Sport England

Designing a new user experience to promote the Towards an Active Nation strategy

Sport England is a public body and invests up to £300 million of National Lottery and government money each year in projects and programmes that help people get active and play sport.

It wants everyone in England, regardless of age, background, or level of ability, to feel able to engage in sport and physical activity. That’s why a lot of its work is specifically focused on helping people who do no, or very little, physical activity and groups who are typically less active - like women, disabled people and people on lower incomes.

Cyber-Duck was hired to develop Sport England’s digital strategy. We took a data-driven, user-centred approach to consolidating their portfolio of websites. Now, Sport England has a new website that powerfully communicates their mission and positioning.

Key stats


increase in traffic since launch


increase in mobile traffic since launch


applications received for funding

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Sport England aims to encourage everyone in the UK – regardless of their age, background or ability – to become and stay active. It wants them to enjoy the health and social benefits that come with physical activity. Across the country, most of us have been positively impacted by the work done by Sport England at some point. That could be at a grassroots level or through its popular campaigns such as This Girl Can.

In 2016, Sport England laid out the vision for its ‘Towards an Active Nation’ strategy. This strategy focuses on addressing inequalities in activity, especially among women and lower socio-economic groups. Brand positioning and audience perception was a key consideration.

Its internal review raised a challenge: how did their current digital presence communicate its mission? Its main website was trying to be all things to all users: from giving funding and sharing learnings, to providing guidance and resources. The navigation was unintuitive and the content lacked a clear purpose and hierarchy. 

Cyber-Duck was selected to partner with Sport England on this project. Together, we could consolidate Sport England’s multiple websites, with a wealth of content and audiences. Our track record in applying our user-centred approach to solving similar challenges with public bodies such as Bank of England & the Financial Ombudsman was crucial. Our objectives were to:


Define the content architecture, governance and migration strategies to ensure information is accessible and easy to navigate.


Develop an intuitive, user-friendly, secure website CMS comprised of scalable ‘blocks’.

User experience strategy

First, we immersed ourselves into the Sport England brand with a discovery phase. This involved meeting cross-functional representatives from different departments at Sport England, such as marketing, content, funding and insights.

The stakeholder interviews and workshops delved into Sport England’s goals and how it could achieve them. We immersed ourselves into Sport England’s understanding of their audience; later, we challenged and validated this together through user research and analysis.

We identified a better way to segment the wide and diverse audience that Sport England’s digital content addresses. By looking at people’s motivations and behaviour instead of their job roles, we came up with three primary personas:

  • Advocate – professionals that support Sport England’s strategy, making decisions and developing policies.
  • Facilitator – professionals that apply the local strategy. They act as the bridge between the Advocate and Implementor e.g. helping clubs secure funding.
  • Implementor – professionals that provide sports or activities to the general public. They are less involved with the national strategy.

This addressed one of the early challenges: who was the website talking to? Was it B2B, targeted at the professionals providing activities; or B2C, the general public?

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Content strategy

From our research, we collectively decided that the primary audience for this website was B2B. But the content would still have an impact on the national audience as the B2B personas would take the national strategy and devise local B2C strategies and activities.

If Sport England wanted to target the general public, it would create a stand-alone entity or campaign just like This Girl Can. This analysis prevented B2B content mixing with B2C, and consequently having a digital platform that didn’t fully answer the needs of either audience.

The content strategy we created was of utmost importance because Sport England’s main role was to provide information; whether it’s about understanding the audience (via its research) or actively applying for funding.

Next, we conducted a content audit to understand what was working, what wasn’t, and propose an information architecture that could consolidate multiple Sport England websites and reduce technical and content debt.

Previously, the same topic was spread across 2 or 3 sections of the website; now, we have clarified and simplified the user journeys, using methods like tree-testing to validate our changes. Overall content duplication was eradicated and content debt reduced.

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Agile website design and development

We signed off the content and service design strategy (including user stories) with a presentation to Sport England’s project steering group . This ensured all key stakeholders that were less involved with the day-to-day progress were comfortable with and aware of the strategic changes proposed.

Our team applied an agile approach to the design and development of the website. Every two weeks, we held sprint planning, retrospective and priority planning sessions. These helped us iterate rapidly, from low-fidelity sketches, to UI designs and prototypes. We applied findings from ongoing usability testing at each stage; thus, we optimised the sections as they were built and applied insights to future sprints.

This agile approach was key to the project’s success. Together with Sport England, we fostered a close working relationship that included co-location during key sprints. We even prototyped the site using real content rapidly, instead of lorem ipsum. This gave everyone a better picture about how the design would look, feel and work on launch.  

The enhanced customer journeys could increase the website’s performance for Sport England. This is because it encourages B2B users to submit strong, informed funding applications. That ultimately enables the wider B2C audience of citizens living in England to engage in the activities they love. The art direction has brought Sport England’s brand and personality to life; it’s an exciting website, not a traditional corporate B2B website.

Implementing a Drupal CMS

We applied our ISO-certified test-driven development methodology to Sport England. This approach ensured we were able to deliver a stable, quality, secure website, in a flexible way. 

Following a CMS feasibility audit, we recommended that our team should build the website with Drupal 8. As a CMS, Drupal is brilliant for building websites that are complex and content-heavy. It can even handle sophisticated content governance, with added flexibility within key templates.

Applying Drupal’s built-in taxonomies, we structured, designed and developed the content into flexible blocks. Sport England’s previous website was built using tagged content (e.g. funding or government), but migration was a challenge and involved a lot of manual work. Yet, with Drupal’s block system, the client could lay out new pages easily – even directly inside the content – through an intuitive CMS interface.

By integrating elastic search, users would be able to discover relevant content quickly. We used S3 by Amazon to store and deliver the images and assets at high speed.

The final website

On the surface, we have transformed a substantial organisation’s corporate-looking website and brought it to life with a new art direction that is vibrant, engaging and filled with subtle design cues that appeal to the target audience. 

However, the real beauty is beneath the surface. We have designed the content together, to ensure it’s beautiful yet usable and findable. This was no mean feat, considering the challenges around grouping, volume and hierarchy. Now, navigation is significantly easier.

The result is testament to what could be achieved from a partnership between a user-centred, service design agency with a national institution. Our technology team took this and built a robust, scalable CMS. It was Sport England’s first experience of building a website in an agile way, and working closely with an agency that used iterative prototypes and content design.

Together, we’ve started sharing how this unique content design process has brought benefits for Sport England, most recently at our Digital Pond events. In parallel with the B2B main website design and development, Sport England even engaged us for another B2C project – the inspiring ‘This Girl Can’ campaign.

The results

One of Sport England's main roles is to provide information. It has gained a 613% increase in traffic since launch, with a 1000% increase in mobile traffic. But our most important test together came just after launch, when the coronavirus hit. With everyone spending far more time at home, Sport England has been focusing on helping people do try the types of indoor, family-focused and solo activities people could still do. And it had to do that at speed.

Fortunately, Sport England had just come through the user-centred website redesign process in collaboration with Cyber-Duck. So when the coronavirus crisis hit, the team already had a very clear idea of:

  • Their target audiences and demographics
  • Those users’ needs (industry and end-user) 

Sport England’s new website has empowered the organisation to respond swiftly and clearly during the current crisis. The team has been able to support the sport and physical activity sector with clear, targeted information to inspire us all to ‘#StayInWorkOut‘. 

Another key role is Sport England's ability to manage and raise applications for funding. The volume the new website can generate is clear. Since the website’s launch, the Community Emergency Fund was launched in response to coronavirus in March. It was originally opened as a £20k fund that increased to £35k due to demand, and the fund paused to new applications on 14 May. They had 11,043 submissions in that timeframe, and to date have approved 7,489 applications, totalling £27.6m.

Key stats


increase in traffic since launch


increase in mobile traffic since launch


applications received for funding


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Cyber-Duck's expertise has really shone through – from helping us define our website's purpose and developing user personas, to finding a way to distil all the content we have into a powerful and user-focused navigation. The team has guided and supported us every step of the way, bringing a wealth of knowledge and skill to the table and into every conversation.

We now have a website that truly reflects the Sport England of today, supporting our mission to ensure everyone benefits from the powerful impact getting active can have.”

Head of Editorial and Content, Sport England