Today’s guest post on the IWMW is written by Padma Gillen, who runs a content design consultancy called Llibertat. This post complements the post on Why I Applied To Speak At IWMW 2018 by Ayala Gordon, Head of Digital at the University of Southampton. Padma and Ayala are jointly presenting a plenary talk at IWMW 2018 on “User Needs, Content Design and Culture Change: Digital Transformation at the University of Southampton”.

Streamlining digital at the University of Southampton

I got into working in the web in the late nineties. At that time we were all eagerly expanding digital. The internet felt like this big empty space with a few nodes of activity. Kind of like one of those large states in the middle of the USA.

Then came the content management system. Then came social media.

Flabby digital

Fast forward 20 years and it’s quite a different picture. The internet is full. Stop publishing! Each year thousands and thousands of new pages arrive on the web. A lot less than that get archived. We are drowning in content.

The internet has got middle aged – just like those of us who used to have to convince potential clients why having a website was a good idea. Like us, the internet needs to modify some of its behaviours.

The internet joins the gym

In 2011 I was lucky enough to get invited to GDS (the UK’s Government Digital Service) to work on Betagov, which would become GOV.UK.

I spent the next few years there and got to experience a radically new approach to web content development, and to digital in general.

Everything was tightly focused around the needs of users. If it didn’t have a user need, it didn’t get published. That’s a great way to take inches off your website’s waistline.

By the time I left GDS I was Head of Content Design, running an immediate team of around 60 content designers. I was also the head of a community of around 2000 content professionals across government. So I got to see both sides of the coin – what it’s like to be a content designer and what it’s like to run a large content design function in a complex organisation.

I now help other large organisations radically rethink their approach to web content publishing. The University of Southampton is the first university I’ve worked with on this scale.

Streamlining Southampton

I’m loving this project because they’re serious about making it happen. I’m getting the same feeling I got in my early days at GDS. A desire for step change, and for genuinely improving user experience in a meaningful way.

We’ve spent several months rethinking how to structure a digital function in an essentially non-digital institution that has its own pace, its own ways of doing things and its own hierarchies and complex organisational culture. Kind of like rethinking digital government.

We can make things better! Like properly better, not just 5% better. We’re currently in alpha, creating prototypes and testing different approaches.

Streamlining digital for me means meeting the needs of your organisation by meeting the needs of your users. If you stick to that, and you employ the systems, tools and processes required to make it sustainable, you will find your website will get a lot smaller, better and more efficient.

Users will be able to find what they’re looking for without having to contact you. They’ll be able to take action quickly, without spending an hour scratching their heads while wandering through your meandering breadcrumb trails.

How to do it

To make this happen, you need to get a whole bunch of things in place:

  1. You need to map your user needs and you need to articulate them in a way that a content team and meet them.
  2. You need to know what your website is for – and what it’s not for.
  3. You need clear governance and workflow processes so you know who’s doing what, when, and who can say no to whom, and when.
  4. You need an approach to upping the skills of your content function, and keeping them sharp.
  5. You need a way to establish agile working in what is almost definitely a non-agile wider context.

This list is not exhaustive, but the point is, it’s not just about writing well. And it’s definitely not about your current web team having the best of intentions.

I’ll be co-presenting at the conference with Ayala Gordon, Southampton’s Head of Digital. We’ll talk about what we’re putting in place there – and the journey we’re taking. I hope you can join us!


Padma Gillen runs a content design consultancy called Llibertat. He uses his expertise in content design management and agile content production to help organisations create quality content and maximise the effectiveness of their content teams.

He also advises organisations on how to set up and deliver successful web content projects, coaches them through the process, and provides content design teams to make it happen.

Previously, Padma was Head of Content Design at Government Digital Service (GDS). He had overall responsibility for the quality of content on GOV.UK, the award-winning website of the UK Government and was head of a practitioner community of around 2000 government web editors.#

Acknowledgements: Image of Cross Fit class at Joint Base Lewis-MCChord, McVeigh Family Fitness Center (Lewis-Main, August 2012) was taken by Ken Dietiker. Original copy is hosted on Flickr. Licensed with a CC-BY licence.