Designing for the Hillsborough Independent Panel

It was January, 2011 and an email arrived from a name I recognised.

Would you be available for me to phone you to discuss a potential project? I’ve attached an NDA. Could you sign a printed copy, scan and send it back to me?

John Jones
Jones Olson

Now under normal circumstances, I won’t sign an NDA until I at least know who I’m dealing with, but this time I was curious. I’d worked with a developer called John Jones in the earliest days of Stuff and Nonsense. We’d worked well together and I’d liked him a lot, so I’d been disappointed when we’d parted ways and he moved to America. I signed the paperwork and sent it, then waited for the call.

When it was ‘my’ John Jones that called, I somehow wasn’t surprised. He explained that he now works as a user experience specialist in his own practice and that the project was designing a site for the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the Home Office. “Was I interested?” he asked.

“You had me at John Jones” I replied

Today, the site we started almost two years ago is launched, along with the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into what happened that terrible day on 15th of April 1989 when 96 people died and many more were injured at Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

John’s meticulous in his work. He’s the best user experience specialist I’ve ever worked with, bar none. By the time I started work, John had already amassed hundreds of hours writing user-stories and personas and developing wireframes that documented the site’s functionality. Like the best UX professional though, John made it clear that the creative direction was down to me.

I extended John’s personas to include the websites that each person might regularly visit. These included the BBC, Guardian, LinkedIn and even Facebook. Unlike the websites I’d seen for other Home Office reports and inquiries, I wanted to design a site that each of the users in the stories would find visually appealing and most importantly easy to read. I also had to take into consideration the needs of the various groups of interested parties including the Home Office itself, South Yorkshire Police and Ambulance Service and most importantly members of the families of those who were killed or injured. That was a design challenge unlike almost any other I’ve faced.

I remember the Hillsborough Disaster, but as a seventeen year-old more interested in music than football (then) or news, it effected me very little. So for the first few weeks after I started designing, I read everything I could find about the Hillsborough Disaster. I watched video footage and interviews with the families and survivors. I cried a lot watching the events over and when recounting the stories I’d heard to friends and family.

Stories like that of Trevor and Jenni Hicks, who lost both their teenage daughters, Vicky and Sarah, in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough ground. Jenni watched from the stand while the events unfolded beneath her, knowing all the while that her daughters were in the pen. When Trevor found later found his daughters barely alive and almost side-by-side, he faced the agonising choice of either going with Vicky to the hospital or staying with Sarah on the pitch. He went with Vicky, who died from her injuries only minutes later. Trevor and Jenni later found out that Sarah had also died. This story and so many more from Hillsborough affected me very much.

Several months ago I handed over my design files — responsive HTML and CSS templates — to the Home Office team of developers. As I’ve not seen any material from the panel’s report and I only worked with extracts from the Wikipedia entries about Hillsborough. I’ll be very interested to see the site when it’s launched today.

Normally when I write about a design, I say how fun the project was to work on and how much I enjoyed the process, but I can’t say that about this project. What I can say is how grateful I am to John and everyone I met from the Home Office and the panel for the opportunity to work on something of such significance. I hope that in some small way, I made a difference.

Site: Hillsborough Independent Panel.


I’m available for hire to consult on and design products and websites. Based in North Wales, I travel regularly to work with clients world-wide.

Available from January 2020

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Stuff & Nonsense Ltd.
Eversleigh, Lon Capel,
Flintshire, North Wales,
LL18 6EJ, UK