We started building a dxw Design System and gave ourselves the time to do it

We made progress with the development of a design system which builds on the GOV.UK Design System

GovPress is dxw’s website development, hosting, and support service for the public sector and charities. Back in 2019, Alex F wrote about the team behind dxw’s hosting platform, and shared information about who we host sites for, how we keep it resilient and secure, and our specialist team. In 2020, Alex J blogged about how we were growing GovPress by taking on a skilled and experienced team and their clients from our friends at Helpful Digital.

Since then we have continued to grow and do great things. We now host and look after 110 sites for over 60 organisations across the public and charity sectors. We’re working with new clients, like the Safety Tech Innovation Network (STIN), Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), and the Cass Review. We’ve also grown the team and now have 12 people in account management, delivery, design, development, and technical operations roles.

While it couldn’t be better news that the investment and effort that has gone into GovPress is paying off, it’s important to pause because – well – we’re all human and we need to restore our energy.

Improvements we often have to deprioritise

In a slight change of pace, over the summer we spent 4 weeks away from client projects and focused on internal improvements and other things on our to-do list that we haven’t had time for. These are often important things we notice or are aware of while working with clients, but haven’t been able to prioritise.

We structured the month as 4 week long mini sprints, with a short planning session for each. We kicked things off with a collaborative ideas gathering session. We then voted on what we’d like to work on first. When deciding what to vote for we were keeping a few things in mind:

  1. Does this improve our security?
  2. Does this help us provide a secure and reliable service to clients?
  3. Does this help us scale and grow?
  4. Effort required – do we have the time?

After counting the votes, we had a couple of clear winners and set to work planning how we could:

GovPress Tools

As the number of WordPress sites that we host and maintain grows, we’re rethinking how we manage them, as it’s no longer viable to treat each as a unique project we work on in isolation. GovPress Tools is a command line tool we’ve built to help us with this.

It can quickly report on all the sites we manage, telling us things like what plugins they’re running, what versions of those plugins are in use, and whether there are known vulnerabilities in any of those versions that need patching. As we continue to develop it, it will also be able to automate plugin updates, and report on infrastructure information.

These are all things that will help us keep client sites safe, secure, and reliable, and means we can automate simple tasks so we can free up our time to spend it where it’s most valuable.

A dxw Design System

We made progress with the research and development of a design system to build on the GOV.UK Design System with additional components and patterns it doesn’t currently have. We often need to build new components and layouts from scratch. This can be time consuming and mean a lot of back and forth between our team and clients to review and test for visual design, usability, and accessibility issues.

These additions mean we can give our GovPress client projects consistency and efficiency. They might also benefit the wider dxw team, outside of GovPress, when project teams need design features that aren’t currently in the GOV.UK Design System. The GitHub repository for this work is forked from an example developed by the MOJ Pattern Library which we thought fitted well with how we wanted the system to look and function: take a look at the dxw Design System in GitHub (currently in development).

A new component or pattern can be proposed as a pull request by anyone at dxw with coding abilities in HTML/CSS and Javascript. We still need to include documentation and coding for some example components.

It’s important to reflect

Just like any project or bit of work we do, we had a retrospective to think about what went well and where we might do things a little differently next time. It was great to hear that everybody really enjoyed this time focusing on making our internal tools and processes better.

A valid concern was that we won’t have time to continue with some of these things for a while. We’ll make sure we proactively protect time wherever we can to continue with the important improvements we’ve been making, and our schedule lets the team focus on internal work on a regular basis.

Feeling refreshed

We’re back to client projects now and everyone’s feeling refreshed. It’s super nice that we now have some new nifty tools and components that will help us look after and improve sites, in a more efficient and expert way.

You can see what our GovPress service looks like on our website. We’re always available for a chat, or to answer any questions.