Bracknell Forest Digital Services

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How the beta came to life

We began this blog not quite 2 years ago – in April 2015, to be exact – though the project had been going prior to this. We took a look at some of the work we did in 2015 in our end of year roundup post.

We’ve come a long way in 2016. Here’s a quick look at the 4 main areas:


In 2016 we carried out a further 25 discovery workshops with service teams. These tended to be smaller sections, having already tackled the giants.

Re-writing content continued in earnest, reaching fever pitch in the last half of the year. Our content review process is extremely thorough – each piece of content goes through several stages of review before final sign off. This included over 30 formal content review meetings.


Visually, the website came to life in 2016. The homepage was designed, and with it an array of icons that were tweaked multiple times.

One example where the icon changed is the ‘planning and building control’ icon.

floorplan-iconThe original design was based on a floorplan. User testing showed that customers were unsure what this was supposed to represent.

person-with-hard-hat-imageThe new design was based on an image of a person in the building industry (wearing a hard hat) but there was concern in the team that it should be more gender neutral.

gender-neutral-person-with-hard-hat-imageWith a slight narrowing of the shoulders, and removal of the tie, we felt the final design was more inclusive. 

Within the site, 2 main designs were chosen:

  • a standard, information-based design
  • a promotional design for sections such as leisure

The promotional design includes a wide range of pieces (almost like LEGO) which are available to build in sections. Using these, we can tailor parts of the website so that they have their own unique identity, whilst remaining consistent with the rest of the site.


Alongside all this activity, the kicking and breathing part of the website was created too. This involved the development, in Drupal, of every functioning part. Of course, this links in very closely with the design, which ties in very closely with the content, so lining all 3 up together is the real trick.

User testing

We did plenty of user testing, using in-person testing as well as Treejack surveys. We tested the homepage navigation and wireframes with different groups of people. We also tested different design options, from overall page designs and colours to icon details.

Our next round of testing is the beta. There’s no better way of testing the website than actually putting it out there for people to use – and we’re really pleased to announce it is coming soon – so watch this space!



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My way or the highway; creating new content for roads

Roads icon

My first experience of creating structure and content for the new website was for the roads section.

We had two workshops about this section. One was with Highway Network Management (which has several teams within it) and the other was with Highway Asset Management.

For customers, these teams do one overall thing: look after roads. So it’s not relevant to them that there are different teams, and teams within teams, some of which deal with traffic flow, others which deal with potholes. Instead, the customer journey needs to include the services offered by both these teams without breaking that journey into two parts.

Secondly, both these service areas are pretty keen on the word highway. It’s important to them – and it’s what they are all about. But, from a user perspective, we’re really talking about roads. Okay, so it’s actually roads, pavements and even some verges, but that’s getting complicated which is the opposite of where we want to be.

Keeping our content crystal clear is a priority – our current website was highly rated by the Plain English Campaign just this week. What I’ve noticed, is that you can always review content for the better. So let’s use the word roads, where roads makes more sense in the context.


Guide pages

We sourced the idea of guide pages from GOV.UK; the format is an overview or introduction page with related (numbered) pages that you can clearly see at the top. If it’s a process, you can go through them in numerical order, or you can click straight to the content that’s relevant to you. Here’s a snippet taken from GOV.UK:

Snippet taken from GOV.UK of an example guide page

There were two instances where I re-structured content into a guide page. One was a PDF about gritting and one was a page about abandoned vehicles that was so long I’m not sure anyone but me has reached the end of it. For both of these, I changed the content into the new guide page structure so they had a short intro and simple, associated pages.

In terms of making sure the content was in Plain English, turning the bottomless page into more manageable pieces of information was pretty straightforward as it was already written for a web audience.

Much more editing was required with the PDF, which raises yet another problem with PDFs – not only are they generally not very accessible – they tend to be created without that keen focus on a web audience. If they are serving no purpose and no-one is looking at them (over half of our PDFs currently get no views at all) – get rid of them. If they are important – consider changing them into web pages instead.


Make things better

If our content team had a tag-line, this could be it. T-shirts anyone?

Image of a tee shirt with the words: Make things better

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My design journey at Bracknell Forest

My name is Leyla. I joined the Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) digital services team in May 2015 as a design and usability officer. I have 14 years of experience in web design and development working in the private sector in various roles. Moving to Bracknell Forest has enabled me to fulfil my desire to work in usability and accessibility and I’m really happy that my new job has provided me with the opportunity to learn and work in this field.

Soon after taking this job, I began to do research on most of the UK council websites. I was surprised to find only a few council websites that are user friendly and responsive.

Today’s smartphones and tablets have changed the approach toward design and user experience.


Usage stats by device 2014 – 2015: Desktop: 46.19% Mobile: 36.28% Tablet: 17.53%

Having a single site which works on all devices is cost effective and also improves SEO efforts by directing all visitors to a single site which is easier for us to manage.  Now a days, over 50% of our users are accessing our site via a mobile device such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Our plan is to create a simpler, cleaner, faster and more secure fully responsive website with consistent user-experience while keeping accessibility in mind.

We also hope to attract more visitors to the BFC website by creating an easier to use website and using simpler language which will be more understandable to everyone in the community.

Another task in my new job is to create a global experience language (GEL) in order to drive consistency and coherence across the diverse, cross-platform portfolio of Bracknell Forest Council’s services, and a design style guide and pattern library that will bring consistency to our digital output.

One of our key objectives is to enhance the user experience of the BFC website as it is brought inline with the GEL. Through the use of a GEL we want to make the BFC website experience clear, simple and fast, and a place where individual services become recognizable, easy to use and consistent, and help the user understand our services.

Another task in my new role is to create part of the BFC website in Easy Read format. Our main target audience will be people with learning difficulties and disabilities, but at the same time our Easy Read content will aim to be beneficial to other audiences such as people with English as a second language.

Along side my other responsibilities, my fellow team members and I am participating in workshops we are hosting with service teams in order to familiarize ourselves with their operations and customers, and to listen to their ideas for a new website.
Based on the information I get from the workshops, I am creating wireframes for each section of the website. It’s very important to get these wireframes right because later they will be the source to create the alpha version of our website and enable us to test the website’s usability before we create the final layout and pages in-house.

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Re-developing council tax

It’s been about 6 weeks since our first workshop. We’ve been running a whole bunch of other workshops in that time, and there is a lot of work coming out of each one but we are now getting things together to hand over to our designer to start some basic wireframes. With this progress in mind, I thought it would be interesting to talk through what is happening after a workshop from a content perspective, by looking at the progress with the council tax section.

With service teams we are talking through where customers might have come from, what kind of content they would expect to see and how they would work through the task. In this, we are mapping out one of the main user journeys. For council tax this was ‘set up a direct debit for council tax’.

Direct debit user journey

After mapping out this journey in the workshop, we are then looking at what else the team have said, as well as at usage statistics and all the other information we have gathered, to work out what pages we are going to need for the section. For each section we are producing a discovery report to scope out what we will or won’t do, and what needs there are to meet.

After pulling all this together, I have been scribbling down what kind of pages I think we will need in the section, and how they might link together. Excuse the badly drawn boxes! This was an exercise in thinking about the content as a whole, rather than a drawing challenge!

Draft of council tax pages

This is helpful because it gives us a better view of the content we are going to need and the format it might take. This is then being put into an online program called ‘Gather Content‘ which is used to write and review content. I took the above structure and added each page to our gather content site, along with the first draft of the re-written content.


All of this content will now be reviewed by several members of the team to check that it meets our standards, as well as to help us develop our new content standards for the new site.

With content well underway for this section, I’ve handed all of this off to our designer Leyla, who is working hard to put together the wireframes (she’ll be blogging soon to explain that process!). Once we have our wireframes, we will give them to our technical guys to make an alpha in Drupal.

Our second Treejack survey for the council tax section is now live. Thanks to everyone who left their feedback on the first one! It was really helpful! You will find this second survey very similar to the first, but the tree structure has been tweaked a little bit to improve (hopefully) the section’s overall structure.

Don’t forget that you can also sign up to be notified for any future user testing.

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Running workshops

We have now held our first three workshops (council tax, births and jobs). The first two workshops were test runs. The teams knew they were having the process tested out on them, which made it a little less nerve-wracking to stand in front of them and ask them lots of questions about their service. Hopefully some of those nerves will disappear during the course of the next 70 workshops!

The test runs have already helped us tweak the workshop process, and it is quite likely to change again as we get more used to running them. At the moment though, we are starting each workshop by asking some core questions:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What tasks are they carrying out?
  • How are they accessing your service?
  • Why are they accessing you service?

These questions make sure we are being as customer focused as possible, teasing out of service teams the information they have on their customers and their tasks that perhaps we don’t see through the website.

The example below is from our jobs workshop. One of the key bits of information we got out of this was that the service needs to be truly accessible out of hours. It needs as much self-service as possible as more often than not, customers are using the jobs portal outside working hours, around their current jobs.

Core questions - jobs

We are also looking to find out what impression a service team has on their digital situation. This means that we are discussing:

  • the key statistics, such as the top page hits
  • what type of content is available
  • what they think are barriers to making the service as online as possible

These discussions have been informing us as to what tasks we need to be focusing on to meet customer needs.

We have then been using the information gathered in the first part of the workshop to start creating a user journey on the key task for the service area. We are helping the service team map out the main routes of access to a task and looking at what, in an ideal world, the customer will see and do.

Registering a birth user journey mapping

I’ve drawn this out below to make it a little more legible – my board writing ability is obviously something I’m going to have to work on!

Registering a birth user journey

In the example of registering a birth, we discovered that new mothers in Bracknell Forest may have many routes into our website, such as from forums or midwife visits, as well as search engines.

Once they reach our website, the team were surprised at how formal the language we use sounded and want to make it more simple and friendly, with clearer calls to action.

At the moment, a customer must phone to book an appointment to register a birth, but the information surrounding this is online, so the journey brings them back to the site, where they can get the relevant information for the appointment, as well as signposts to other information such as passports and benefits.

So far, we have produced several of these hand-drawn user journeys, which we will now discuss further within our team and wire-frame, before building them into a beta site for customer testing to refine them. As soon as these are up and ready, we will post links for feedback.

If you want to take a look at how we are doing things now, why not take a look at our current jobs or births sections. We welcome any feedback on the current site so that we can take it forward into our beta version!