Responsive sites are better than apps, former GDS head says

GovInsider recently did an interview with Ben Terrett, the former head of design at the UK Government Digital Service (GDS), about the GDS's success in the digital realm. The two discussed mobile apps, why internet sites were better, and what needed to be done in order to have a successful digital project.

Terrett said the problem with mobile apps is that they are a huge undertaking – not only is it expensive to make an app (or multiple apps, or an app ecosystem), but also to support it, and update it following various software changes.

Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” Terrett says.

Instead, government services were much better off with responsive websites, he says. “If you believe in the open internet that will always win,” he says, adding that they're cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain, and when updates are needed, it's only one platform that gets updated.

There are four key elements to a successful digital project. First, focusing on customer needs mean cutting extra stuff out. He goes on explaining how, after analysis, they found that their visitors almost never used Facebook or Twitter share buttons which were embedded on the site. Removing those buttons allowed for a cleaner, faster site.

The second element is understanding that Google is the homepage. Users don't just go to government websites – they go to search engines and start looking for information they need.

The third element is getting read of all unnecessary questions (such as marital status) in the process, and the fourth element is for the design team to remove all unnecessary design. He gives an example of pictures, saying they were just distracting and not contributing to the quality of the site in any way.

The full report on why Britain banned mobile apps can be found on this link.

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