Screen shot of the Github repo for the NHS prototyping kit

Our prototyping kit is something that we use to really quickly bang together html pages and small applications. It gives us idea of where we’re going at a higher fidelity than our paper prototypes.

Building on open tools

The prototyping kit is a good example of our team using some of the tools that others in government have opened up.

As an ex-GDS resource unit, I’ve been used to using the GDS prototyping kit for building small applications that look and feel like GOV.UK. So as a way to get our own prototypes up and running really quickly we took a copy of that kit and bit by bit we’re turning it into an NHS prototyping kit.

Dull technical bit

There aren’t huge differences between the GDS kit and our own. It still runs on top of Node and Express JS, although we swapped-out the templating engine (it was Mustache, now it’s Swig which gives us a bit more oomph at the template end.

As a bit of related reading, GDS’ Henry Hadlow has written about adapting GDS resources in a production environment as part of the work on petition.parliament.uk

Built in learnings

One of the most useful things about the GOV.UK prototyping kit is that it comes with several years’ worth of research into design patterns built in. These are patterns that are hugely applicable to building things if you’re aiming to serve a huge swathe of the public.

A lot of that learning lives inside the GDS toolkit itself. Things like ‘make your form fields quite big’. Lots of these things are applicable to us, some might not be. As always we’re rinsing and repeating with heaps of user research and an iterative approach.

The kit is also surprisingly anonymous. When it comes to prototyping with well known front end frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap or Foundation the graphic identity can be stronger than you might expect, and take time to adapt. In contrast the GDS kit — while it has less features — can actually be easier to adapt to your own needs.

Making things quickly

Really, the value comes from having a real interface our users can play with in the same medium as the final product. The kit has allowed us to build things without getting at all precious about technical restraints or semantic niceties. It’s for building prototypes quickly and using what we find to refine them or just throw them away. At the time of writing (certainly from a front-end perspective) it’s a bit scrappy — but that doesn’t necessarily matter.

You can find our kit on Github, and our prototypes are public too. Go have a look!

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