The London Design Museum’s annual awards took place last night and for the first time, the winner of the best design of the year was a website. What’s more, it was a government website: Britain’s gov.uk.
Visiting gov.uk with the knowledge that it is an award-winner is a distinctly underwhelming experience. That’s because it’s meant to be that way—unobtrusive and quietly efficient. Launched in October as a single stop for all major government services, gov.uk is, with the addition of the Department of Work and Pensions this morning, home to to 21 of the 24 departments it will eventually host. Its minimal design loads fast even for people on slow internet connections.
The award, then, recognizes that design—like government—exists not as an end in itself, but to facilitate other things.
Before gov.uk, going to anyone of Britain’s several government websites, such as direct.gov.uk, was a lot like dealing with the state in real life, which is to say, pretty frustrating. Cluttered homepages, a multitude of directions but little guidance, hundreds of superficially different but essentially similar options, and general ugliness. It was like landing at JFK.