The team in charge of content on the government’s flagship GOV.UK site is planning to cut its frontend templates from 140 down to 10.
GOV.UK team to reduce number of frontend templates – Photo credit: GDS
The aim is to make the layout and navigation of content across GOV.UK more consistent by reducing the amount of frontend code used on GOV.UK.
The 140 existing templates – used by departments to display content on GOV.UK – will be broken down into reusable components and then consolidated into around 10 templates. These will be stored in a single Content Store.
Humin Miah, the template consolidation team’s associate product manager, said: “In the long term this will allow new features and functionality to be added more easily throughout GOV.UK, and with greater confidence by our teams.”
Miah said that there were so many templates because, as each team iterated the templates available initially, they had developed their own versions of common features.
However, as a result of iterating quickly – the hallmark of the Government Digital Service’s way of working – the government has been left with a large amount of “technical debt”, which is used in a similar way to financial debt.
According to software developer Martin Fowler, technical debt – like financial debt – “incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development because of the quick and dirty design choice”.
He has argued that teams have to then choose between continuing to pay that interest or “pay down the principal” by improving that design, which costs initially but reduces the “interest payments” in the future.
For GOV.UK, the technical debt has meant that pushing out a new feature across GOV.UK requires a lot of effort to update all the applications, and so only some templates are worked on – leading to an inconsistent frontend design and user experience on GOV.UK.
In addition, Miah said that new developers need to understand the specifics of GOV.UK frontend architecture – the way the frontend has been built – “just to get up to speed”.
Miah said that the team was beginning by unpicking the current state of the frontend so that they could understand the frontend architecture themselves. They are also researching the user needs of each template to ensure that no unique user experiences were lost when they consolidate the templates.
The move comes as GDS is making wider changes to GOV.UK content. Neil Williams, head of GOV.UK, said in July that the GDS was “thoroughly re-examining” how it worked with different departments to design, maintain and improve content on GOV.UK with users in mind, setting out plans to roll out a new version of its content operating model in April 2017.
And earlier this week GDS revealed the results of initial research on GOV.UK content, including that content designers are not empowered to challenge decisions in their departments and that the environment they work in “varies wildly” across government.