Applying service design to a Style Manual

Style Manual remains on track with the release this week to private Beta of two-thirds of the content.

A stack of style manual books with an arrow pointing to a digital version on a tablet.

The release includes:

  • content from our first release, revised with input from our Working Group
  • new content on grammar, punctuation and naming conventions

As we track towards Live, we’re going to keep revising and releasing content by incorporating insights from user research. In other words, we're getting Style Manual in front of users while it's still in development.

Releasing early means leaning into discomfort about less-than-perfect content

We’re using the Service Design and Delivery Process to make sure Style Manual will meet user needs.

Following the process is not without personal challenges for our team. It means putting work in front of users before it's ready. As a team of writers and editors, our default setting is to hone our work to perfection before anyone else sees it.

So putting our content in front of users early can feel like a high-risk strategy. There may be many things —like page structure or the tone of voice — that are not quite hitting the mark yet. We may not have picked up all the typos. And, of course, there are plenty of links that won't work until the content is complete. As custodians of a treasured product, we're conscious of not damaging its brand.

In reality, releasing early reduces the risk of Style Manual not being fit for purpose. As one of our DTA colleagues says, ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of better.’

We're breaking down the big risk of a single, untested release. Smaller and more frequent releases allow us to get feedback and do user research. It’s much less risky to build these insights into the product in increments, than to find out at the end that it doesn’t work for users.

By working outside of our comfort zone, we're making Style Manual more usable and readable. By the time we go Live, we'll be confident that we've shaped the product alongside users.

So how did we get to this point, and where are we headed?

Discovery and Alpha — finding out about Style Manual users and their needs

The Service Design and Delivery Process has 4 stages: Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live.

Style Manual entered Discovery in 2017. Our priority was to find out what users needed from a digital product.

We found they needed:

  • authority
  • clear rules with examples
  • evidence for the rules
  • support for their writing and editing decisions

Equipped with this knowledge, the team headed into Alpha stage to build and test protoypes. By the end of 2019, designs and content types were ready for real content – rules, guidance, examples, rationales and evidence.

Beta stage — building the digital Style Manual and testing the content

Style Manual entered Beta stage in mid-2019, when we signed a contract with a content partner, Ethos CRS.

Our focus in this stage has been on drafting and testing content. Our Working Group is the starting point for every page of content. This group gives us invaluable feedback on all aspects of the content. They let us know whether:

  • it makes sense
  • reflects contemporary practice
  • their agencies would adopt it

Our next step has been to test content with users. This has given us deep insights into how writers and editors will work with Style Manual. Future releases will reflect their needs for:

  • more examples
  • reasons and evidence for the guidance
  • clear headings and structure

Next steps — more user research as we head towards Live stage

Style Manual is tracking towards Live release later this year. This release will include comprehensive rules and guidance for clear communication, including:

  • readability and accessibility
  • style rules and conventions
  • types of content
  • publishing requirements.

Get involved

Sign up for Style Manual updates to:

  • help shape Style Manual by getting involved in user research
  • take part in private Beta, which is currently open to subscribers with a gov.au email address

Meaghan Newson is the Product Manager for Style Manual