Since we started working on NHS.UK we’ve created a bunch of solutions, some of them for repeat user needs, such as ‘I need to know what to do about my symptoms’ or ‘I need to know if I should see a GP’.

Out of these repeat solutions emerged our patterns.

What are content patterns?

Content patterns are reusable blocks of information. Without design patterns, however, they would just be floating in content space. Design and content together form our patterns. One would be incomplete without the other.

All our patterns came out of user-needs-led content. Tim, our designer, described this as ‘the content is the interface’ in his blog about design patterns.  Without user needs there is no content and, in turn, no patterns.

Smaller patterns (units)

Here are some of the units we have identified.

Each of these units is attached to a block of information that’s specific to the symptom or condition.

These patterns help us structure our pages. That doesn’t mean they have to go in a prescribed order. Patterns aren’t rules. We use them flexibly, depending on the user needs.

Help from a GP:

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Emergency help:

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Non-emergency help:

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How patterns help users

When people are ill, they’re often emotional, sometimes even distressed. This makes it harder for them to take information in.

Users don’t want to have to work out what to do next. In stressful situations they’re often not even able to that.

It’s therefore crucial to get them to the right action as quickly as possible.

Groups of patterns (assemblies) help users to scan a page and pick out the information that’s relevant to them. That way patterns help them to get to the right action as quickly as possible.

Here are the content patterns assemblies we’ve identified so far.

Pattern assembly 1: channeling users

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The 2 main user needs for this page are:

  • I need to know if I should call 999
  • I need to know what I can do about my headache

The information is designed in a way that makes it easy for users to:

  • feel reassured that most headaches aren’t anything serious
  • know what they can do at home
  • know what to do when it feels like something serious

Designing the page this way means it’s quite different from other symptom pages currently out there.

They tend to list all the symptoms for headache and match them with a list of possible conditions. What’s missing, however, is what to do about your headache.

Pattern assembly 2: journey through an illness

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Here are 3 of the user needs we identified for depression and anxiety:

  • I need to know what this is I’m experiencing
  • I need to know who to see about the way I feel
  • I need to know how medicines can help me

These needs appear at different stages of the condition, which can often span years. In research, people told us they find it hard to know what to do when on this journey through their condition.

To solve this we did 2 things: we structured the guide in a way that mirrors the user journey and we made it easy to scan through a page and find what to do.

Looking forward, this pattern could easily be applied to other conditions or procedures.

Pattern assembly 3: show me the thing

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2 of the user needs for rashes are:

  • I need to know what this rash could be
  • I need to see different rashes to compare them to my child’s

Sometimes text only descriptions aren’t enough. Where the symptoms are external, users want to see pictures.

Images plus information give users a clue to whether they have a condition or not.

We’ll need this simple pattern for many other conditions where users will want to compare symptoms to what they see on their body.

But we’ve already come up against an issue with this pattern: one image often isn’t enough. For example, we need to show external symptoms for different skin tones.

We’ll also look into things like video where users need to see a condition developing over time.

It’s been fun, now we need to test

Working on patterns has been fun for the team and a great chance for design and content to work closely together and think about how we can best meet user needs.

We’re going to blog about how we worked together on this. So watch this space.

We’ll also link our pages to the corresponding pages on NHS Choices to get some real traffic and ask people for feedback. This research will tell us more about how well our patterns works and where we need to do more to meet our users’ needs.

One response to “Content patterns are online road signs”

  1. Comment from Jo

    This is great as it is helping us understand what our patient’s want. Its not what we think it is.


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