The cost of living crisis: content design challenges

Guest author, , Opinion

This guest blog post is written by Jo Goodwin, Head of User Centred Design at the Centre for Digital Public Services. She works across Welsh public sector to make sure public services are designed around people and easy to use.

In October, I started to look at information and initiatives in Wales related to the cost of living. With only a few weeks of research, a few things were clear:

  • access to benefits and support is inconsistent and inaccessible to many people,
  • a lack of awareness of services and eligibility criteria is a barrier to people accessing support, 
  • services are often developed quickly to respond to policies or internal pressures and lack user input. 

These issues are the result of people working incredibly hard, in isolation, to very difficult timescales.

In November, I hosted a content workshop with the Welsh Local Government Association, the 22 councils in Wales, the Welsh Government and charities to address some of these challenges. Seventy-three people attended and shared their experiences and knowledge. 

I wanted to share some of the learning from that content workshop.

Consistent is more important than perfect content

Calling the same thing by a different name causes confusion. The people who are seeking information, and the businesses and charities who support those people, are navigating information that is already complex. Having different names for the same thing can add to that confusion.

In Wales, one example is variations on the names for the “Pupil Development Grant”. Some of the name variations for that grant are: 

  • School Clothing Grant,
  • School Uniform Grant, 
  • PDG Access Grant, 
  • School Uniform and Equipment Grant, 
  • Pupil Development Grant – Access, 
  • Uniform Grant. 

With any national campaign or service that is delivered by multiple organisations, keeping the names and language consistent helps people to identify and find the right information. 

Make eligibility clearer and easier to understand 

Our research has also shown that some people and families in Wales have struggled for months to access all the support available to them. This is because they don’t know what is available to them.

Often benefits and services are segmented into individual forms or webpages. There can be very little or no information about what else may be available to that person, making it a mission to find all of the support available to them.

If a person is struggling or seeking help, they would have to find and understand if they’re eligible for each benefit or service one by one. They would then apply separately for each using a long and complicated online form.  

A council officer who attended our content workshop said, “People shouldn’t have to read pages of information before knowing if a service is for them. Often, they feel it isn’t worth their time, and when they have read all the detail, they are likely to be more, not less confused.”

There are many eligibility calculators available that are meant to help people understand what is available to them. Rarely are people’s circumstances simple and the findings from many of these calculators often offer further uncertainty with statements such as “you may be eligible for”. 

Make services fully inclusive

Poor content leads to barriers to accessing help or support. There is a lot of stigma around the cost of living and people seeking support. Our research has found that many people feel they do not meet the requirements to access help because the language used can often be stereotypical. People do not feel the information is “for them”. This causes people to get into a worse situation before accessing help. 

In addition, in Wales we also have the added complexity of making sure both Welsh and English information is easily understood. Making it easy to understand in 2 languages is a very real challenge we are working on.

Finally, I have seen many frightening and threatening disclaimers at the end of long and complex forms. An example would be a phrase such as, “any inaccurate or incorrect information in this form may lead to legal proceedings”. Please remember the person applying or seeking support, who may be: 

  • in crisis,
  • feeling sad, upset, scared, uncomfortable, uncertain, or many other complex emotions. 

Our research showed many people accessing support for the first time have struggled for a long period of time and tried everything they could before seeking support. Our content should be reassuring, informative and helpful. Our content should not add to their struggle. 

A marathon, not a sprint

The cost of living crisis will continue to affect people in the UK for some time to come. 

As content designers, we have an opportunity to work together to make content better and continuously improve while making sure that there is consistency.

We can do this! We can make a very big difference. 

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