The Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework sets the standards to ensure that children aged from birth to 5 learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. In 2021 the framework changed with the aim of:

  • improving outcomes at age 5, particularly in early language and literacy
  • reducing workload such as unnecessary paperwork

A user need was identified to provide trusted, accurate, and timely support to the early years sector, particularly during this time of change.

After a short discovery and alpha phase, the Help for early years providers site was built over a 3-month period, working to a hard deadline to get information out to the sector before the changes came in. When the site was launched it featured 25 pages of content including videos, images and activity ideas. The content, which primarily focussed on the 7 areas of learning, was to help childminders, nursery practitioners and managers implement the EYFS in their settings.

At the point of the redesign, the number of pages on the site had increased to 42. In addition, the newer content was no longer just within the original 7 areas of learning. This meant it had outgrown the original site structure and information architecture.

Therefore, the key drivers for the redesign work were as follows:

  • the original information architecture of the site did not work for the current and future content. - the direct effect of this meant there was a need to improve the menu structure onscreen, this was also demonstrated by user feedback
  • as the site uses an domain there was an additional requirement to convert and update the site from the central GDS GOV branding to the new DfE front-end - more information on using the DFE design system can be read on the design manual

User feedback on the original design

User feedback gathered from research sessions demonstrated the key areas of concern about the original design and where the focus should be for the redesign work when seeking improvements.

Key findings from user research were:

  • users struggled to locate a specific link on the homepage in an increasingly growing list of content - this issue would only be made worse by the addition of planned future content.
  • users were most interested in the over-arching ‘get help with my practice’ articles but the original homepage design was dominated by the 7 areas of learning articles
  • the content of the site tested well - this meant the focus of the work should be on improving the information architecture and overall design as opposed to changing the main content.
  • although the layout of the original site was a familiar use of the GDS, user research showed some users felt the site was a bit uninspiring for the topic
  • users were consistently confused by the left-hand menu displayed on content pages - they struggled to separate the site menu on the left from the content on the right for the page they were viewing

Our approach

Card sort exercise

Having determined that the content of the site had outgrown the information architecture, the team carried out a card sort exercise to see if all the content could be combined into a new menu structure that would better encapsulate the key themes.

The original site structure had three broad section titles:

  • Areas of learning
  • Get help to improve your practice
  • Safeguarding and welfare

Following the card sort exercise three new suggestions for section titles were put forward:

  • EYFS Areas of learning
  • Support for practitioners
  • Wellbeing and enrichment

Following user research and after working with policy and content design the final headings were refined:

  • Areas of learning
  • Support for practitioners
  • Health and wellbeing

New site structure

The original site allowed users to navigate from the home page directly to the content pages with a single click.

Diagram showing the old site relationship between the home page and content pages

Although there is an accepted efficiency to this structure in reducing the number of clicks, there was also a negative effect on user experience reflected in the user research and the data:

  • users were not able to establish a clear understanding of the site structure
  • the left-hand menu with content pages had to reflect the entire site content list and had subsequently become unwieldy
  • the home page had to list every page and therefore had become too long and was making it too difficult for users to find relevant content

Example showing a content page on original site

Example showing a content page on original site

The proposed new site structure introduces a new section page in between the home page and the content page.

Example showing the proposed relationship between the home page and a content page on the new site

For those users following the path from the homepage, this allowed them to better understand the site structure and the other related content. It creates a more focussed view where content is less likely to get lost when compared with the old list format. It also allows the site to have a breadcrumb trail added to all pages that continually contextualises the structure. As a result of this improvement, the left-hand menu can now focus specifically on the content for the page or subsection being viewed.

Team ideation workshop

Having worked on a plan for the information architecture, the next step in the redesign was for the team to carry out an ideation workshop to look at options for the new site design.

Based on the issues identified with the original site, the team identified and focussed on the following “how might we” questions:

  • how might we ensure users understand the purpose of the website? 

  • how might we improve the layout of the content page to reduce the impact of the side navigation?

  • how might we make it easier for users to find content? 

  • how might we help users to understand the relationship between this site and the Early years child development training?
  • how might we make it clearer to childminders and group-based users which content applies to them?

Based on the above, the second part of the session focussed on looking at options for the new home page and including any ideas based on desk research for new or existing pieces of functionality that might meet the how might we questions.

The team each spent some time adding elements to their own blank design on a digital whiteboard. Team members could select from a set of pre-existing options that were either already used on the site or were common features typically found on similar information websites. They could also choose to add ideas of their own based on anything they had seen elsewhere or that might meet the need of the users. The team arranged the features in the priority order they thought they should appear on the homepage.

Each team member then took a turn to present their respective designs to the rest of the team explaining their thinking and rationale for their approach.

Some examples are shown here:

Example ideation boards from team members

The team then had the opportunity to place three positive votes each and if applicable up to three areas for concern or further discussion.

By combining the design decisions of the team and the most popular choices from the teams voting the following wireframe was produced:

Final ideation wireframe

Data analysis and new hypothesis

Before producing a hi-fidelity design and looking at the layout of the inner pages of the site, we carried out some analysis of our Google Analytics data to understand the typical user journeys that visitors to the site were taking.

The data showed that only 21% of visitors started their journey on the homepage. Most users arrive directly on a content page either as the result of a referring link or via a result from a search engine.

This led us to consider a new hypothesis in approaching the design of the inner pages:

"If we repeatedly include some common features and calls to action throughout the site, that are traditionally only found on the home page, we will improve users' awareness of other valuable content"

Success of this hypothesis could be measured by examining any increase in the related session times as users utilised these calls to action and the improved information architecture. In addition, user journeys can also be measured within Google Analytics by measuring engagement on landing pages looking at start and end points of interactions with the site content.

Hi-fidelity ideas

Having decided on a starting point for the homepage design in the ideation workshop and agreed a new hypothesis for the reuse of calls to action throughout the site, a new set of hi-fidelity designs were produced.

This image shows an example of the first iteration of the design that was then taken forward for a design critique and for ratification with the development team and policy stakeholders.

Example of initial hi-fidelity design

The first draft design included (in top-down order):

  • a site wide keyword search embedded within the header area
  • a short summary of the sites purpose
  • a featured article
  • 3 cards used to signpost the main content sections
  • 4 cards showing the most recently added content
  • a call to action to sign up for email notifications
  • a list of links to other related services that provide early years resources
  • a call to action to request feedback

Following the hypothesis raised from the data analysis, the initial design for the content pages included a repetition of some of the secondary calls to action featured on the homepage. The left-hand menu was also now solely focused on the content on the page rather than listing the full site content as in the previous design.

First draft design of a new content page

Design critique session

Having produced a set of new hi-fidelity designs the team arranged a design crit session with other designers working at the DfE outside of the immediate service.

The designs were presented to the team with an explanation of the rationale and the approach as outlined above.

Each contributor commented on the designs, discussed their points and gave relevant feedback.

Example of a screen from the design crit session

Example section of the feedback from the design crit

Comments were categorised as:

  • positive
  • requiring further discussion or review
  • neutral

Some key actions and observations were then taken away to help with refinement.

Speaking with developers and policy stakeholders

The next step was discussing the design decisions with both the policy and development teams.

The policy team needed to be confident that the new structure allowed for new content in the future.

Following this process, various versions of the refined design were presented to stakeholders. These varied from the most basic to the most achievable in the available timescale. Options included a design that had no images as shown here:

Example showing a very simplified design with no images

Based on user feedback directly requesting the use of more photographs to support the content it was felt that this option would not meet user expectations.

Refinement and building a prototype

Having agreed on the optimal design that would meet user needs and expectations and that met the requirements for both the policy team, the development team and the available timescale, the refined design was translated from Figma into the prototype kit.

User research

User research sessions were held to primarily assess the content of a new article on ‘Nutrition’. The secondary aim of the research sessions was to capture any feedback on the new design.

The new information architecture and navigation structure were assessed by starting user’s journeys on the new home page and understanding how easily they were able to locate the new article.

The new homepage had a general positive response, with 3 participants making positive remarks about the page in general.

In general participants told us they liked the use of the images within the card designs.

Most participants made positive comments about the layout and topic headings on the page.

We also saw a positive response from most users to the newly introduced other resources section.

Following the introduction of the new site structure, all participants were able to successfully navigate to the article that was being tested.

The new section page introduced as the second step from the home page also test well.

The feedback specifically demonstrated that users were now more aware of the wider content available within the same section as the article they were initially looking for.

Participants also offered further feedback on the section page indicating:

  • they liked the use of images and the text below the images (card design)
  • they trusted the site as a resource provided by the DfE
  • they liked the general layout of the page

The primary focus of the research on the main content of the article was focussed on the validity of the content for the providers. However, there were some elements of feedback that supported insights into the new page design:

  • overall, 2 participants mentioned liking the layout of the new left-hand menu
  • all participants used the left-hand menu to successfully identify other parts of the article that they were interested in – recognising that the menu on the left and the article content on the right were both connected
  • although not directly related to the design, 5 participants told us they would share the content pages potentially demonstrating a combined trust in both the content and how it was being presented

After the launch of the new site design a second round of user research was carried out. This research also had a primary focus of assessing the content of a new article but also allowed for further analysis of the new design.

4 participants made positive comments, including:

  • being easy to use (2)
  • it being a 'single place' (3)
  • liking the other resources (2)

The second round followed the same principle of asking users to navigate from the homepage to the tested article. The information architecture and structure again tested well with most users displaying a clear certainty about where to find the content.

Some feedback showed that there may be a need to improve some of the content descriptions used within the card components to help improve this understanding even further.

Overall participants responded very positively to the content, the website features i.e. PDF downloads, the inclusion of infographics etc, and a majority again expressed a confidence in sharing the site as a resource.

Content design updates

Following the user feedback, we prioritised these content tasks as part of the redesign work:

  • sourcing imagery for the new card design
  • writing new descriptions for the new card design
  • reviewing content for accuracy and relevance

We knew from our user research how much the early years sector value the use of imagery. With the help of our policy colleagues, we created a list of criteria that we followed when selecting imagery. For example, to ensure the images were relevant to the content being described and that they reflected the diversity of the early year's workforce and the settings.

When writing descriptions for the new card design, we ensured that:

  • they summarised what a user would find when clicking on the card
  • they were front-loaded with the most relevant content
  • worked for search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • weren’t repetitive – we previously had a formatted description for each content page, this no longer worked in the new card design where they are displayed side-by-side

Together with policy, we also reviewed the existing content on the site.

As well as the above, the content team worked closely with the developers as we moved the content from a bespoke content management system (CMS) to an existing CMS. This was largely a ‘lift and shift’ task but did involve lots of small content changes and checks to ensure the correct markup was being used.

Summary of our solution

Following the successful round of user research the site content was refined as outlined above. The new site then successfully progressed through the build phase including moving the content to a new CMS.

The new site was released on 30 April 2024.

A summary of the main improvements made were as follows:

  • a new information architecture was put in place to better house the expanded content and futureproof the site for the addition of more articles
  • a main site navigation was added to the site header to help users quickly navigate between main sections
  • each inner page of the site had a breadcrumb component added
  • the new DfE front-end was added to the site in line with the requirements of having an domain
  • card components were introduced that allowed the addition of more images to meet user feedback and provide descriptions of pages to allow users to make more informed decisions when navigating
  • section pages were added to improve the user's awareness of the site structure and related content - this subsequently reduced the cognitive load on the menus within content pages
  • the left-hand menu was improved to ensure it was only relevant to the pages the user was viewing
  • certain calls to action were repeated throughout the site to support most users who were not beginning their sessions on the home page
  • a short description of the site and subsequent section pages were added to improve context for the user and improve SEO performance
  • a citation component was added to all pages to improve user confidence in the site content and provide information on public action dates

The new site can be visited at

Next steps

  • User research has shown some possible improvements for the card summary text to be more descriptive of the underlying page content. The content design team will look to make these improvements.
  • We will continue to look at analytics data to ensure that the hypotheses raised within the design process are still being proved accurate.
  • We will continue to monitor user feedback and comments relating to the general design and information architecture within any future user research sessions