Skip to main content

Creating a new email subscription service for UK Parliament

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Continuous iteration,, Start with user needs

A drawing of the subscription process in full

We’ve been looking at the sign up process and subscription service people use to get email updates from UK Parliament. We’ve just finished our alpha phase and want to share some of what we learned.

Parliament does a lot of stuff. Which means you can get email updates about a lot of different things. These range from newsletters sent to teachers about activities in Parliament for school children to what was discussed in Prime Minister’s Questions. You can also subscribe to updates about Bills as they pass through Parliament. In fact, there are over 700 email updates you can receive.

With so much on offer it’s hard for our users to get updates on the issues they care about. We’ve been redesigning our sign up process and subscriptions to make it easier for people to understand and manage the vast amount of emails updates on offer.

What people want

To kick off our work, we did a survey of people who get our emails already. When we analysed the results, we used the insights to help define our objectives:

  • help people understand their current subscriptions
  • make it easy for people to find other things they want to sign up for
  • make it easy for people to unsubscribe

Testing with our users

After setting our objectives, we did a usability review of our current subscription service and designed a prototype to improve the user experience. To find out if the prototype we built is better, we did some usability testing on participants who came into our user testing lab.

Generally, participants were able to find and select subscriptions they were looking for. But there were still some things we needed to think about:

  • they had difficulty navigating a list of over 700+ topics
  • we need to improve the categories to make sense to our users
  • the unsubscribing process may be unclear
  • people don’t see the value in giving their name when they sign up with us

With the huge range of email subscriptions available, we needed to look at how we were categorising the topics and how we could help users understand them better.

Online experiments

So we ran a series of online tests to see how people interacted with different category headings.

The first round was a card sort. We asked people to look at a selection of our topics and come up with heading names for them. However, this activity didn’t get enough responses to draw any meaningful conclusions. We suspect this is because people thought it was too complicated to do.

The second round was a series of tree tests where people were asked to find items within our category structure. Lots more people completed these tests, potentially because they were less demanding to do. The results of this helped us to organise our 700 different topics into six different categories.

The final tree test compared two different versions with category headings of either ‘Parliamentary Business Updates’ or ‘Debates, Questions and What’s on’. Results indicated that the second version could be better than the former.

Testing another iteration

Some of the team looking at the topic categories

We then made some changes to our prototype and did another round of usability testing.

This time, participants found it much easier to navigate the new subscription service. Only a minority of people had difficulty or failed the eight tasks we set them.

This was the end of the alpha stage and we have some changes to make in beta:

  • improve the experience of scrolling through a long list
  • make the distinction between ‘personal details’ and ‘your subscriptions’ clearer when signing up

What’s next

We have some concrete changes we want to make to the prototype. We’ll then look at improving the notifications, as well as how we can improve the subscriptions we offer.

Do you get email updates from Parliament? Let us know what you think of them in the comments below. 

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Hans posted on

    You did a user testing to find out that people had difficulty navigating a list of over 700+ topics? Interesting.

    • Replies to Hans>

      Comment by Gemma Rogers posted on

      Hi Hans

      We did the user research to test whether the category headings we came up with made sense to users as we knew that 700 topics is too many.

      We didn't include all the different topics in the test because the majority of them are Bill and Committee updates.

      Hope that clarifies!


  2. Comment by Craig posted on

    Interesting blog and great to see you wanting to improve your email updates.

    In particular, I find the point about asking people for their names interesting...what really is the benefit? I wonder though within different sectors if users would be happy to give this information out as opposed to a government email update?

    • Replies to Craig>

      Comment by Gemma Rogers posted on

      Hi Craig

      Asking for names helps with stopping emails going into spam folders and also personalises them. However from our research we found for the type of emails we're sending, this wasn't necessary at this stage. It's something we might revisit again in the future.

      Hope this answers your question