Department for International Trade no-deal Brexit country guides

A 'components not pages' approach to content creation

This project was like being a Red Bull aerobatics pilot with all its a twists, stalls and turns. One of the more interesting things is how I tackled creation of 127 guides, with a spreadsheet, bits of copy and elbow grease.

Inventory - a good foundation

Earlier on in the project I put together an inventory of all the existing export country guides to record things like publication date and who created them. I didn’t really know where we were headed at that time, but an inventory can be a great starting point to get familiar with content and build things out.

Working with the DIT content lead I added in each country’s trading status to the spreadsheet. We had a few broad buckets like ‘part of EU’, ‘trading arrangement via EU with signed continuity deal’, ‘trade on WTO terms not seeking a deal’. We ended up with 11 groupings.

It occurred to us that trading status should be the main pivot around what content should be displayed for each country revolved.

Boilerplate copy and the matrix

Other content designers in the team were working with policy in DIT and other departments to prep guidance on various aspects of no-deal Brexit. Things like export of controlled goods, testing and certification and selling services abroad.

The country guides could be a path in to all this content, a signposting page.

I worked with each content designer to design a content component to house their signposting content. They worked with their policy people to pour in the words. We placed [COUNTRY] name slots in copy for us to fill in later as we assembled pages.

I content designed with the Trade Policy Group, pair writing the trade and tariffs components for our 11 trading status buckets.

In all we had 28 boilerplate content components and variants, with those [COUNTRY] slots.

I turned that spreadsheet into a matrix showing which county got which components - our blueprint for building each page.

Components sign off

My aim was to draft and sign off each component before we built any pages. Better to tweak one thing than when it had proliferated 127 times. I walked the Department for Existing the EU and Strategic Communications through the approach.

Handcrafted but still sane

Together with the content operations guru I looked at the using Adobe RoboHelp. I reckoned it didn’t offer much of an advantage over putting pages together manually using the matrix. 

A couple of other ace content designers and I rattled through creating each page, barely holding on to our sanity, getting them all ready to publish in time for the 29 March 2019 deadline.

Here's how the guide for France looked.