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ODI’s content design principles for better services

Our mission at the Office of Digital Innovation (ODI) is to deliver better government services to the people of California through technology and design. We do this work in partnership with other state departments. One of the ways we support our partner departments and help strengthen state services is by sharing what we learn through our work.

Recently, we saw a need for actionable principles focused on content design as a way to help state departments improve services.   

We recognized we needed content design principles that were:

  • Specific so they helped people write better
  • Flexible to cover a wide range of situations

We developed them by drawing on our work from the past two years:


We thought about what had worked well and what had not. Sometimes we had deep discussions about our values. We dug into big ideas like inclusion and accessibility. Our conversations were not always easy, but they were rich and productive.

When we finished, we had seven principles:

  • Focus on user needs and services
  • Know your audience and meet them where they are
  • Build in accessibility from the start
  • Be concise
  • Write in plain language
  • Write in a conversational, official voice
  • Organize content strategically

For each principle, we include why it’s important, including research that we’ve done or read on the topic. We also provide strategies to use each principle. While it’s not a magic checklist, these tactics help anyone write better. This makes State government information and services more accessible. 

You can find all of our work in the Design System content design principles.

If you use our content principles, we’d love to hear from you and learn from your experience! Let us know where you’d like more information, where we’re missing something, or what worked well.

Many people at ODI contributed to these principles, but special thanks go to:

  • Liz Nobriga
  • Peggy Gartin
  • Ehb Teng
  • Angie Quirarte

Happy writing!