Field research: designing pre-paid plans with Funeralcare

This week, the design team held a show and tell to discuss 2 questions:

  1. What is design?
  2. Why should you care?

If you couldn’t make it, we’re writing up some of the examples from different areas of design that we talked about and we’re posting them on the blog this week. They’re aimed at Co-op colleagues whose expertise are in something other than a digital discipline.

Today we’re looking at how we used field research when we were designing a digital form with Funeralcare colleagues who arrange pre-paid funeral plans in our branches. (You can also make a pre-paid funeral plan online).

Buying a pre-paid funeral plan: how the paper forms process works

Here’s how the process tends to work:

  • a client rings a local branch to make an appointment
  • the client goes into a branch
  • a colleague and the client fill out a lengthy paper form together
  • the client pays at least a deposit to their local branch
  • 3 copies of the paper form are made – one for the client, one is kept in branch and the other is sent by post to head office which often takes 7 days
  • a colleague at head office manually copies the information from the paper form into a customer relationship management system
  • the form is dug out on the request of the client’s family after their loved one has died

The process is expensive, time-consuming and as with all human processes, there is room for error.

What we wanted to achieve

We wanted to create a more efficient, easy-to-use service. We wanted to connect the computer systems that are already being used in Co-op Funeralcare branches and integrate them directly with the customer relationship management system colleagues use in head office.

Where to start?

What we knew was limited. We had an idea what the start of the process was for clients and colleagues because we knew what the paper form looked like. We also had sales data from the very end of the process. But in order to improve efficiency and ease of use, we needed to know a lot more about how things are working in between these 2 points.

For both colleagues and clients we wanted to get a clearer picture of:

  • what a plan-making appointment was like (both practically and emotionally)
  • the paper form filling process
  • whether there were frustrations with the process and where they were

We arranged some site visits for our ‘field research’.

Learning from field research

We visited Co-op Funeralcare branches.

Green image with white copy that says: The approach. Get out of the office to learn and test

Why? Because when people feel at ease they’re more likely to open up and speak honestly. For this reason we spoke to our funeral arranger colleagues in a context they’re familiar with – in the rooms where they regularly create plans with clients. Talking to them here helped them relax, and because they weren’t in a place where their seniors might overhear, they were less guarded than they might be if we brought them into head office.

Seeing mistakes happen, figuring out why they happen

Talking to them was good but seeing colleagues fill out the paper plans was invaluable because we could observe:

  • the order they approached the questions
  • whether they made mistakes and where
  • if and where they used any common work-arounds where the form didn’t meet their needs

All of this helps us see where we can improve the design.

Feeding observations into the design

When we were talking through the paper forms with arrangers, they told us they often found there wasn’t enough space to capture a client’s personal requests. Because they’d come up with a reasonable work-around, it might not have been something they would have mentioned to us if we hadn’t been there, in their office, looking at the forms together. Being there helped us make sure we didn’t miss this. They showed us examples of when they had worked around a lack of space by attaching an extra sheet to the paper form they were submitting.

In the example below the client has requested to be dressed in ‘Everton blue gown with frill’ and they’ve been very particular about the music before, during and after the service.

Every funeral is different – just like every life they commemorate and the paper form didn’t accommodate for the level of detail needed. The work-around they’d come up with wasn’t hugely painful but good design is making processes pain free. We fed our observations back to the digital team and designed a form that allowed for individuality. It has bigger open text boxes to record more detail as well as including drop downs and free text boxes for music on the day.

Paper versus digital forms

The benefits of moving across to digital forms include:

  1. Having easier access to more data, for example, numbers on couples buying together and numbers on people buying for someone else. This is useful because we can direct our efforts into improving the experience where the most people need it. 
  2. Saving time for colleagues who manually copy paper plans to the head office system. Digital plans are sent directly to system and are instantly visible to colleagues in head office.
  3. Reducing the number of errors in paper plans. Common mistakes include allowing people over 80 to spread their payment over instalments and the client’s choice of cremation or burial not being recorded. The design of the digital form doesn’t allow arrangers to progress if there are mistakes like these.
  4. A significant yearly saving on stamps used to send paper forms from a branch to head office.

Field research helped get us to this point

We’re now testing the new digital forms in 15 branches. We’ll be rolling them out to more and more branches over time but we’re starting small so we can iron out any cracks.

So far, the feedback from colleagues is positive. But without observing colleagues in context, there’s a certain amount of assumption about the way they work on our part. Field research contributes to the fact the pre-paid funeral plan service is design-led.

If everyone shares an understanding of the benefits of being design-led, it’ll be easier for experts from around the business to work together to deliver value to Co-op customers, colleagues and the Co-op as a business. If you didn’t make the show and tell but would like to find out more, email Katherine Wastell, Head of Design.

Gillian MacDonald
User researcher

Using ‘sacrificial concepts’ to explore the direction of a product

Yesterday, the design team held a show and tell to discuss 2 questions:

  1. What is design?
  2. Why should you care?

Everyone was welcome but if you couldn’t make it, we’re writing up some of the examples from different areas of design that we talked about. We’ll post them on the blog this week. They’ll be aimed at Co-op colleagues whose expertise are in something other than a digital discipline.

First up: product exploration in the digital offers team.

Exploring the desirability, feasibility and viability of digital offers for members

In September last year we posted an update about our work around digital offers. In summary, we want to create personalised, paper-free offers for Co-op members. We think it will save money for them and create value for the Co-op.

Start somewhere: the format we tried first

We allowed a trial group of 6000 members to choose and use digital offers. Every Monday for 6 weeks, each of these members received 8 personalised offers based on their transaction history. Using our website or app, they could choose to add 2 of those 8 offers to their membership card so that when they swiped their membership card at the till, the offers were applied to their shopping.

At this point, we’d established that giving members digital offers in this way was technically possible which was great news. However, we didn’t know whether giving members a choice of 2 offers from 8, once a week, on a Monday was best for them and/ or good for the business. Would choosing 1 offer from 4 be better for them? For us? How about new offers every 2 weeks? How could we give members an enjoyable experience that would keep members using offers?

Ultimately, we wanted to increase their visits to Co-op food stores and nudge them to consider products that they might normally purchase from another retailer.

Our next piece of work was to find out how we might do this.

Exploring potential product directions through ‘sacrificial concepts’

We looked at the different ways we could give members personalised offers that could cultivate continued, enjoyable use.

‘Sacrificial concepts’, a method developed by design company IDEO, helped us gain insight into customers’ beliefs and behaviour. Here’s an example of a handful of sacrificial concepts that we put in front of a small group of members we visited in their own homes.

slide shows a range of sketches or what we refer to as 'sacrificial concepts'

They’re sketches of ideas.

They’re not presented in the context of a computer or device screen as we might do with designs that already have a substantial amount of research behind them. They’re just ideas, they’re abstract and open to interpretation because we put them in front of potential users to provoke conversation.

The sketches above helped us elicit honest feedback about offers, shopping and their interactions with the Co-op.

Cheap and quick feedback through sacrificial concepts

We wanted to quickly and cheaply test a few ideas with potential users.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 15.39.43

Existing research suggests uncertainty and mystery motivates people. Would revealing an offer affect a member’s perception of it?

The feedback we heard gave us confidence that there was something appealing about this mechanic: it seemed to peak people’s curiosity. They found it exciting.

We know that people are influenced by social groups and communities. How would voting and social participation affect their interaction with the product?

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 15.40.02

The feedback we heard here was that this idea simply didn’t fit with how members plan their shopping. They didn’t plan their meals far enough ahead to know what they would want a week later.

We were also wanted to find out whether the way we presented the information about how much money members saved by using offers might affect their enjoyment. We explored whether there were any opportunities in terms of how we could show members the value of their offers.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 15.40.13

The feedback we heard from some people was that they were more interested in savings in the context of their bank, not a specific retailer. But it was interesting to see how members reacted to us reframing the amount saved, so we learnt that there may be potential in this idea but it shouldn’t be the first thing we build.

What the sacrificial concepts told us

We took everything from the concept cards that we felt had potential and incorporated them into a prototype to put in front of members. This time, our designs had the research from the sacrificial concepts behind them but at this point, nothing was built in code. We used the prototype to get more feedback so we can iterate and improve for our members.

We’ve now identified 3 potential features for Co-op members digital offers. We’ll test them with larger volumes of users in May this year and we’ll listen to their feedback and make small improvements regularly.

The benefits of this technique

We started off with a lot of ideas and directions and through talking to potential users we’ve be able to quickly and cheaply ‘sacrifice’ the concepts that our research identified as having little potential. We’re left with the things we have a good idea will meet the needs of our members or at the very least are appealing to them.

If everyone shares an understanding of the benefits of being design-led, it’ll be easier for experts from around the business to work together to deliver value to Co-op customers, colleagues and the Co-op as a business. If you didn’t make the show and tell but would like to find out more, email Katherine Wastell, Head of Design.

Louise Nicholas, lead product designer
Joel Godfrey, product manager

What is design, and why should you care?

Today the Co-op Digital design team held a 90-minute show and tell to address 2 questions:

  1. What is design?
  2. Why should you care?

3 posters. each one is red and has white and green copy that says: what is design and why should you care?

Like all show and tells, this one was open to everyone. We wanted to give Co-op colleagues whose expertise are outside digital disciplines the opportunity to find out how the design process works. If everyone shares an understanding of the benefits of being design-led, it’ll be easier for experts from around the business to work together to deliver value to Co-op customers, colleagues and the Co-op as a business.

orange card with black copy that says: we're in this together. making good products is everyone's responsibility

We need people from all areas of expertise to work together if we want to make successful products and services.

In the show and tell we talked about:

  • why design-led companies perform better
  • what service design is and how it aligns user needs with business goals
  • how the design process begins with research, before testing and iterating and testing again
  • the importance of designing products that meet people’s behaviour, and grow according to market and behavioural shifts
  • why we need to focus on the outcome of design, not the way things look
  • the difference between functional design and playful visual design and when to use each one

Showing examples of design

We also used the session to pull out examples of design at Co-op Digital from the past year. User researchers, content and interaction designers talked about:

  • product exploration in Co-op digital offers
  • content design and pair writing when designing How do I
  • field research for Co-op Guardian
  • service mapping in Co-op car insurance
  • proposition testing and design sprints in Co-op Food e-commerce
  • one Co-op online and the design system

We’ll post about some of these examples later this week.

Co-design is everyone’s responsibility

We need people from all areas of expertise to work together if we want to make successful products and services.

Thank you to everyone who came along. We appreciate your time. If you didn’t make it today but would like to find out more, email me.

Katherine Wastell
Head of Design

How we turn research into actionable insights

One of the main challenges for us as researchers is making our findings more actionable for the rest of the team, particularly during the discovery phases when we’re conducting exploratory research.

At least initially, early stage research can bring more ambiguity than clarity, throw up more questions than answers and we often end up with challenges and problems that are too broad to solve.

As researchers, it’s our responsibility to use research methods that will facilitate good design and product decisions. It’s not enough to just do the research, we need to help translate what we’ve learnt for the rest of the team so that it’s useful.  

How we did it

We’re working on a commercial service. Our team’s remit was to find out what would make our service different because, in theory, if we can solve unmet customer needs, we can compete in a saturated market. A successful product or service is one that is viable, feasible and desirable.

This post covers 3 techniques we’ve recently tried. Each one helped us reduce ambiguity, achieve a clearer product direction and get a better understanding of our users, their behaviours and motivations.

1.Learning from extremes

When we’re testing for usability or we’re seeing how well a functional journey works, we usually show users a single, high fidelity prototype. However, earlier on in the design process, we put very different ideas in front of users so we can elicit a stronger reaction from them. If we only showed one idea at that point, their reaction is likely to be lukewarm. It’s when we elicit joy, hatred, confusion for example that we learn a lot more about what they need from a product.

In this instance, we wanted to uncover insight that would help us define what might make a more compelling product.

We identified the following problem areas:

  1. Time – people don’t have much of it.
  2. Choice – there is so much.
  3. Inspiration – people struggle with it.

Instead of prototyping something that would attempt to improve all 3 of these problem areas as we would do when testing usability, we mocked up 3 very different prototypes – each one addressed just one of the problems.

The extreme prototypes helped users better articulate what meets their needs and what might work in different contexts. It wasn’t a case of figuring out which version was ‘best’. We used this technique to test each idea so we could find out which elements work and therefore include them in the next iteration. It also started informing the features that the experience would be comprised of.

Overall though, it helped us reach a clear product direction which gave us a steer in our next stage of research.

2.Doing a diary study

A diary study is a great way to understand motivations and uncover patterns of behaviour over a period of time. We recently invited a bunch of urban shoppers to keep a diary of how they were deciding what to eat at home.

We asked them to use Whatsapp, partly because it was something they already used regularly but also because its quick, instant messages reflect the relatively quick amount of time it takes for someone to make a decision about what to eat. The decision is not like choosing which house to buy where you might think about and record decisions carefully in spreadsheets, so it would be difficult for people to reflect on their ‘what to eat’ decisions retrospectively in interviews. Whatsapp was a way to get closer to how choices are made so we could better understand the context, behaviour and decision itself.

The engagement was much higher than we expected. We captured lots of rich data including diary entries in text, video and photo format. We didn’t ask for or expect the visuals but they were very useful in bringing the contexts to life for our stakeholders.

When we looked for patterns in the data, we found that nobody behaved in the same way every day, or over time. However, we were able to identify ways people make choices. We called them ‘decision making modes’. We looked at the context in which people made decisions and the behaviour we’ve observed. Each mode highlighted different pain points, for example, they may have leftovers to use up. This enables us to prioritise certain modes over others, get alignment as a team on who we’re solving problems for, and think about features to help address some of the pain points for users.

3.Using sacrificial concepts

‘Sacrificial concepts’, a method developed by design company IDEO, allow us to gain insight into users’ beliefs and behaviour. We start with reframing our research insights as ‘How might we…?’ questions that help us find opportunities for the next stage of the design process.

For example, we found that buying groceries online feels like a big effort and a chore for shoppers because of the number of decisions involved. So we asked: “How might we reduce the number of decisions that people need to make when they shop online?”

We did this as a team and we then create low fidelity sketches or ‘concepts’ that we’re willing to sacrifice that we can put in front of users.

Just like when we test extremes, the purpose of testing those ideas wasn’t to find a ‘winning version’ – it was to provoke conversation and have a less rigid interview.

Sacrificial concepts are a fast and cheap way to test ideas. No-one is too invested in them and they allow us to get users’ reaction to the gist of the idea as opposed to the interface. They give us a clearer direction on how to address a problem that users are facing and they are a good way to make research findings more usable in the design process.

What’s worked for you?

Those are the 3 main ways we’ve approached research in the early phase of one particular commercial Co-op service. We’d like to hear how other researcher and digital teams do it and their experiences with the techniques we’ve talked about.

Eva Petrova
Principal user researcher

Why teams need to think about content design from the discovery phase

Content is the main thing people will interact with in your service. The right content, in the right place, at the right time, will mean your service is likely to work well for your users.

Too often, content is an afterthought when teams are developing a new digital product or service – something to drop in when the design and flow of a service are ready.

This is a mistake.

Digital teams need to think about content from the very beginning. Here’s why.

1.Understanding your audience’s language will help you understand the problem

Before you even know what you’re going to create, you need to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. In digital teams we often call this phase ‘discovery’.

A vital element of discovery is understanding how people talk and think about their problems and frustrations, where they’re already going for help, and what they actually need.

You can start finding this out early without having to organise detailed user research interviews – internet forums, social media and tools like analytics and Google Trends can be a goldmine of content for uncovering your audience’s natural vocabulary. You can also find out what other channels people are using to solve their problems (remembering that they might not always be digital), and where they expect to find the information they need – all this will help you later when you need to make decisions about when you should create content, who it should be for and what channels you should use. It’ll also give you a focus for in-depth user research.

2.Using your audience’s natural language builds understanding and trust

Understanding your audience’s vocabulary in discovery will mean you can prototype more confidently when you move into the next phase (often called ‘alpha’).

Even early prototypes need considered, researched content. A developer or designer might be able to drop content into a prototype that feels OK and follows the Co-op tone of voice, but research with these prototypes will only show you how the design works, not the content. By finding out about your audience’s natural vocabulary as early as possible, your team will avoid making assumptions about language that you need to revisit later.

People are more likely to understand and trust content when it mirrors the language they naturally use and recognise. This often means your product might not use ‘proper’ names for something.

When we built How do I, a service that helps colleagues find out how to do things in food stores, we discovered they consistently referred to Co-op’s national facilities operations centre simply as ‘facilities’. So we called it ‘facilities’ in the service. That’s not the official title of the department but it’s what our colleagues instantly recognise and understand. The old content also expected colleagues to be familiar with the term ‘hotworks’, but we found that ‘welding and soldering’ was much more easily understood.

3.Name your service so that users know what they can use it for

It’s very tempting to come up with a clever and catchy name for a service. However, based on what we know about how people read and understand the world, it’s rarely a good idea to give your product a name that doesn’t give people any idea about what it does or what it’s for.

The best names for services and products are descriptive, action-focused and leave the user in no doubt about what they will accomplish. For example, ‘Start your will online’ is absolutely clear about what the user can do with the service. ‘CITRUS’ (now defunct), on the other hand, could literally be anything.

4.Structure content to reflect how your users understand things working

People’s language also tells us a great deal about how they see and understand things working. The discipline of content design uses that information to understand the best way to communicate with the user – not just in the words used on a screen, but in the way the whole flow through a product is structured and presented.

When we were creating How do I, there was an assumption that we’d organise content according to the names of departments in our retail support centre. It didn’t take many interviews with colleagues to find out very few people knew these names or understood what they meant. Using department names to organise content wouldn’t have been helpful to our store colleagues, because they are often not (and shouldn’t have to be) concerned about the intricacies of our internal structures.

To find a more appropriate, user-centred way of organising the content (often called ‘information architecture’), the content designers ran card sorting exercises to find out how store colleagues naturally grouped different tasks. Unsurprisingly, the results didn’t reflect our organisational structures, but were consistent with how they understood things working. For example, previously procedures for asking a customer for ID or dealing with lost property had been grouped under a department named ‘Safe and secure’. Now they sat in categories that made sense to colleagues, and we could make the website easier to use and navigate from the earliest stage of development, directly contributing to its commercial success.

Exercises like card sorting can be powerful methods to help you organise content into a structure that stands the test of time – organisational structures and department names might change (as Safe and secure did a few months later), but mental models are less likely to.

5.Design content that works for the way people behave online

Writing for digital services is different to writing for print. Online, people don’t read – they scavenge, jumping around a page, ready to zone in on the words or terms they’re looking for. This means it’s really important to structure content and use words in a way that takes this behaviour into account – from plain language and short sentences, through to easily-navigable pages with clear and descriptive sub-headers for different sections.

Our content designer Matt Edwards transformed the way this content about colleague purchasing is presented. He changed it from this: 

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 15.30.14

To this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 15.35.23

Even in the absence of research about how people are using content in your service, a content designer can create content that’s optimised for the web. This means in your early testing and research, your content might not be quite right yet, but you won’t waste time on iterating it to reflect the way people read.

So what?

By considering all this up front, you won’t just end up with better content. Your design process will be quicker, beginning with a better understanding of the problem. If you’re going to jump to putting content into prototypes without thinking about the language people use or how they interact with content online, you may as well use Lorem Ipsum – either way you’d need to replace it with the real thing eventually, which could potentially mean undoing earlier decisions. So it’s much better to approach the content properly first and start learning faster.

Your team will also be able to talk more clearly and confidently about the service you’re creating, and it’ll have a name that makes sense to everyone.

The Content community can help

If you don’t have a content designer on your team and need help working through some of these issues, contact the Content community of practice. We’re a digital-led community of content designers, strategists and creators, who set the standards for clear, inclusive and user-focused content across Co-op. We’re always happy to help teams solve their content problems.

Hannah Horton
Principal content designer

We’re hiring a content designer to join our team. If you can take a user needs approach to content and have experience of making complex things easy to understand, we’d love to hear from you. See the job description.

Explaining the tech behind the new ‘one Co-op’ site

We talked about our work to bring each Co-op business area under the coop.co.uk url in our post One Co-op, one website. In it we explained why we’re doing this and our progress so far. To recap: in the past, having completely different websites for Co-op Food, Insurance, Funeralcare, Electricals, Ventures and Legal has worked ok for the business. However as the Co-op changes we’re finding this inefficient as well as expensive, and the online experience for customers and members is visually inconsistent.

The thinking behind our work isn’t revolutionary but the cultural shift is.

This post explains the technical reasons why moving to a single url will help save time, energy and money. Plus it describes how we’re doing it.

Slow to build, expensive to run

Before we could start designing the pages people see and the content people read when they visit a Co-op website, we knew we needed to build a sturdy infrastructure.

We looked at what we already had in place and found that our many individual sites were:

1.Slow to build

When building websites, it’s standard practice to create different ‘environments’ for the team to test new content and new features on before making the website available to the public. Most teams will use 4 of them (development, testing, staging and production) and each one of these takes time to build. As it was, we had 5 sites, all with 4 environments. This meant that not only was our infrastructure slow to build, it was also expensive in terms of colleagues’ time.

2.Expensive to run

Aside from the environments, the costs include hosting (where each website lives on the web), and subcontracting third parties to maintain the sites (writing copy, adding it to the site, updating it as well as looking after site security). In most instances, Co-op colleagues didn’t have access or permission to make changes themselves.

We needed to find something more sustainable – something cheaper, quicker and easier to update.

The solution: what we’ve done

When we’ve been explaining what we’ve done to non-technical people at our show and tells, we’ve borrowed an analogy from Docker – industry leaders in this kind of work. I’ll paraphrase.

Let’s think about the most sustainable infrastructure we could build for the content across our businesses to ‘live’ in.

At the moment, many websites from across the Co-op business exist on their own – so let’s say the content on them lives in ‘houses’. Houses are self-contained. They have their own infrastructure, for example, plumbing, heating, electricity and security. A lot of time and cost is involved in building and setting up all of those things.

Apartments, however, are built around shared infrastructure. The plumbing, heating and electricity is shared and there’s a communal door to keep the inhabitants safe and secure. Sharing these things means that building websites is quicker and that running them is cheaper.

We’re trying to bring the content from across the business to the same place – so instead of leaving it and trying to maintain it all in self-contained websites (houses), we’re beginning to house it together in ‘containers’ (flats) under one roof in a ‘cluster’ (an apartment building).

containers-jpeg

You can see the full blog post ‘Containers are not VMs’.

Benefits we’re seeing right now

Moving everything to the single coop.co.uk url is a work in progress. However, we’re already starting to see benefits. Since we started using containers, it’s taken just 50 minutes to create the environments we need to test and deploy to – this used to take up to 4 weeks.

We’re also saving 57% on platform costs a year. As it was, we were paying Amazon to host 5 sites, all with 4 environments. As we move everything across to our own single platform we estimate the saving will reach 70% on what we were paying out.

Benefits we expect to see shortly

There’ll be more benefits to come too. For example:

  • our costs will reduce dramatically when Co-op colleagues can design, write content, publish and maintain our sites ourselves rather than paying third parties to do it for us
  • our costs will decrease when we can host our sites ourselves and look after security internally
  • our engineers will be able to make changes or ‘deploy’ more quickly
  • we’ll be able to build in and manage security and resilience from the start for all new sites
  • we’ll save time when we fix things or add new features because we’ll make one change rather than the same change in 20 different places because our new site will use the same architecture

How we got here

This piece of work is truly transformative in the way that it will, and already is, improving things for any Co-op colleague who has involvement with a Co-op website; the Co-op as a business as well as Co-op customers and members who’ll benefit from a much more joined up online experience.

We’ve come a long way. There’s still a long way to go. We’ll keep you updated on the blog.

Graham Thompson
Principal engineer