How to meet user needs using a consistent set of design patterns.

What it is

A content format is a standardised way of presenting information on a page.

For example, it could be a form, or a tool like a postcode look-up or calculator. Or it could just be a simple page of text.

Why it’s important

Content design doesn’t just involve words. It’s about taking a need and presenting it in the best way possible for users. Choosing the right format - or proposing a new format - can help you achieve this.

Developing content formats with recognised patterns (evidence-based solutions to common design problems) will help bring consistency to your users’ experience when interacting with government.

How you do it

Start by learning about your users’ needs

Don’t choose a format until you understand what your users actually need from the content. Decisions about content formats should be based on evidence, like analytics or user research. Good content design is about letting your content determine the format, not the other way round.

Find formats and patterns that already work

Choose a format that already exists on your website, if it’s the best option for your users. If you think you need a new format, check the design style guide or GDS design patterns. These are based on data and user research, and mean you don’t have to build something entirely new.

Prototype and test

Prototypes can help you explore, share and test new designs before you commit to building anything. Working in a multi-disciplinary team (one that includes for example, content designers, user researchers, interaction designers and developers) during the prototyping and building phase can help everyone have the same understanding of what users need.

The new content format should be something that can be used again for other content. You should test your prototype early and often.


Share any learnings from prototyping and building new content formats with government content communities:

Useful resources

Digital First Service Standard

This article offers guidance relevant to the following criteria from the Digital First service standard: