Designing user-friendly digital services for people is hard work. You spend hours understanding the subject at hand, you methodically learn your craft, and you progressively get better at it. As you develop your expertise, you may find yourself thinking that you’ve seen it all. Surely the solutions you developed in previous projects will work in subsequent ones, right?

Beyond expertise and experience, not assuming you know the answers in advance can help you truly focus on people’s needs. Be open to what really works in a particular situation, even if it’s not what you first expected. Humility is an essential skill to help you build better services for people.

Best practices are a starting point

Best practices, sound principles, carefully crafted guidance: all these are there to give you a head start. They form the “collective knowledge” of your craft. They are the product of years of experience, and you shouldn’t ignore them.

Applying best practices when designing online services will prevent you from reinventing the wheel every time. They’ll save you time and energy so you can focus on trickier aspects of the design.

But they’re just that: a starting point, based on prior contexts. What worked in previous situations may not work in a new one. Applying abstract principles blindly may lead you to build something that won’t help people in a new situation.

Form a hypothesis, test, and adjust

In the context of government services, our goal is to design things that will help people get what they need from their government. Adherence to best practices, conformity to principles, compliance with guidelines: all of these are secondary to the main objective. They’re only the means to help you get there.

You can form a great hypothesis of what will work based on best practices. But you need to test that hypothesis with real people, and adjust your work based on what you learn.

Be ready to be proven wrong

While designing based on sound principles and best practices will get you off to a very good start, avoid relying on these alone. When you design for people, you need to design with humility: don’t assume your expertise is enough to build services that work for them.

When you’re confronted with a situation where your carefully crafted design doesn’t work in reality, you can react in many ways. You can feel discouraged that your hard work didn’t produce the results you were expecting. You can feel frustrated that people didn’t understand. You can retreat in disbelief, confident that what you built was in line with best practices. You can disregard the results and think they’re not “representative”.

Or you can be humble, and learn.

Over the past year we’ve seen some great examples of teams using feedback and data to learn what their audience needs, and adjust their designs to improve task success.

Using data to make better content

Testing always reveals unexpected things

The best way to inject a bit of humility in your practice is to watch real people try to solve real tasks using your design. Testing always reveals things you didn’t expect.


A specific pattern you were sure would work well may not work at all for participants. A solution you were skeptical about may work wonderfully. Participants may also give you what you need to come up with a completely different solution you hadn’t ever thought of.

All the experience in the world can’t replace time spent watching people try to use a product.

Final word

When you design content for, you design for people. Put people at the centre of your work and take the time to watch how they use your design. Be open to new insights and you will ensure that you produce products that truly meet those people’s needs.

Humility is an amazing driving force that will help you build better services.

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