Afterlife – Stephen McCarthy

On Thursday 26th January, there was a talk given by Stephen McCarthy whom is a designer in the Government Digital Service and so works in Central Government. He helped set up the website and as a result has won the D&AD Black Pencil award.

He gave a great insight into his working way and what it is like to work as a designer for the Government. I realised that it is all about the user experience and the design should aid that – not distract it. There is also a heavy focus on collaboration throughout because Graphic design is not something thrown in at the end of a process – which can happen.

Here are their design principles:

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again
  6. This is for everyone
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services. Not websites
  9. Be consistent. Not uniform
  10. Make thing open, it makes things easier

I feel that upon reflection, their design principles do marry up with their website. There is nothing on the website that doesn’t need to be there. Every element on the page is well considered and has a clear purpose.

Within the GDS designers are split into four categories being:

  • Service Designers
  • Graphic Designers
  • Content Designers
  • Interactive Designers

McCarthy then went on to speak of the role of a Graphic designer in Government… It is about effective communication and ensuring that what is written and the typeface itself is legible and clear. Understanding must also take place because as mentioned previously everything on the page is considered – including words. If it can be simplified then it is. As it states in their principles ‘This is for everyone’ they must take into consideration people who may have learning difficulties or who may have issues with their sight etc. there are so many people to take into account that it must be as simple as possible.

This has made me realise the importance of understanding your audience. One piece of advice he gave which has really stuck with me was: ‘ASK: What must it do? DON’T ASK: How should it look?’ I think that for me I do get lost in the aesthetics of the piece and can forget who I’m designing for. I now believe that with careful consideration to the audience, the design will be good.

All in all I really enjoyed the talk and found it to be rather inspirational. I didn’t realise that designing in the government was a potential opportunity, it has opened my eyes to realise the breadth of design occupations that are available.  



Author: marislathamgraphics

I am a student at Cardiff Metropolitan University studying BA Hons Graphic Communication.

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