Boring magic

Digital government, its inherent politics, and humility in design

Steve Messer
2 min readJan 8, 2020

Originally published at on January 8, 2020.

Recently I’ve been working on a team thinking about what digital government services might be like in the near future. Conor, our interaction designer, summed up the last 9 years rather well.

‘We essentially create boring magic.’

It just rolls off the tongue.

There are things that people have to do — like pay tax, register a vehicle, work out what to do with dead farm animals, etc. — which are boring. These things only exist because of government. Our job is to make those tedious experiences a bit magical: simple, clear and fast. All the hallmarks of convenience, that works the first time.

Other (more clever) people have written about using the word ‘magical’ in association with digital public services. That, in the early days, making ‘new kinds of irresistible content felt magical’. But that because some digital public services are actually really important parts of people’s lives, particularly in government, things are much more serious — because what we design is inherently political.

I agree with those people completely. But with this term — boring magic — we stumbled upon a way of describing the experience we should provide, in a humble way.

There’s a barber I occasionally visit in Deptford. He often forgets that I’ve been in…