A once in a decade survey that gives us a better future

Office for National Statistics
UX/UI Design, Development


Census 2021 was the first ‘digital-first’ census and is a survey that happens every ten years. Our role was to join the team to focus on the engagement and response phase of the census website.

The engagement phase was for local authorities, community groups, media and campaigns, to help raise awareness and encourage people to fill in their census questionnaire.

The response phase was for people to complete the census questionnaire and inform people the census was happening. At each stage, we served different content and offered a completely different user experience.

Engagement landing page design for desktop and mobile
Respond landing page for starting your census

User testing and research

We had a defined set of user needs. We then met each of those needs with design. From design, we built prototypes that we tested with local authorities from around the country.

We would gather our findings, make changes where necessary, and take our prototypes out for further rounds of testing. This process was rigorous to ensure we delivered a usable service to our users and not just the business.

Downloadable resources pattern
Prototyping in code ready for user testing

Designing the look and feel for Census 2021

Lot’s of care and attention was applied when designing new components and patterns to enhance the overall brand for Census 2021. Each item needed to be flexible and scalable for use on a desktop or mobile device. We also needed to take into account the Welsh language, which on some occasions meant adjusting patterns to cater for this change.

Engagement phase banner design
Respond phase banner design

Assisted digital support centres

During Census 2021 operation, assisted digital centres were available in locations such as public libraries. These centres would provide face to face assistance and equipment on which to complete the census survey online. We needed a system to allow users to locate centres nearby.

A user would add their postcode and perform a search. They would then get an ordered list of centres starting with the nearest first. Functionally this worked by tapping into an API provided by Good Things Foundation.

We designed a simple, uncluttered service that worked well on both large and small devices. We tested our prototype with a selection of users with varying digital skills.

Find a census support centre

Web chat contact centre online support

One of our user needs was for respondents to communicate in real-time with census contact centre advisers to receive an instant solution to a query or issue.

We had performed our discovery as well as having access to web chat research and findings from GOV.UK. Combining these findings, we were ready to design a solution that considerably improved the quality of service and helped users with specific access needs, such as deaf and hard of hearing.

Contact centre webchat support

Making our service fully accessible and inclusive

We created a service usable by everyone, learning from as many people as possible, with a diverse range of perspectives. We tested our service with users of all abilities ensuring what we delivered, met their needs and expectations. We offered accessible formats and other support to help users find out about the census and complete the survey.

One of these formats was British Sign Language (BSL). BSL is for users who suffer from hearing problems and rely on a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression and body language.

BSL users needed to fully understand what was being asked of them to be confident in answering questions. Our idea was to add BSL videos throughout the census to explain the questions and answering options. A great deal of user testing and iteration happened to deliver a solution that worked for these users.

Accessible videos with British Sign Language (BSL)

Contributing to a design system

We heavily contributed to the ONS design system adding newly designed components, patterns and accessibility enhancements. These contributions made for a reliable, flexible framework powering many Office for National Statistics services, including Census 2021.

A lot of components and patterns started based on user requirements from Census 2021. They would then be added into the design system, tested and made available for other services that may benefit from tried and tested patterns. It would take a few people to agree on the quality of coding and usefulness of patterns before being approved and merged.

In some cases, a pattern would be tagged as experimental to allow user testing to confirm its usefulness before being introduced for use across services.

Hero banner added to design system

The results

We delivered a fully inclusive and accessible service to all the people and households in England and Wales.

Our involvement includes:

  • UX/UI Design and Interaction Design
  • Research and Analysis (end-users)
  • Design System and User Guides
  • Prototyping and Accessible Code
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