Education & Skills Funding Agency

Developing a campaign site

How we developed the underlying content and design for M&C Saatchi

This is a story of how 2 months of preparation allowed an agency to deliver in 6 weeks.

Our users had a problem

The government have a habit of making things, well 'governmenty'. First and foremost that means complicated and it means dull.

The DfE was championing this change to the apprenticeship service they had inherited from BEIS. It was really complicated and for many, it was hard to see the benefit. 

Employers just couldn't relate to apprenticeships, they had a bad reputation and just looked like a risk to their business.

But the truth was somewhat different from their perceptions, we just had to find a way to reach these people.


Dealing with misconceptions was the first hurdle. Employers perceived apprenticeships as a means of hiring low skilled workers at rock bottom rates, those that weren't interested simply tuned out when they heard about apprenticeships.

Changes to the apprenticeship framework meant that apprenticeships were geared up for servicing all levels from basic introductory apprenticeships right through to degree level.


Return on investment was still a huge deal for business owners, especially small ones who have significant risk when employing a person into their small business. Employers wanted to be sure things would not go sour and that the apprentice would be a net benefit to their organisation.

The ESFA ran a hugely complex funding model that included funding from levy payments, transfers from other businesses, additional funding for small employers, top-ups for larger employers and additional funding for vulnerable people all the way down to the postcode they lived in. Did I mention state-aid de minimis considerations as well?


In our team of 2 designers (UX & Content) and 2 Researchers (Snr & Jnr) we were able to quickly spin up designs and get them tested.

We were even more fortunate that to coincide with our early research a large apprenticeship convention was taking place where we could run guerilla user testing to gather insights and recruit for future research sessions.

At the end of each sprint, our pair of researchers would play back their findings in a show and tell and give the whole team an opportunity to ask questions.

We travelled to Liverpool, London and around Coventry talking to users of our service from various different industries.

Keep it simple

Users were dumbfounded by all the complex paperwork being thrown up front by the current Whitehall pages. 

They wanted to concentrate on their business not be burdened with complex funding and training regulation.

A simple calculator to tell them what it would cost them to hire an apprentice over a year was welcomed as a way of showing both cost and ROI.

Who to trust

Employers' relationships with some training providers had soured previously and the changes introduced were made to address this. But employers still didn't know how to make informed decisions about which training providers to hire. Our content came ahead of a project to rate and review employers so while it was useful to know we knew the ESFA was already on the precipice of handling this so our content planned to point to it once live.

Social proof from people like me

Employers described how social proof is important to them buying into the concept of apprenticeships. But it wasn't enough to use a large engineering firm like Jaguar as the flag bearer. They wanted something relatable, something aspirational but not so different they couldn't attain what that organisation had achieved. 

Our designs that showed video interviews had to be just right to be effective, this would mean an expensive long-running campaign of content creation to target specific markets.

Lo-fi designs

We were able to get ideas onto paper and into the hands of users in minutes with mockups using UXpin. This rapid prototyping allows our learning to speed up and build a shared understanding of the product we seek to build.

Duo-lingo concept

One of the many conceptual solutions to educating users about the apprenticeship service was through an online training web app.

Users could learn by engaging in a pattern borrowed from the language learning site Duo-Lingo.

Users would be asked common questions that employers had and would earn badges for showing competency in the subject.

We thought this could be an engaging way for people to learn about the service and for us to learn what they don't understand by reviewing the responses.

The end product

After rounds of testing and lots of content strategy, we were in a place where we knew the media we needed to produce and the way we wanted to deliver it. All that remained was to hand over to the experts in video and marketing to improve the production quality of the content. M&S Saatchi made the content more engaging by abandoning the GDS framework and using rich media to bring the content to life.

TYIT Ltd provides a full stack UX consultancy that designs accessible digital services. We've helped complex organisations like BEIS and DfE achieve digital transformation by running Lean and Agile discovery processes.

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