual. They are not set in stone, and after a while we will review them with people designing services, to see how useful they are in practice. We hope they will result in better services for people.

Take a look at them, and let us know what you think! Email us to tell us your thoughts.