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NHS National Services Scotland - service-based web approach

Published on 25 May 2021

Service in mind, customers at heart

As a service-based organisation, it’s up to us to help the NHS and wider public sector deliver their services more efficiently and effectively.

So when it came to designing and developing our new website, there were two things at the forefront of our minds: our services and our customers.

After all, two of our strategic objectives are to:

  1. Put customers at the heart of everything we do
  2. Increase our service value

So how did we create a usable and accessible website that promotes our services and makes things easier for our customers? Let’s find out.

Moving away from legacy

Our legacy website was a corporate site all about who NSS is and what it does. It was designed around our departments and organisational structure. It was all about us and our needs – not our customers’ needs.

Some of our content was unnecessary and unhelpful. And it was competing with partner sites, which was confusing users and impacting our presence in search engines.

So we looked at the core principles of our digital engagement strategy and realised what we had to do. We had to ‘move away from legacy’.

Delivering the best possible service

On the day Mary Morgan became our new Chief Executive, she said:

“I’m really looking forward to working alongside my NSS co-workers and partners to deliver the best possible services for the people of Scotland.”

Everything we do at NSS is about delivering a service. So it was only natural that we took a service design approach to our new site.

Service design is an approach focused on user needs and structured around the services an organisation provides to its users.

And by taking this approach, we can support our users and customers to achieve their goals as quickly and simply as possible.

That could be someone looking for legal support or information about digital services.

Or it could be someone looking to access a risk and compliance tool or complete an impact assessment.

No matter what a customer or user is looking to do, they don’t need any understanding of how NSS works or how our departments are structured.

This has allowed us to focus on how our services can help our customers, rather than talking about who we are or what we do.

Building on good practice

We aren’t the first organisation to take a service design approach. And we won’t be the last.

This is an approach we know works. So we’ve adopted and reused existing best practice and technical guidance from organisations including:

  • GOV.UK
  • Edinburgh City Council
  • Registers of Scotland

Customer at heart

One of our strategic objectives and core principles is putting our customers at the heart of everything we do.

So we no longer focus on who our organisation is and what it does. We focus on what our customers and users want to do and what they want to know.

While designing and developing the new site, we followed a user-centred approach at every step of the journey.

We started by understanding our users and their needs, and used service design techniques to make sure all our content and services deliver value.

By putting our customers at the heart of this project, we’ve made it quicker and easier for them to do what they want to do.

Talking about taxonomies

Our customers and users need to be able to find the content they’re looking for – no matter how much they know about our organisation.

So we’ve improved the navigation throughout the site to make it easier for them to find what they need.

We’ve done this by building a clear and comprehensive categorisation system called a taxonomy (a scheme used to classify categories of information).

Our new taxonomy makes it easier for us to organise and structure content – and easier for our users to navigate, find and understand content.

On topic

This taxonomy has allowed us to categorise our content and services by subject areas, which we call topics and subtopics.

One of the biggest changes is that we now categorise topics in the way our users think about them – rather than how we deliver them.

That means there’s no direct link between a department and a topic. So content and services provided by various departments could all sit within the same section.

What’s important to remember is that topics aren’t departments, services or tasks.

They’re simply subject areas that describe what the content that sits within them is about.

For example, on the new site, a topic would be Procurement and logistics and a subtopic would be Tendering. And within each subtopic, you’ll find relevant, user-focused content.

User-focused and task-based content

When we’re creating content to sit within a subtopic, we should always keep our customers and users in mind.

We want to make it as quick and simple as possible for them to complete a task or achieve their goals.

So we now think of every page we create as ‘task-based content’. A task could be as complex as completing an assessment or as simple as gathering some information.

And when it comes to giving task-based content a name or title, we should always try to use ‘imperative verbs’ (words that clearly tell users what to do).

For example, if we look at the ‘Tendering’ subtopic, most pages are task-based and use imperative verbs, like Get started as a supplier or Browse tender notices.

This approach makes sure it’s always easy for our users to find and understand content.

And it makes sure our customers are always at the heart of everything we do.

Don’t forget about departments

We know taxonomies, topics and task-based content is the right approach for our site. But we also know it’s important to talk about ourselves at times.

That’s why we’ve introduced a Departments section, where each department has its own home on the site.

This isn’t a microsite that you own and control. But it does allow you to describe what your department does, link to the services you provide, and tag relevant news and publications to appear on your page.

We’ve delivered

The goal of our digital engagement strategy was to create a usable, accessible website that made things easier for our users. And we’d like to think we’ve achieved that goal.

By focusing on service and content design, we’ve improved the structure, navigation and content throughout the site.

And by building a responsive and user-friendly site under one domain, we’ve made NSS more visible to search engines.

This will improve our presence online, help drive more relevant users to the site and create a better user experience.

Of course, as a public sector organisation, we have to stick to some strict digital and design standards. So you’ll be glad to know our new site is:

Let’s move forward together

The launch of our new service-based and user-centred website was only the beginning of our journey.

We’re already working to improve the site and increase our service value – and we can’t do that without your feedback.

So if you’ve got any thoughts or suggestions, send an email to and we’ll see what we can do.

And if you’re responsible for designing or building digital services, or creating digital content for our users, get started with our design manual.

It’s the starting point for building digital services for NSS, making things easier for our users and helping them to trust and understand our services.