I’m Gemma Cameron, the Engineering Practice Lead. I look after the Engineering Practice and Community; making sure we have great engineers at Co-op. We’re going to be sharing more content about the products and services we’re working on throughout 2022, but from more of a technical angle. They’ll be a little different to what we’ve previously shared on the Co-op Digital blog, but just as insightful. All of our Engineering blog posts will be tagged in the engineering category, so you can easily find them too.
Engineers play a huge part in our Technology team.
Our community is made up of Quality Analysts, Frontend, Software and Platform Engineers who work remotely from all over the UK (or in our Manchester / Eastleigh offices if they chose to). We work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary, agile product teams and currently have around 60 engineers across 15 different teams.
In our Mega CoP, we have an update from our Head of Engineering Danielle Haugedal-Wilson, lots of breaks for cups of tea, breakout sessions, lightning talks, and group chats. The group chats are a recent addition from us all working remotely. With small groups of 6 or so engineers, which changes every month, we get to know each other and what we’re working on. This helps us connect across the community on a more personal level, and helps put names to faces. We do this over Microsoft Teams and tend to use Slack more for chatting asynchronously.
Looking back on 2021
As the year closes, we celebrated our last Engineering Community of Practice get-together on 17 December. We wore our festive hats, we had a panto, a brew and a natter, some coding fun and even poetry! All entirely remote.
Join us at Co-op
We’re currently hiring Engineering Managers to join our community, so if you’re an experienced engineer who wants to concentrate on career coaching (line management), recruitment and technical training of teams, click here to find out more and apply. This is an engineering leadership role where you’ll also be involved in shaping and setting the strategy and direction for Engineering at our Co-op.
We’re growing our Engineering community in 2022, and are looking to hire over 50 new colleagues from apprentice up to leadership level. If you’re interested in working with us, head over to our Work With Us page to see what’s available right now, or fill in this form to register your interest and we’ll let you know when new roles are advertised.
This time last year, I think we all imagined that working from home so regularly would be temporary. But here we are, a year on. The Digital Product and Design team is not fully remote like we were for most of 2020, but we are a remote-first team now.
Although this has had its downsides, we’ve navigated the shift well. We’ve continued to iterate our processes and adapt our tools and, if anything, we’ve become a more flexible, pragmatic, impactful team. This hasn’t been easy though, and while we’ve continued to deliver for Co-op customers and members, we’ve also had to deliver for each other. We check in with each other more often to help balance the stresses and strains of the outside world with the ones inside Co-op.
Our colleague happiness survey, Talkback, shows 90% of colleagues feel they can have open and honest conversations; 95% of people feel we have an environment where they can be themselves, and 98% feel their manager role-models a healthy balance between their work and home life. These results reflect the open, honest culture we strive to create – we all contribute to this culture, so we can all be proud.
To everyone in the Digital Product and Design team, and to all our close collaborators across Engineering, Delivery and the wider Co-op, thank you for all your hard work and kindness this year. It’s been tough but rewarding, and there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022.
The Digital Engagement and Loyalty portfolio (previously Member and Customer) re-organised ourselves this year, adding Co-operate to the fold and building a new team around improving the membership experience. We’re now 5 product teams (Co-op App, Personalised Offers, Co-op Account, Co-operate and Membership Experience) working to make Co-op a brand that inspires loyalty.
We’ve delivered valuable features… including the most-requested feature in our app reviews (adding your membership card to your digital wallet), an easier way to become a member (paying via Apple/Google) and ensuring Co-op Accounts are accessible to all (earning a zero issues report in testing).
We’ve contributed to the success of the wider business… by delivering millions in incremental sales via the personalised offers programme, driving 10% of ecommerce sales via a new in-app promo, and making it easier to checkout online, so that signed-in users spend more and convert 35% more often.
We’ve helped deliver Co-op’s vision of co-operating for a fairer world by making it easy for 1.2 million members to select a local cause to support with just one click. We’ve also:
connected the Local Community Fund with Co-operate, our online community centre, to help more than 10,000 local groups apply for funding and access wider support
introduced a new volunteering service to help people find opportunities locally
encouraged almost 250,000 people to engage in communities
showcased relevant opportunities to participate and support our community missions locally
And we’ve paid down important technical debt… by switching our identity provider (a huge endeavour that’s reduced fraud, whilst causing barely a ripple to the user experience) and introducing a new Membership API Gateway that makes the way we share membership information easier to maintain, more secure and quicker to extend when new opportunities arise.
Looking forwards to 2022 we’ve been working with our stakeholders across the business to set shared objectives and priorities. We’ve been using decision stacks to unite teams from different areas (including marketing, commercial, CRM, and data science) around a set of priorities with KPIs that we think will have the greatest impact. It’s been fun to work with colleagues with different perspectives and build diverse thinking and expertise into our plans.
Customer Experience Strategy team
We set up the Customer Experience (CX) Strategy team. We’ve been well-received so far.
Delivering financial value through CX strategy
We identified the funeral arrangement to probate journey as somewhere we could prove the value of our CX strategy. Why? Because you never need one without the other. So, we moved probate to the right place in the online Funeralcare journey and improved the content.
Comparing the 16 weeks since the content went live to the previous 16 weeks, there has been:
49% increase in probate leads
50% increase in bookings (where we quote for probate)
55% increase in number of probate sales – an extra £140k per year
Enabling teams to move from strategy to delivery
We’ve been supporting teams in the wider organisation to adopt a customer experience approach to designing services. We’ve been documenting them too so that guidance and support will be available after we leave the project.
We’ve co-designed various tools with Co-op Powerincluding:
A service design toolkit for the Power product development team
A product definition canvas focused on customer needs
Working with Nisa to connect business and experience strategies
We improved the customer experience for Nisa’s independent retailers (Co-op acquired Nisa in 2018). Our work is a good example of building a vision framework based on a detailed understanding of how customers interact with Nisa across each touchpoint. Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions the business makes, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.
Customer Experience Day events
We marked CX Day 2021 with a series of CX best practice talks covering Insurance, Funeralcare and Food. Across 3 days, over 200 colleagues watched the sessions showing there’s an appetite from colleagues across Co-op to learn more about what customer experience is, why it’s important and how it can be improved for our members, customers and colleagues.
Co-op Legal Services
This year our focus has been on optimisation.
We have redesigned our Co-op Wills Writing service using web analytics, data from our existing platform, and user research with the aim of improving conversion rates and reducing lead times. We are launching soon and estimate that the time spent drafting a will be reduced by up to 1 hour.
We also created a new digital lasting power of attorney service (not publicly available at the moment).
Customer Platform Service team
This year, we restructured, and we’ve made great progress in re-branding and simplifying processes and tools like our Statuspage, Service Catalogue, Runbooks and Impact matrices to optimise how we work.
This year we’re proud of the work we’ve done to:
Introduce standard change which means we have cut manual effort to review and approve changes by up to 70%. Our Change success rate across all products was 98.6%!
Offer 24/7 support for Food eCommerce web-platform and Funeralcare customers
Reduce costs by approximately £50K by decommissioning the archaic server for Membership wallet
achieve a record run of 110 consecutive days without a major incident in some products! Work in Problem Management ensured a reduction in major incidents by 32% compared to 2020.
There are now 1,600 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk This time last year, only 760 of our stores were taking part, up from 32 stores in 2019.
Given the increase in numbers of participating stores, it’s not surprising that 2021 has been busy. We:
made it easier for shoppers to see which products are included in deals
made it possible for the Merchandising team to edit product titles and descriptions
added a ‘Top deals’ page
added a contact form to the site to help customers report order issues saving our contact centre colleagues time
made it possible for shoppers to use Apple Pay on service
made stock availability visible to customers and offered alternatives on out-of-stock products
trialled ‘delivery within an hour’
still maintain crucial operational services like Shifts and How Do I for our colleagues
Funeralcare’s Core Transformation and Guardian team
Guardian is our colleague-facing digital service. We designed and built it in-house so our Funeralcare colleagues could spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with clients. Since its roll-out in 2018, we’ve supported the maintainance and we’ve continued to listen to colleagues and support the great work they do by iterating Guardian. This year, improvements include:
Adding a Contract transfer system so colleagues can manage the collection of someone who has died from the police and hospitals. The system also makes sure each party is invoiced correctly.
More accurate tracking of ashes so funeral directors can check the deceased’s ashes are collected within mandatory 3 days and reduce administration overhead.
Creating a Direct Cremation functionality so colleagues can easily track whether the mandatory cremation paperwork is complete
Our team has also replaced existing architecture to connect the website front-end to the new Microsoft product supporting the Funeralcare strategic systems upgrade programme known as ‘core transformation’.
Funeralcare’s Customer team
This year, we’ve created:
a new online payment journey that has allowed over 2,500 clients to pay their funeral balance online, saving both clients and Funeralcare colleagues time
a new regulatory compliant online pricing component on 900 branch pages allowing clients to understand and compare local Funeralcare prices
a trial to help understand how we can help clients make appointments with branches, through the website
User research was at the heart of all our work again, with some emotional sessions. All participants reassured us they want to help us make services better and enjoyed the research, tears and all.
We’ve also changed a lot in 2021 – halfway through the year we introduced an entirely new engineering team.
Responsible design: more important than ever
Over the past decade, digital delivery teams have adopted the mindset of ‘moving fast and breaking things’ and we’ve reached a point where a lot has broken. We’ve spoken a lot over the years about designing the right thing in the right way, but we need to keep adapting and changing what ‘the right way’ means in the context of the challenges we face in our communities and globally. We’re having more conversations around ‘responsible’ design and this will continue to be at the forefront of our minds going into 2022.
Last week, the product and design team attended Design Council’s 2-day event Design for Planet which coincided with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, and our Co-op26 campaign. The purpose of the event was to galvanise the UK’s design community to address the climate emergency and sustainability issues.
Coming together with a wider Design community (albeit virtually) felt important after 18 months of remote working and being relatively inward-facing within Co-op. The collaboration and idea sharing was inspiring and the discussions that were sparked were important ones.
Over the past decade, digital delivery teams have adopted the mindset of ‘moving fast and breaking things’ and we’ve reached a point where a lot has broken. We need to be more responsible when we design products and services, and the team learnt how we (as designers and product people) can help tackle the biggest challenge of our time.
Design, after all, can be a powerful agent for positive change.
Designing in the ‘right’ way
We’ve spoken a lot over the years about designing the right thing in the right way, but we need to keep adapting and changing what ‘the right way’ means in the context of the challenges we face in our communities and globally.
Last week’s event prompted us to think harder about what we can do to make our working practices and processes better so that ultimately, we can design more responsibly, more mindfully, more sustainably and keep ethical considerations at the forefront (of course, we already have Co-op values to guide our work). If we get this right, we can make things better now, but also in the future.
Diverse expertise. One shared mission
‘Design for Planet’ is an all-encompassing name for an event which gave platforms to specialists from many different areas of expertise. For example:
Designer Finn Harries spoke about the importance of storytelling in reframing the climate crisis and our relationship to nature.
Andy Hyde, user researcher Anna Horton and service designer Aurelie Lionet talked about the need for ensuring a ‘just transition’ when designing low carbon journeys to ensure we don’t exclude or disadvantage people in the process.
Despite speaking on vastly different topics, they all share a very similar mission: to make the planet better for everyone and everything that lives on it now, and in the future.
We’re aiming for that too and we kept this mission in mind when we were thinking about where we can improve.
What we’re going to do
We have a Slack channel brimming with ideas about how to address some of the issues that already exist and how to safeguard sustainable design. We’ve already agreed on several actions as well as some things we’ll be looking into more:
Introduce sustainability champions (hi Siobhan Harris, who is our first). Champions will raise awareness and nudge people into thinking about sustainability more consistently and at each point a significant decision must be made. The aim is to keep it at the forefront of all our minds.
Revisit our design principles and add a sustainability-related one. It will likely focus on longevity and designing products, services and experiences that work well and last, as well as creating less content.
Continue to encourage people from the wider business to use our Experience Library so we do less, but we do it better and to a certain, ‘good’ standard.
Investigate how we can change our ways of working to collect less and delete more data, as soon as its not needed. There is too much tech data waste and we need to be more mindful. Particularly since working remotely, many teams record and store sessions for people to watch back, but we should look at how often they are actually watched and how long we store them for.
Look at how we can design for ‘endings’ – for example, when a service is no longer needed, used or supported. Leaving it live is irresponsible because it takes up space on the internet and often contributes to ‘link rot’ (meaning it’s likely to link to old, out of date pages).
Prioritise and continue our discussions on climate change. The service design and visual design communities of practice had a structured debate about some of the topics that came up at the Design for Planet event.
Plus, lots of us have also signed up for UnGifted Secret Santa for “climate-friendly, socially-distanced colleagues who want to gift unforgettable surprises instead of unwanted stuff.”
It’s a good start and we’re still learning. It’s good to be pushing these considerations and questions forward at Co-op – a place that has values that already very much support a ‘better’ way. We know that we can’t just do things better, we need to be doing better things too. As a team we’ll be pushing the wider Co-op business to use design thinking and digital ways of working to make big shifts in the products and services we offer.
The Co-op Experience Library is a collection of guidelines, tools and resources to help us create better customer experiences at Co-op. It’s the latest iteration of the Co-op Design System, and it’s for anyone working on products, services and communications at Co-op.
Co-op is made up of many business areas including our Food stores, Funeralcare, Legal and Insurance. And colleagues from each of these businesses communicate with their customers every day through a wide range of channels including websites, apps, email, telephone, forms, in store and in communities.
These customer experiences (that’s each point a customer interacts with Co-op) must be connected and consistent so that customers understand us, trust us and choose to use our services. So, we want to create a place where colleagues can go to get help building accessible, consistent and inclusive customer experiences.
By creating a central library of reusable assets and guides, we believe that teams can:
We’d spent a lot of time researching the design system with colleagues. And, although we knew it was being used, we found that there were areas we could improve, including:
making it more inclusive for people who were not designers
making it more inspiring
reducing the gaps in design advice and documentation
So we’ve spent the last few months trying to fix these issues. We’ve:
changed the name to the ‘Experience Library’ to encourage both designers and non-designers to use it
worked with other teams and business units to include a broader range of topics
added more detailed design advice and documentation
established content processes so that anything that gets added to the library is researched, critiqued, understandable and accessible
worked with subject matter experts from around Co-op to feed in and check the guidance
created a new visual language that we hope will inspire people to experiment and build on the foundations within the Experience Library
worked in the open, shared what we’re doing and regularly got feedback from colleagues
We’ve started by focusing mostly on the digital experience. But this is only the beginning, we have big aspirations. We want the Experience Library to be useful for anyone who communicates on behalf of the Co-op. That’s anyone who a customer interacts with, through any channel, in any business area. Our long-term vision is:
To create and maintain a comprehensive, evolving library of foundational tools, resources and assets that empower us to create better customer experiences across Co-op.
To do this we need the library to be truly collaborative – the one place where colleagues can go to get trusted and up-to-date guidance that meets their needs and makes their jobs easier.
So next, we’ll be working with teams across digital, communications and brand to understand how we can better support and collaborate with them.
Tell us what you think
We’d love to know what you think about the Experience Library. Fill in this form to give feedback.
Last week we published a post that explains what we mean when we talk about customer experience at Co-op. Today’s post aims to show the applied, practical side of some of the things we spoke about. We’re using a piece of work that we – the Customer Experience Strategy team – has been involved in as an example.
(Slightly surprising) background and context
Most UK residents will be familiar with Nisa Locals, the convenience shops. What is perhaps lesser known is that those shops are actually independently run – in fact, Nisa’s tagline is ‘the family of independent grocers’. Nisa is a wholesaler who the independent shops buy their stock from (plus, many independent shops also buy from them but do not call themselves Nisa). So, when we refer to ‘customers’ in this post, we’re referring to each independent, local shop.
Since Co-op completed its acquisition of Nisa Retail Limited, teams from both businesses have been sharing approaches and ways of working. The Nisa leadership team were concerned that the customer experience (CX) for the independent retailers who interact with the wholesaler was lacking in some areas – they said they would like to improve customer retention, loyalty and sales.
This felt like a good chance for Co-op’s relatively newly-formed Customer Experience Strategy team to set out a vision for what the experience of interacting with Nisa could be. We knew the vision should stem from our research with Nisa’s customers, and this would then inform the CX strategy.
Taking an end-to-end view to understand challenges
In short, our research allowed us to identify the top pain points the shops were having when interacting with Nisa when they:
place an order for stock
receive a delivery
update prices or promotions in their stores
We then used these conversations to map the customer experience for those 3 user journeys. It was important that we also took internal data into consideration, as well as the existing processes and systems that Nisa colleagues currently use which will also have an impact on their experience. We worked closely with Nisa teams who helped us unpack the complexities of the business and improve our understanding of how and why things happen so we could more easily identify genuine opportunities.
Defining an ‘experience vision’
Our insight from the user journey maps, contextual research and interviews with Nisa colleagues meant we could pinpoint opportunities for immediate improvement.
But more importantly, and on a bigger scale, the maps helped define an overarching ‘experience vision’ – this is what an organisation aspires to become for its customers. This experience vision feeds into Nisa’s existing brand proposition, which in turn supports its brand purpose (but that stuff was outside the CX Strategy team’s remit).
Working out how to get there
If an ‘experience vision’ is something aspirational – a place where Nisa is aiming to get to – we started to look at how they were going to get there. This is where the concept of ‘strategic priorities’ came in – in other words, guiding principles to help Nisa make better decisions that give customers the experience they want. Those decisions could be around things like a new technology architecture, updates to the ordering system, or an improved onboarding process for new customers. The strategic priorities allow Nisa to assess whether their actions support the delivery of the experience vision.
Together, we identified 3 strategic priorities, within those the CX team created ‘service briefs’ which formed the bulk of our recommendations. They included:
our observations of customer pain points
the underlying reasons these were happening
our recommendations for improvement
the metrics to track impact
Basically, the top priority work for them to start delivering on the strategic priorities.
We underpinned the service briefs with 3 ‘foundational principles’ that focused on setting the teams and organisation up with appropriate ways of working to achieve the vision. (You can read more about how we make sure team objectives align with a vision here).
Early days but so far, so good
We only recently shared our recommendations, but changes have already been put in place. For example:
The Nisa brand team championed the new tone of voice document and encouraged colleagues to use it .
Nisa’s senior leadership team is taking our recommendations on board and has confirmed it will put an accountable project sponsor in place. (In 6 months, we’ll check in on the progress).
Good collaboration: we needed Nisa’s subject matter experts
A CX team like ours could not have just come in and made customer pain points less painful without working closely with the subject matter experts from Nisa and the people working in the independent shops. Speaking to them helped us see and understand the underlying reasons for the experiences customers are having.
It has also been invaluable to work alongside sales and finance teams who helped us to size up the opportunity and balance it against perceived time, effort and expense for Nisa to make the changes. This helped massively with prioritisation.
Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions that colleagues make, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.
Co-op recently created a new Customer Experience (CX) Strategy team. This post explains why our team exists, our purpose and how we work.
What we mean when we say ‘customer experience’
Customer experience (CX) is how a customer thinks and feels about all interactions they have with a brand. Customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal to brands that offer the best experiences. This means brands can gain a competitive advantage by providing customers with a consistent, personal and rewarding experience.
We need to consider CX across the whole customer journey
At Co-op, we offer a varied range of products and services. Customers can come to us to buy both pet food and pet insurance. They can pick up today’s dinner from a Food store or prepare for their future through Life Services. They can place an online food order or plan their funeral. And along the way, they have many different interactions with us.
Speaking to a Co-op colleague in a Food store is just one of the many interactions that customers can have with us
By meeting or exceeding customer expectations every time they connect with us – whether in physical or digital spaces – we create better experiences for them. This means customers will be more likely to continue to use our services and to recommend Co-op. In the long term, this helps us gain a competitive advantage through:
more effective cross-selling
bigger customer networks
Lots of our colleagues are already working to create better customer experiences. But an approach that works across the whole business and considers the entire end-to-end experience for customers is a new and exciting opportunity for us. This is where the new CX Strategy team comes in.
Our CX Strategy team is responsible for the holistic customer experience across Co-op
The CX Strategy team works in partnership with colleagues across the business to create seamless journeys that solve customer problems and improve their experience.
collaborate with business areas, working alongside them to develop actionable CX strategy
shape strategies based on customer insights
join the dots across different teams, systems and processes
define opportunities for improving the end-to-end experience for customers
The CX Strategy team is partnering with teams across the business
As well as CX strategists, the CX Strategy team is made up of experts in content strategy, research and service design. When we partner with a business area team on a project, it’s important that we begin by understanding the current landscape. We ask the team to share their expertise on their business area and customers with us. We then work with them to map customer journeys and identify points of friction. As we move through the process of exploring and setting the strategy, we’re able to distil our focus and make recommendations. This helps us create a realistic implementation plan that the business area team can put into action.
So far, we’ve:
worked with Life Services to create a customer experience strategy grounded in insight, making changes across a customer journey that crossed two business areas to generate new revenue streams
worked with Nisa to understand the current wholesale customer experience and identified opportunities that have the potential to increase sales by millions
mapped how we’re measuring CX at Co-op
Next, we’ll be working with Membership, our customer service centre, Co-op Power and Food. We’ll be focusing on creating customer experience that works for our customers, members and communities and that also benefits our business.
The CX Strategy team
Co-op colleagues can join our ‘Customer Experience Spotlight’ talks
We’re marking CX Day 2021 with a series of CX best practice talks on Tuesday 5, Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 October.
If you’re a Co-op colleague, you can sign up to join our lunchtime Customer Experience Spotlight talks to find out how Insurance, Life Services and Food are championing CX.
Allow people to contribute anonymously or in smaller groups.
Check if people can access the tools you’re using, explain how to use them and offer an alternative if necessary.
Use visible timers and allow thinking time.
Use captions and transcripts where possible.
Consider how people could contribute outside of the meeting, in their own time.
Set clear expectations, early
Send out an agenda in advance.
Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and the outcome you want to achieve.
Give a running order, include approximate times.
Give context: do not assume any prior knowledge
Reiterate any information that someone would need to know to be able to contribute.
Give regular recaps. Consider taking notes as you go so you can easily refer back.
Be mindful of late joiners and the context they might lack.
Use clear language
Do not use acronyms without explaining what they mean.
Use plain English.
Be mindful of people who are new to Co-op, or a team. If you use jargon, explain what you mean.
Respect people’s time
Book only the amount of time you need with people, and allow people to leave if they’ve contributed all they need to.
Plan your meeting to allow people breaks between meetings, for example 5 or 15 minutes past the hour.
If the meeting is long, schedule in regular breaks.
Value all contributions equally
Give everyone a chance to speak, do not allow one voice to dominate.
If you’re referencing what’s been inputted, reference contributions from a range of people.
Consider your audience. Be prepared to adapt your approach or process to encourage contribution from more people.
Encourage clarity, curiosity, and challenges
Explain how people can ask questions.
Encourage people to get clarity on things they do not understand.
Allow people to ask questions anonymously, for example by adding post-its to a collaboration board.
Why we created inclusive meeting guidelines
With a lot of collaboration now online, it can be harder for people to contribute effectively. This can mean some voices are not heard.
We want everyone to be able to contribute in a way they feel comfortable. This means being thoughtful about people who, for example:
have a disability or condition
are new to a team
cannot attend a meeting at a specific time
cannot access certain tools or systems
need thinking time
We hope these guidelines will encourage more inclusive discussions and more perspectives to be heard.
As a result of more inclusive collaboration we believe Co-op will:
become aware of problems earlier
save money, as problems can be fixed earlier
create more inclusive products and services
open up our products and services to more people
How we created these guidelines
Our hypothesis is that remote working has made some of the ways we collaborate exclusive. We wanted to see if this was an issue for others and if so, how they’d overcome it.
Using a survey, we asked people:
what they believed could prevent people from engaging with and inputting into a meeting
for practical tools and techniques that can help people to engage and input in to a meeting
We gathered loads of valuable advice, ideas and knowledge from people in Co-op and from other organisations. After synthesising the responses, we ended up with broad themes that helped us form the guidelines.
Using what we’d learnt to structure the guidelines
From the analysis it was clear that people were time-poor and often meeting-fatigued. They wanted to get the most out of collaborative sessions as efficiently as possible.
So, we reflected this in our guidelines.
We focused on the actions – the tools, techniques and ideas – that could be immediately useful for facilitators and attendees at the start of a meeting.
The guidelines are not overly prescriptive, to allow them to be adapted for different contexts and scenarios. And we hope they’ll be shared in a whichever way works well for the facilitator – maybe added to the start of a Miro board, a Word document or a meeting invitation.
We’re looking forward to learning if and how they’re useful, and if they encourage more mindful and inclusive meetings.
These inclusive meeting guidelines are a first draft. We will continue to:
get feedback and make them better
understand if and how they’re being used
understand if they’re helping us have better discussions
share updates and get involved in wider inclusion discussions
see how they can complement other work that’s happening in Co-op and beyond
In September 2020, Manchester Metropolitan undergraduate students Ana Thompson and Precious Oladele – who are both are working towards a BSc in Digital User Experience Design – joined Co-op Digital as part of their 4-year degree apprenticeship. The course is designed to give students the opportunity to learn by working in an environment they will likely get their first job in.
In the past year, Ana and Precious have spent around 80% of their week with Co-op digital product or service team experiencing disciplines including content design, user research, service design and interaction design. The other 20% has been spent studying.
In this post they reflect on their first year.
Which teams are you working with at the moment?
Ana: We’re both working in the Operational Innovation (OI) team at the moment so our focus is on digital products and services used by colleagues in Co-op Food stores – things like Date Code, Age and Safety Perception. Sometimes though, there are projects that are more customer-facing.
Precious: I’m on the same team but I recently moved from Co-operate, a digital product for amplifying the good things happening in local communities.
What led up to you applying for the apprenticeship?
Precious: I started looking for an apprenticeship after college because I prefer hands-on learning. I applied for positions in journalism and digital marketing but none of them worked out. When my mentor sent me this opening, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. But I realised that I care about why people are the way they are, and how that can contribute to creating a product/experience that works for them. The opportunity sounded like a good fit so I applied.
Ana: I’d always liked customising my MySpace theme (now I feel old) and I definitely wanted to work in the digital design space, with apps and websites. But I had no idea where to get started. I’d thought about going back to uni and was looking into which degree I might like to do when I came across the apprenticeship. To be honest, the idea of starting uni again having worked full-time for 5 years wasn’t appealing, but I did think the apprenticeship sounded like something I would enjoy. And now, here I am.
How are you finding having to balance university studies with work?
Ana: I’ve not found it too bad so far but I do anticipate that will change as I gain more responsibility over the next 3 years.
Precious: It’s been going well. Co-op is invested in people’s personal development, apprentice or not, so it makes it easier to dedicate the time to study/learn.
The apprenticeship gives you exposure to a range of disciplines. Are there benefits of being discipline-agnostic at this stage of your training?
Ana: Yes, at this early stage, it is good not to be boxed into one role. I like that we are encouraged to explore a wide range of disciplines because I think there’s a danger that someone quickly writes a role off as not being for them but perhaps they don’t understand it well enough to make a good decision.
Precious: It’s all about making an informed decision and moving around gives you the experience you need to do that. If I’d had to choose a discipline in the early months, I’d have probably chosen content design because I enjoy writing. But a year on I’ve learnt that ‘content design’ in UX is different from the content creation I thought it might be – it’s less creative and based on data and user research. Instead of going into it fully, I prefer to learn about it alongside a different discipline. Overall, getting to explore each of them helps to gain an understanding of what it is, what it’s not and how they all feed into each other.
What have you been most proud of so far?
Precious: This year, I’ve facilitated user testing sessions and co-presented at the Black Young Professionals summit. However, I’m most proud of co-organising a ‘conversational design workshop’. The aim was to help the team understand how to make sign-up forms for Co-operate more engaging for our users. It was exciting to run it and learn about how we can bring conventions from real life conversations into the digital world to make better onboarding journeys.
Ana: I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone a lot this year and I’m proud of that. I did my first user interview, presented back findings and designs to the team, and I did well in my first uni assignment. However, I think the best thing was the first time something I’d designed went live! It was in the News and Mags app and was something small that told colleagues when they needed to return newspapers to a supplier.
How does the work culture compare to what you’ve known before
Ana: I worked in retail for around 7 years and, although I do not miss it, I think it helped me to develop more empathy as well as how I relate to and communicate with others. It’s also helped me to become more resilient. It also taught me what I want and expect from an organisation and its culture. I chose the Co-op in part because its values align closely with my own. So far, it’s been living up to my expectations. I work with people who hold similar values which makes a difference.
One year down, 3 to go. How well do you think you’ve found your feet?
Precious: I was excited to work in a professional role, it was overwhelming at first to try to learn so much at once. We had to familiarise ourselves with the product, UX design, balancing the apprenticeship with study. Also, the world was mid-pandemic so we were all working from home. A year on though, I’m more confident. I know how teams and each discipline work together. I’d like to get a better grasp of the apprenticeship structure to help me get better at managing my time. I know now that learning takes time – it’s best to be patient.
Ana: I was apprehensive before I started. I came in not really knowing anything about UX design, agile ways of working or how a digital product team works together. I was quieter and more reserved when I first started, but over the last couple of months I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of the basics and feel comfortable and confident to contribute to discussions, no matter who is involved. I’m beginning to be able to navigate a wider range of tasks more autonomously.
What are your hopes for your personal development by the end of the fourth year of the apprenticeship?
Ana: I’d like to have tried out and explored a range of design disciplines. Maybe I’ll find something that I want to really focus on or perhaps I’ll want to be more of a generalist. I hope to feel more confident and comfortable in my presentation and public speaking skills. More generally speaking, I would like to feel like I’m ready to take on the role of designer in a team. Finally, doing well in my degree would round things off nicely!
Precious: Like Ana, I want to have explored multiple disciplines and grasp a better understanding of what they entail so I can start to have an idea of what I’d like to specialise in. I’d also expect to have a clearer view of what I want my career to look like in this industry.
What should colleagues you work with in the future know about you?
Ana: I’m one of those people who is quiet when I start something new but once I feel more comfortable, I can be chatty and more forthcoming with ideas. I am finding it’s taking me a little bit longer to come out of my shell in a remote setting though, so bear with me!
Precious: I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Also, I’m not a very good talker, I prefer to listen and observe.
Choose one person who has been super influential since last September and tell us why.
Ana: There have been a number of people but my number one would be my line manager Elisa Pasceri. She’s been my biggest advocate and cheerleader over this time, giving me the opportunities to push outside of my comfort zone whilst also making sure I don’t feel like I’m drowning either.
Precious: I’ve had 2 managers at different points this year and they’ve both been positive influences in my work/study life. Catherine helped to build my communication skills and Matt has contributed highly to my personal development.
1. How can teams test with real users if they can’t afford to pay for participant recruitment?
If you’re tight on budget or have a business challenge on procurement, a good alternative is to find user research participants with access needs through related charities. (We’d still suggest making a contribution to the charity and reward the participants for their time, of course).
Charities want to raise awareness and improve the lives of those they serve, and we’ve found that teams tend to get more than they expect in return – often not just feedback on their prototype or live site. We started doing usability research with visually impaired people through the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – they helped us to identify issues on our website whilst also raising awareness of accessibility internally with colleagues. This turned out to be the catalyst for making accessibility a priority at Co-op.
you’re using the passive rather than the active voice
there’s a plainer English alternative to a word you’ve used
There’s also Grammarly which is also free. However, we never rely on these tools. Another content designer or member of your team should always crit the content you create but the best way to test content accessibility is to put your content in front of users – preferably with a range of literacy levels.
4. Do you have any tips for managing an accessibility champions community in a large company?
If you don’t already have a loosely-organised group of experts, get started by bringing together a group of people who are passionate about accessibility – being interested and being aware of the importance of inclusivity is the main thing at the beginning. Start small.
At Co-op, our core team meet at least once a month. We set objectives that align to our accessibility policy and overarching vision: to make all Co-op products and services accessible for everyone.
We’ve made some noise to raise awareness – we’ve held events, we’ve written blog posts, we created our accessibility policy – all of this stuff helps colleagues to embed accessibility into the culture of the organisation.
As time goes on, you’ll notice that the group will naturally evolve and infiltrate the rest of an organisation. We also meet quarterly and often invite external speakers to join us to share their knowledge and experience.
5. When it comes to running experiments, how have you been able to balance the accessibility policy needs with creating a prototype to test a hypotheses at speed?
We test for accessibility at various stages throughout the design process. When we test prototypes at the beginning, we can still test with people with access needs. I tend to test with users who use screen magnification as it is purely reliant on the design and the user interface rather than code. However, even when we have tested with people who use assistive technology such as voice activation, we still learn more about how they navigate as well as specific components they usually have issues with.
When we conduct usability studies, we ask for 2 in 5 people to have an accessibility need such as learning difficulties or colour blindness. This also helps to ensure we are in line with our accessibility policy (for example, readability), but means we can still work at speed.
The coding part of accessibility is tested when we have something in production. This allows us to test even further, doing our own automated, manual testing, whilst also using the resources of assisted tech users at Fable.
Having an accessible design system also helps ensure we are adhering to our accessibility policy; and with Fable having a 2-day turnaround has really helped us work at speed without any delays on the project.
6. How is Co-op championing the accessibility guidelines laid out in the design system so that everyone from colleagues to third parties use them?
It will take time before they are fully adopted both internally by colleagues and externally with people we work with. That said, we are asking all third parties we work with to follow our accessibility standards. The standards are one part of a set of measures we have created to begin changing the culture. We are also:
making sure all our communities of practice have diversity and inclusion objectives which involve accessibility
creating our ‘Experience Library’ which will have lots of tools and guidance for accessibility
All of this means shifting the mindset of the organisation to one where accessibility is always part of the conversation.
7. How are you prioritising which accessibility issue that need fixing?
We prioritise based on the biggest disruption to a user trying to use a service. We look at quantative and qualitative research to find out if an accessibility issue might stop someone carrying out the task they came to us to complete. Anything that prevented them continuing would be the first priority, and areas that caused confusion would come later – of course, we aim to address them all.
We haven’t, no. It’s the first version of these simplified standards that we have done so we’d like to test them to see how they work and improve them. Since the talks last month, we’ve heard from a few people who are also trying to simplify these guidelines so perhaps we will try to approach WAI together.
9. Can you share the Accessibility Testing framework that was shown during the talks?
10. Does Google Analytics offer an option to track user data of assistive technologies? If not, is there an appropriate a hack? For example, a large text setting or turning images off.
GA doesn’t, and – to my knowledge – there’s no tracking software that does this as there could be too many potential issues arise. You could maybe target click events on hidden “skip-to-content” links to give some idea of usage, but sadly this isn’t an exact science.
We want as many people as possible to be able to use Co-op products and services. Aside from it being good business sense, we know that being inclusive with our design is the right thing to do.
We’ve posted before that we are committed to further improving inclusivity. However, we haven’t explicitly spoken about the importance of content design in making services accessible. At Co-op, we design content to open up our services so that as many people as possible can:
Often, when we think of accessibility, there’s a tendency to think about colour contrast, screen readers and typefaces. All of them are important, but no more so than clear and well-considered content design.
1. We use words people understand
We design content so that as many people as possible can understand what we’re saying. So we write using plain English – everyday, familiar words without unnecessary jargon.
We research words that our users use and reflect these in our products and services – these might not be the words we use at Co-op, or the way we want people to refer to things officially. But doing this makes what we’re saying more understandable, relatable and increases trust between us and our users.
If we use unfamiliar or complex terms, it can:
add additional mental effort
leave room for doubt
mean the difference between people using our services and not
We use objective and neutral language that does not make assumptions about our audience, their circumstances or what they might be going through. We design so that no one is alienated, and in doing so, open up our services so they can be used by more people.
2. We do not use words if something else works better
Content design means giving information to people in a way that’s most effective. This may not always be words. Some things can be more meaningful and quicker for people to understand in a different format – for example, a video illustrating how to change a till roll, or a calculator to give tailored financial information.
We do research to understand users’ mental models – how the user believes or understands things to work. This helps us work out the easiest way for them to consume information. We hide complexity where we can to make content and interactions relevant to our users.
By being deliberate about the format of our content we:
make things quicker for people to use
remove ambiguity and doubt
3. We remove things that are unnecessary
People often come to services to find information, buy something, or report something. They want to do the thing and then leave quickly. If there’s information on a page that’s not relevant to them it can become overwhelming and confusing. So we edit ruthlessly. We give only the essential information people need to achieve their goal.
Although we write in a familiar and friendly way, we are not overfamiliar. As well as replacing any jargon with plain English (or at least plain English definitions), we remove any figures of speech that could be confusing, misinterpreted or meaningless to people.
We use playful content, in the appropriate context, but not at the expense of usability. If something could be misinterpreted, misunderstood or incomprehensible to people, we get rid of it.
4. We structure content to reflect how people read
We know that lots of unformatted content can be hard to follow and understand. So we:
use short sentences
make only one point per sentence
use descriptive sub-headings to break up walls of text
front-load sentences and bullet points (put the most useful words near the start)
put the most important content at the start, for example, what we’re talking about, who it’s for, how it can benefit them
We structure content to reflect how we know people read online – they scan, looking for words, phrases or links that will help them decide if they’re in the right place to achieve what they came to do. By focusing relentlessly on what the user needs to know, and structuring content in a more manageable way, we reduce the amount of shortcuts users take, and help them get to where they need to be, quickly. People often compare tasks across multiple websites, using minimum effort on each (from NN Group). By reducing the effort needed to navigate our site and services, we make it more likely they’ll choose – and stay with – us.
5. We research when to communicate, and through which channel
We research the full end-to-end service with users to understand where they are when they need to understand information. We then choose the most appropriate time and channel to give that information – this could be a poster in store, a message on Co-op packaging, or a text message reminder for an appointment.
By surfacing content at the relevant time and place, we create services that reduce friction and effort for people.
Making services accessible makes them easier for everyone
Designing accessible services means:
focusing persistently on the experience of our users
meeting their needs
This is content design.
Everything we do as content designers is to increase understanding, usability and reduce the effort required of the user. By being respectful and thoughtful of our users’ circumstances, we create services that are easier to use for all. We remove barriers and open up Co-op services to more people.