Taxing design? design and readers in British tax forms before 1914

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2008, a British government report estimated that in the financial year 2001–02, tax liabilities were understated by approximately £330 million as a result of “unintentional mistakes by taxpayers” when they were completing their returns. As a result it was decided that Revenue and Customs, the official body that deals with taxation in the United Kingdom, “will seek to reduce unintentional errors by redesigning forms.” Evidently, someone in authority believed that there was a connection between design and behavior—a connection that this article explores in an historical context. Articles in this journal and elsewhere have considered various aspects of late-twentieth and early twenty-first century tax forms and systems of taxation in Australia and the United States, although discussion of forms design has not been common. This article offers an original perspective, showing that some of the challenges faced by form-fillers today are not new but have existed in Britain since at least the 1840s. It might also help current-day forms producers to understand how paper-based forms have evolved, and how some features still used in 2011 have a long heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-97
Number of pages14
JournalDesign Issues
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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