Paper letters for services
 
Many services currently use paper letters to send information to users; many users send paper letters to governme   nt departments.
 
 

Existing government guidance

Department for Work and Pensions / The Office for Disability issues publishes Accessible communication formats including this section on accessible print publications 
 

Big, abstract questions

  • What are paper letters used for? 
  • Do they still have a legitimate purpose?
  • Is there a useful taxonomy of their functions? What can/can't move to email/text?
  • Psychology of letters: do a lot of people still prefer them? What users do still need them?
  • What about paper letters that users send to us? Do any of our letters come back to us, and if so why and how?

Smaller, less abstract questions

  • Can we offer useful shared standards? For this service is accessible  & 'the business' is not  going to mess that up by sending out  a letter in 9pt times new roman.  
 
  • How should the design patterns used on GOV.UK be used on paper? For example, the exclamation markdown to warn about fines, prison etc - should that carry over to letters?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Measuring! How do we measure whether letters are working? 
  • The technical stuff - it seems like letters are often tied in to 3rd  party back-ends/ageing databases etc. It is utterly opaque. Can we give  advice on alternatives, or working around or through that?
  • Do we need to worry about the logistics - folding, addressing, envelope sizes, stamping/franking?
  • When/if we know something, what's the best way of sharing or distributing (probably not a letter)
 

Small concrete questions

  • Who's been looking at this stuff and what have you been up to?
  • Is there a small achievable project where we can make a practical  difference, and learn something by getting our hands dirty? (hello DWP!)
 
 

Things we've done already

DVSA did some guerrilla testing of different letters about vehicle recalls. We also worked with DVSA on driving test booking email confirmations as part of a recent improvement theme.
 
 
In DWP we're starting to design and guerilla test paper Pension statements which are simplified and are consistent with the language and design of the digital service. Would be great to get some advice on this.
 
We have +design patterns for notifications, which includes letters
 
  • From a content point-of-view, what is there to say beyond 'plain English, and follow the usual guidelines'? 
  • The technical stuff - it seems like letters are often tied in to 3rd  party back-ends/ageing databases etc. It is utterly opaque. Can we give  advice on alternatives, or working around or through that?
  • Do we need to worry about the logistics - folding, addressing, envelope sizes, stamping/franking?
  • When/if we know something, what's the best way of sharing or distributing (probably not a letter)