Does this website look broken? I’m redesigning in the open!



WhatDoTheyKnow is a long-running, volunteer led website that helps people submit freedom of information requests (FOIs) to public sector Authorities.

It’s a well know and well used site, possibly the most successful FOI site in the world, and when redesigning we had to take care to engage and listen to the thousands of users who depend on it as part of their participation in democracy.

As part of the roll-out of mySociety’s unified look and feel it was important WhatDoTheyKnow was identifiable as a mySociety service, and the project presented an opportunity to improve the interface in ways that would help regular users work faster, and gently introduce novice users to what is a complex service in a clear and easy way.

The heart of the site is the request thread, – the back and forth sending of letters – a narrative of the interaction between the requester and the Authority. We wanted it to be easy to tell when an Authority was abiding by the law, or when they weren’t, so we used several visual indicators, status messages and delivery receipts so this was clear at a glance.

As well as this, including annotations from users to help explain complexity or add value to threads. Remembering that the vast majority of users come to the site directly to a request page meant It was important to include calls to action to encourage visitors to make a request of their own, or dive deeper into the site.