In June 2022, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) asked me to content-design a new website showcasing data about the food and fibre workforce.
Years of data collection and analysis lay behind the project – a collaboration between MPI, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) and every major food and fibre sector industry body.
Our team also included a web design and development agency with much public sector experience, Pikselin.
The content design challenge
I needed to create readable, plain language web pages from a statistics-led report, for an intended audience of policymakers, media, educators, industry bodies and food and fibre sector businesses.
The project presented some particular challenges.
Large working group
The project’s working group included nearly 30 people representing different parts of the food and fibre sectors, from education bodies to industries.
To work with such a large group, I had to keep in mind all contributors’ preferences and reflect these in my copy. I also needed to make time to take in drip-fed amends and feedback that arrived any time until launch, as busy contributors found time to look at our work.
Applying digital.govt.nz content design guidelines
All New Zealand government websites must meet the digital.govt.nz content design guidelines. I’ve worked with these guidelines on many government projects. They draw heavily on Gov.UK content design guidelines, which I used in my previous work in with the UK’s public sector.
Content guidelines set out an organisation’s preferred writing styles – from how they describe themselves to tone of voice to grammar preferences. These guidelines create a ‘single source of truth’, saving much time by encouraging stakeholders to focus on content, not style issues like whether to use the Oxford Comma.
Digital.govt.nz content guidelines are thoroughly researched with emphasis on accessibility and usability. Content designers must review them regularly because they change often and thanks to the research process that lies behind, include unusual styles like using numerals (1, 2, 3…) instead of spelling out numbers up to ten (one, two, three, and so on.) You can’t just assume you know what the guidelines say!
The source report I needed to base my writing on went through many rounds of amends. Eventually, I had only about ten days to write most of the content.
I had pre-planned for this possibility, considering what could be achieved without the final report. I worked with my team to identify content I could write in advance. When the final report became available, we had researched and written every page other than those drawing directly from the report.
Despite the challenging timeframe, the Food and fibre workforce insights website launched on time in November 2022.
Although I and other team members did work some weekends in the process, the project was a success and a pleasure to work on. The experienced team worked well together, with every member having a clear sense of their role.