In late 2014, a government department completed an exercise:
If we started again, and redesigned our services completely from scratch, how would we design them?
Through this they identified a number of potential improvements, but settled on two to take forward; one of which was the online document service I worked on.
It was decided that – as per Government Digital Services – the projects would be Agile and include extensive user research. However, this government department did not have a user research function. Some staff were promoted to user researchers, but did not have the experience required to lead these projects themselves. I therefore joined as an external source of expertise.
Upon joining the project, I knew little about the process. As such, I spent a lot of time researching the topic in the same way that many users would: searching Google, looking at the Money Advice Service and Money Saving Expert, and creating an overview of what I found. This quickly became the first draft of a user journey/process flow.
This journey was invaluable in the research that followed. I was thrown in the deep-end here, as the department had existing relationships with a number of legal firms to whom I was sent. I used my own lack of knowledge – and lack of bias – to my advantage, taking each user I interviewed through my journey until I not only had bulked out almost every possible step, but also gained valuable insights into the problems and annoyances they faced (of which many were repeated). I wrote a blog post for the department about creating this user journey with external stakeholders.
Here is the updated user journey that was created:
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The research told us a lot about what was and wasn’t working for the lawyers – who, we realised, were our main user group. From this information I was able to create a comprehensive experience map, which enabled the Product Owner to make informed decisions about the content of the MVP for our Beta launch:
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Of course it wasn’t up to me to just do all of this research myself. My role was also to teach other researchers how to continue once I’d left, and to ensure that there was knowledge within the department to complete other projects. While there, I:
- Led by example, delivering high-stakes research and stakeholder presentations while being observed by less experienced researchers and business analysts;
- Led lab research at the Government Digital Services HQ with Assisted Digital (low digital competency) users;
- Observed and gave feedback on user research done by members of my own team, and others;
- Taught use of software, including Omnigraffle, Axure RP and Google Sites to enable the delivery of professional, useful research outputs;
- Created a wiki page where all research and conclusions could be easily added, as a single ‘source of truth’ for researchers and other team members – this was then adopted by other functions within the team, and subsequently rolled out to other teams as best practice;
- Ensured that developers were kept constantly in the loop and encouraged this behaviour, through videos, research observation, and regular prototype feedback and changes.
A document weighing up the benefits versus commitment needed from external stakeholders
Claire and I worked together on the signing of digital deeds for the Land Registry. As we all know, when there is legislation and a legal team involved, it’s incredibly difficult to design for user needs – that along with the standard political hierarchy where managers often seem to think that they know the user better than anyone made for a very challenging environment.
Even given all of this, Claire showed just incredible perseverance, hard work and skill while we worked together on the project. With time, great patience and data driven by her research – we ended up with a service design which really showed that even given incredibly harsh constraints, you can still build an incredible experience for a user. When she departed, it left a hole in our team that we were never able to fill, not only skills, but culturally as well. She brought great energy, ideas and fun to the team, she is by far one of the most capable user researchers and service designers I have worked with.
It’s been great working with Claire and I’ve been really impressed with her skills as a User Researcher. As a rookie UR myself I’ve learnt tons. She’s able to get to grips with complicated user journeys with thorough, detailed research and has a real knack of presenting findings to service design teams, having excellent communication skills and an in-depth understanding of a whole range of relevant technologies. She can convert masses of raw data into insightful briefings, getting key messages across with clear, concise and engaging text. She can also quickly create very professional and artistic charts, diagrams and infographics which stakeholders can easily interpret, whether or not they have a detailed understanding of (or interest in) the project. Our walls have never looked so good! She is also a very clear and confident speaker, whether delivering presentations, engaging with customers or running usability lab sessions. She gets deeply involved in her work, delivers things amazingly quickly and – importantly – has a wicked sense of humour!