We recently reached a big milestone with our official DVSA apps, with one million downloads. Here’s how we did it, and why our users needed native apps.
DVSA’s priority is to help everyone through a lifetime of safe driving. That includes running the driving theory test, publishing the Highway Code and setting out the standards in books and software that learner drivers can use to prepare.
We make money to cover our costs
DVSA is a government ‘trading fund’. This means that we use the fees we charge for our services to meet our outgoings - like paying our staff, operating our buildings and other services.
Because we run on a more commercial model than centrally funded bodies, we manage our own intellectual property. This allows us to have an arrangement with a dedicated publishing company to produce learning materials to help people be safer drivers.
Since 2011, that arrangement has been with TSO (part of Williams Lea Tag).
Traditional contracts set functions for the contractor and may penalise failure to meet them. We prefer to collaborate for mutual objectives, and to share the rewards of sales. This gives us more flexibility to respond to user needs.
Designing apps: start with user needs
Before we started to design or build an app with TSO, we started to find out our users' needs.
We knew from user research that users wanted to be able to:
- learn the theory of driving
- take practice tests to see how they were doing
- learn how the hazard perception test works and practise their skills
- save their progress so they could see how they were improving over time
Learning on the go
People told us they learned at home, at college, or on the bus or train. Often they had no mobile signal or didn’t want to eat into their data allowance.
That last point was really important to us. The hazard perception test uses video, and we shouldn’t expect people to stream that over a 3G or 4G connection. They needed to be able to download it over wifi at home, and then use it anywhere.
Starting with iOS
Developing for iPhone alone wasn’t ideal, but at the time each version of iOS was of a commercially sustainable scale that:
- afforded a minimum viable product that could then be improved and widened to other operating systems iteratively
- helped the most people most quickly
- offered the most feedback that we could use to improve
TSO develop the apps, while staff in DVSA provide content and advice on usability, and make sure the prototypes meet our digital service standards.
Top of the charts
We launched the first apps in September 2011 and they've become more and more popular.
You'll see that the official DVSA theory test kit for car drivers is usually at the top of the education chart in the iOS App Store - and is often at the top of the overall iOS app chart.
What makes us most proud though, are the reviews left by users that show why the app performs so well. The current version has a 5-star rating, and here's what users are telling us.
I was having doubts whether to buy this app or not but honestly this helped me pass!
This app is defo worth purchasing. The layout and structure are so well laid out. You are able to test your self after every topic and go back to questions that you have failed.
I couldn't recommend a better app to help you learn for your theory!
Couldn't recommend this app more! It provides everything you need to know with lots of activities and studies! Love love love
The Android version of the app is still in its youth, but all the signs so far suggest it is being just as well received.
Keeping new technology under review
We always keep new technologies under review to see if there's a way that we can do things better.
For example, improving 4G and wifi coverage might mean future users might prefer 'progressive web apps' that adapt to work on any device and operating system.
The service manual has some great information about working with mobile technology.
Licensing our information
We don’t just make apps ourselves - we license the key commercial content for others to reuse in their own apps, and The Highway Code and traffic signs content is available under the Open Government Licence.
This is great, because it means that there’s lots of choice for users - whether it’s apps, other software or books.
We’re part of the Information Fair Trader Scheme. It proves that we have sound information licensing principles, and it gives the people who reuse our information confidence that we’re treating them reasonably and fairly.
Take a look at our guide to reusing our learning materials if you’re interested in developing your own apps or software to help people be safer drivers.