We’ve updated our forms guidance in our design system

We’ve been quietly working on our forms guidance in our design system. It hasn’t been a quick process because the guidance we’ve added so far is based on research. And this takes time. 

Before we added the guidance, we:

  • looked at the data we had – things like error rate, heatmaps, and where customers appeared to struggle across our digital journeys and components
  • identified each type of component that was being used across Co-op’s digital products and services and considered whether each was necessary
  • identified best practice from different design teams within Co-op, and looked at the great work GDS have published 
  • gathered industry expertise from the likes of Caroline Jarret and Adam Silver
  • invited stakeholders to design crits as a way to check that our forms guidance is specific to us at Co-op

We A/B tested our initial designs across certain journeys, gathered more data as a result, and iterated before adding the designs to our design system. 

The forms guidance we’ve added so far isn’t ‘finished’ (and likely never will be). The roadmap below shows we still have much more to research and design and test, but we’re sharing what we’ve done so far.

Why forms are so important 

Forms are one of the most commonly used design components across our digital products and services at Co-op. From both a customer and a business point of view, they are also an essential part of a service because they allow a transaction to take place. At the simplest level, the user adds information into a form so we can help them complete what they came to coop.co.uk to do – whether that be buy groceries, get an insurance quote, or sign into their Membership account. 

In line with GDPR, we also collect customer and member data through forms and use it to improve services. Having a standardised way to collect data across all digital services makes data more reliable.  

The problem: inconsistency across digital journeys 

Before we began this piece of work there was inconsistency in our form design across the organisation. Design teams were creating forms that worked for their specific service and implementing them – sometimes, there wasn’t consistency within forms in a single service. The form type variations were numerous and the time spent designing each must have amounted to a lot. 

I’m a designer in the Digital Experience team in Co-op Insurance. Our aim is to make it easier to find, buy and manage Co-op insurance online. Part of the user journey to get a quote or buy insurance takes the customer away from a Co-op-managed website and onto our insurance providers’ (we call them ‘partners’) sites. 

When we started our research into forms, we were selling 11 insurance products through 11 different partners. Each partner manages their own online buying experience so there are inconsistencies with customer experience (and this will continue to be the case for a while). The customer journey for each partner looked different, and the functionality of individual components like checkboxes varied too. Considering the huge inconsistencies, we do not think it’s a coincidence that we experience a poor ‘customer struggle score’ (one of our key metrics), an increase in drop-out rates and poor conversion.

Of course, we have no control over our partners’ design decisions but when they designed their pages, we didn’t have thoroughly tested forms guidance to point them towards. I hope we can now use it to start to influence them. We’ve done the hard work and it’s in our partners’ interests to use the guidance to create more seamless, usable customer journeys.  

Impact on our users, customers and members 

When we first posted about the Co-op design system back in 2018, we stated one of the aims was to help create familiarity across our distinct business areas. We said: 

The way we communicate with a customer in a food store is likely to be very different to how we speak to a customer in a funeral home. So it’s likely that our services might feel different. And that’s ok, as long they feel familiar.

A design system lets us create this familiarity. It should lead to a much more unified experience when they interact with different Co-op services.

When something feels familiar to a user, it reduces the cognitive load for them because – consciously or not – they know what to expect. And on some level that’s comforting. 

Accessibility is also a huge consideration. It’s something we’ve been determined to get right so we can use accessible components and patterns in our forms across all our services. It’s not only the ‘right thing to do’, it also lessens frustrations for anyone with access needs and reduces the chances of potential customers going to competitors. We know that 83% of people with access needs limit their shopping to sites they know are barrier-free (source: clickawaypound.com). If someone does not have a positive experience with one business area, they are unlikely to return to another.  

Data-driven design 

We made design decisions based on evidence. 

So for example, we used Session Cam to see heatmaps of where users click, hover and scroll and it showed us that when they were choosing an answer from 2 or more options on a form, many weren’t selecting the button itself – they were selecting the label next to it. (On the left-hand side of the image below shows this). This informed the design of our radio buttons and checkboxes shown on the right-hand side of the image below.

Sometimes, we made assumptions based on other teams’ evidence – and that’s ok. For example, at a crit we agreed to use a border for focus, active and hover states so the user would know which areas were clickable. Then we read this post on from GDS which describes why they ended up removing the grey border from radio buttons and checkboxes. As a result we agreed that the area would remain clickable but only highlight the border at hover state. We tested with our own users to confirm our assumption.

The Design System team are taking it from here

We recently put together an official Design System team who’ll be dedicated to taking this type of work forward. They’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Paul Braddock

UX Designer from Co-op Insurance

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