Communicating effectively through storytelling

Steve Rawling is a storytelling expert. He believes that the way we tell our stories to the people who need to hear them leads to success in the workplace. “It’s no good having a brilliant idea if you can’t get anyone to listen,” Steve says.   

We’ve found this to be true at Co-op Digital. It’s part of the reason we blog, hold regular show and tells and tirelessly send out weeknotes. We keep in mind that our stakeholders and the rest of the Co-op Group are not digital experts – their specialist knowledge is in other disciplines. Telling our story helps those people understand our work, and telling it well, with their needs in mind, can heavily influence how receptive they are to our ideas.

To help us develop our storytelling skills further, we invited Steve in to Federation for a series of training sessions. In this post, a handful of Co-op Digital colleagues reflect on what they learnt and how they’re gonna change their approach in the future.

Story arcs and stakeholders

I had a presentation a few days after Steve’s first session with us. We’d been doing some exploratory visual design work and we were preparing to talk to stakeholders about what we’d done. I structured what I wanted to say around a ‘story arc’ – a kind of formula that helps the narrator order all the parts of the story they want to tell in a compelling way.

photo of gail's notebook full of notes on story arcs

The ‘recovery arc’ was the most fitting because I needed to communicate that:  

  • we were in a comfortable state but we’d known things needed to change – we needed to push our design work from functional to more playful in our customer facing products and services to make a customers experience of Co-op more enjoyable
  • we started the exploratory visual design work we needed to bring about change
  • we were overwhelmed by ideas and input and although this was brilliant it felt chaotic
  • after lots of exploration, we chose to focus on a few ideas and our direction became clearer
  • we’ve now reached something new, something we’re proud of that we believe will be better than what we had before – we’ve recovered!

In my experience, the design process mirrors a recovery arc in most cases: it can be messy and confusing at times. Although the meeting with stakeholders didn’t quite follow the structure I’d noted down, it definitely helped me talk about things at appropriate points along the way.

Steve also talked about the importance of considering where someone else is in their story arc. For example, being aware that they’re at the chaotic or ‘crisis’ point of their story is useful because it may help you speak to them sensitively. Mapping where I think I am on a stakeholder’s story arc, will be really useful for thinking about how to approach things in the future.

Gail Mellows, Lead visual designer

Showing not saying through storytelling

Storytelling is a big part of my job as a user researcher: I need to communicate what I’ve seen and heard from our users back to the rest of the team in an accurate and unbiased way. The way I tell the story of “what I observed when I spent a day at Co-op Funeralcare in Glasgow” is fundamental to how the team reacts to, and prioritises, what we work on next.

This point from Steve will stick with me:

Saying you’re humble doesn’t work as well as telling a story which demonstrates this.

This translates nicely to how researchers present their findings to the rest of their digital team, plus the wider team who may not be as familiar with user research. Saying I spoke to 5 people at Co-op Funeralcare in Glasgow about a feature update isn’t as compelling or engaging as *showing* the team photographs of the people I interviewed over a cuppa in their staff kitchen; or pictures of the office they work in where paper files stack up next to dated technology. Giving and actually showing the context is a huge part of what makes a story trustworthy.

Steve’s point can be extended to telling the team when users are finding it difficult to use something we’ve designed. It’s more engaging to find a way to *show* the struggle – it helps people empathise.

Recently, several Funeralcare colleagues were struggling with the size of a small screen so I held up the same size screen in a meeting with stakeholders and asked them to read from it. They couldn’t. As a result, those screens are being replaced.

Tom Walker, Lead user researcher

Plots twist and turn – talk about failures

Steve asked us to think about well-known film plots and showed us how the pivotal points in them could be mapped out. He pointed out that we can choose to tell the story of our product and service innovation in a similar way because our ups and downs can follow a very similar ‘journey arc’.

photograph of steve in front of white board with the journey arc described below.

With digital product development there’s usually a constraint followed by early success before a setback of some sort. The minor setback often gets worse and we find ourselves in ‘crisis’, before making a discovery as we try to fix things and end up in a better place. Both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter follow this sort of journey arc. The reason the audience feel so pleased and relieved with the respective endings is because they vicariously lived the challenges faced by the characters they identified with.

photograph of steve's harry potter plot mapped against a story arc

Lots of companies have a very polished way of talking about their work. They broadcast how they’re getting better and better and more shiny and they never talk about their mistakes and what they’ve learnt from them. Steve’s sessions highlighted that there’s nothing likeable about a narrative like that – audiences can’t trust it, it’s just not relatable.

Now more than ever I’ll carefully consider how I speak internally about products, or how I playback our progress. I’m really aware of the importance of the ‘how we got here’ parts of the story. Letting people see a complete picture of the challenges we’ve come up against, struggled with, and overcome makes for a more honest story, and showing our vulnerability through our failures is (hopefully) more endearing.

Lucy Tallon, Principal designer

Stories are everywhere

The thing I took away from Steve was the idea that we are surrounded by stories.

We are the lead actor in our own story. Our stakeholders are the leads in theirs. The people who use our products are part of their own story.

At the point they interact with anything we’ve created, it’s interesting to consider what our users’ mindset might be. Where are they on their current story arc, and how can we try to ensure that our product plays a positive role within it?

Steve’s series of sessions seemed very well-timed in the word we currently live in. We learnt that stories can be powerful and can be used for good, for example, using them to bring people along with us on a journey; to anticipate their needs and goals, and to have greater empathy.

But powerful stories can also be used in negative ways too. That’s something we need to be mindful of when we are using them to achieve our goals.

Matt Tyas, Principal designer

You can read about Steve’s workshops on his website.

Developing visual design across Co-op products and services

The Co-op Digital Design team has recently started to work on products and services that give us the opportunity to develop our visual design. This post is about why that’s important for Co-op as an organisation, and what we’ve done so far.   

Familiarity across functional and visual design

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 11.05.40

The image shows the difference between functional and visual design. Guardian – our service which helps Co-op Funeralcare colleagues arrange funerals – falls very much under ‘practical need’, whereas the design for our digital offers for members appeals to people’s emotions.

Up until now, the aim of most of our work has been to give time back to colleagues so they can spend more time with customers and less time on admin. How do I, Guardian and Shifts are all examples of our functional, colleague-facing design work.

As we’ve progressed with that, we’ve created components and guidelines and we’ve begun documenting them in our design system. Although it’s still work in progress, teams throughout the Co-op now refer to and use the design system and as a result, we’re creating a much more unified experience when people interact with Co-op services in our different business areas.

However, more recently the Design team’s work has involved designing customer-facing products and services. When it comes to products and services like a convenience food store, customers have a choice about which one to use, and this is why engaging with them on a more emotional level is essential.

We’re now looking to create familiarity in a visual sense too.

‘Good’ visual design is hard to define

Appealing to a customer’s ‘emotional motivations’ means we want our designs to be pleasing to them aesthetically. But figuring out why something is pleasing is hard because ‘good’ is subjective.

Although there isn’t a formula for success, good visual design considers:  

  • imagery – using good quality imagery in the right place, at the right time gives hints, cues and can stimulate interest
  • typography – the number of type sizes and the contrast between them helps readability and reduces visual noise
  • colour – using it well emphasises content and helps create pace and visual interest
  • composition – where each element is placed and the space around it creates rhythm and hierarchies, and using plenty of white space improves readability
  • shape and pattern – can group or emphasise content, or add personality to layouts

Good design depends very much on context too. At the Co-op, with many different business areas to consider, creating familiarity so customers know what to expect is ‘good’ visual design. It makes our designs more accessible on a cognitive level and makes using our products and services enjoyable rather than disconnected and jarring.

Developing our visual design – our progress so far

We started by holding a workshop for Co-op Digital designers.

We stuck some of the visual design for the projects we’re working on up on the wall, plus the ideas put forward by Lucky Generals – the agency Co-op is working with. Seeing similarities and differences between everything in paper form was a starting point to discuss what works and what needs more work.

We sketched out and mocked up ideas related to anything we’d seen up on the wall – at this stage ideas didn’t have to relate to a specific product or service. 

photograph of the sketches from the first workshop with designers across Co-op Digital

Then we dot voted on which concepts we wanted to develop further.

The photo below show our visual exploration up on walls. The ideas are organised chronologically to show our progression.

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Involving stakeholders

At this point we had designs that were working well visually. They were bold and simple without being simplistic. When we had a collection of ideas we felt – after a little more development – had the potential to be rolled out, we invited stakeholders from Co-op Food, Insurance and Brand to come and see them.

We weren’t asking for new ideas, we were asking for feedback on the ones we’d curated. We asked for comments on post its.

photograph of colleagues from food, insurance and brand were asked to comment on the visual design exploration work

Applying new visual design elements to old work and new

Since then, designers across many projects and in many parts of the business have been starting to tweak – and in some cases overhaul – the visual design. Some of the examples below like the Co-op Health page and digital offers are live but others are mock ups.

Coop.co.uk homepage

The image below shows a possible new design of the coop.co.uk homepage. We’ve used cropped ‘squircles’ (square circles ;-p) to highlight and group content. (By Tony Carberry, Michael Chadwick, Gail Mellows, Sam Sheriston, Matt Tyas and Katherine Wastell). 

image shows possible new design of the coop.co.uk home page uses cropped 'squircles to highlight and group content.

Co-operate

The image below shows our visual exploration for the Co-operate platform which includes experimenting with hand drawn marks. (By Katrina Currie and Katherine Wastell).

screen shot of Visual exploration for the Co-operate platform includes experimenting with the use of hand drawn marks

Digital offers for members

The image below shows the new visual design for the offers service that went live 28 May. The service lets members choose and manage selected food offers digitally. Kyle Fyffe, Asher Khan and Louise Nicholas used colour playfully and when a member picks an offer, the interaction is animated.

7_offers

Co-op Health

The image below shows a live page on coop.co.uk which supports the Co-op Health app. The visual design balances functional design (download the app) and visual marketing-based content. Cropped squircles and part of the app badge form the background that content is layered on. (By Tom Adams, Michael Chadwick, Gail Mellows and Joanne Schofield).

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‘It’s what we do’ page

The image below shows a new design for the ‘It’s what we do’ area on coop.co.uk which isn’t live yet. (By Tony Carberry, Michael Chadwick, Gail Mellows, Sam Sheriston, Matt Tyas and Katherine Wastell). 

9_whatwedo

Sustainability page

The image below shows a new design for one of the environment pages on coop.co.uk which isn’t live yet. (By Tony Carberry, Michael Chadwick, Gail Mellows, Sam Sheriston, Matt Tyas and Katherine Wastell). 

10_sustainability

Applying familiar design

We’ve made a really strong start but it’ll take time to understand how the visual design is working for our users in live products and services. Just as we do with our functional design, we’ll iterate and build on our direction. Once we know what works well, we’ll document it in our design system.

Gail Mellows
Lead visual designer

What to do after a death: how we used service mapping to understand our clients

[Arranging a funeral] is the ultimate distress purchase made infrequently by inexpert, emotionally vulnerable clients under time pressure… Clients don’t know what to expect, spend little time thinking about the provider and feel under pressure to sort things quickly.

 Funerals market study by Competition and Markets Authority

Organising a funeral is difficult and complicated.

To get a better understanding of how people do it and where we can make it easier, we were tasked with mapping out the full experience of arranging a funeral using a technique called service mapping.

Service mapping gives you a holistic view of both your product or service and your user. You don’t focus solely on individual interactions, but the whole emotional and practical journey as the user interacts. There are few areas of life that need this type of consideration more than planning a funeral.

Here’s how we did it, and what we learnt works well in the process we followed.

Work with people who know more than you do

many team members listening as theyre talked through the service mapWe had 10 days. The people we involved were subject matter experts from Co-op Funeralcare and IT; marketing experts, plus us – a user researcher, a designer and a content designer from the Digital team. Having people from as many disciplines as possible involved helps to give the map a broader perspective. We spoke to funeral directors, the police, and people who’d recently arranged a funeral. We also analysed live and historical qualitative and quantitative data.

Never lose focus of the subject matter

Understanding funerals requires empathy and we wanted to keep this at the forefront of the map to understand what people were feeling, thinking and doing at each point in the process. This empathy also helped keep us grounded in the real user experience and the heightened emotions that go with arranging a funeral.

Our approach

There are many ways to approach a service map. We started by validating our assumptions. Here are 2:

Assumption 1: A second funeral is easier to arrange.

Not necessarily. Some practical considerations might be less difficult but depending on the relationship with the deceased, the emotional journey could be completely different.

Assumption 2: People shop around for a funeral director.

The common misconception is that people search for a funeral director online. But often, people already know which funeral director they’ll use based on recommendations or choose one simply because it is local to them.

Choose a user journey and follow it through to the end

photograph of team standing in front of a white board of post it notes and sheets of paper on the floor listening to tom speakingWe had to agree on the most likely client journey, otherwise we’d work on hundreds of maps with different viewpoints of ‘arranging clients’. The map should always evolve as you work. It moves and shifts and changes as you learn more. Thoughts and ideas change as you go through the client’s journey with them.

Pretty soon we had a massive map on the wall charting a typical journey from the beginning of the process to the end. What is the client feeling when they make the first call to tell us that someone has died? How do they feel when they meet the funeral director? Do they know how to register a death? And how do they feel on the day of the funeral? Understanding this means we can better understand this experience from the client’s point of view.

We uncovered many pain points – registering the death being a big one.

How people pay for the cost of a funeral was another huge issue. This led us to explore funeral poverty further. We found that most arranging clients want to ‘do the right thing’ by the person they have lost and will sometimes honour all of their wishes even if they can’t afford to pay for it.

Think about the practical and the emotional

Many people are in a heightened state of emotion, but how this manifests varies. There are recurring feelings such as worry, sadness and anxiety in the run up the funeral and often a sense of loneliness afterwards, when people call and visit less and life goes on. And we learned that grief is not linear.

Don’t forget the data

Using data from actual funeral arrangements we found interesting behaviours about arranging a funeral. The assumption was that the arranging client had a meeting with the funeral director or arranger soon after the death, discussed all or most of the details of the arrangement and that was that. The next time we saw them was on the day of the funeral.

But using analytics and Metabase we found it’s not uncommon for clients to have up to 6 arrangement meetings.

This makes total sense. You wouldn’t arrange a wedding with one meeting, why would you be satisfied with one meeting for a funeral? People don’t arrange many funerals in their lifetime and don’t always know what will be asked of them in the arrangement meeting. They might be distressed, so forget to ask certain questions or want to amend choices later.

Learn from what people actually do, not what you think they do

To us, the arranging client is the one who will pay the bill, but this doesn’t mean they make all the decisions on their own. We discovered whole families and groups that were involved in planning the funeral. This means different points of view, opinions and ideas. Only 1% of people know all the wishes of the deceased when arranging a funeral, and a third of people don’t even know if the deceased wishes to be buried or cremated, according to the Cost of dying report, 2018.

Take the map back to business

Once we had our map it was time to draw out our insights. We drew out high-level themes and opportunities then worked with the wider business to focus the 60+ opportunities into things that were new and would set us apart in the industry and other things we just needed to do. These were not features in their own right, more starters for 10 that needed further investigation into appetite and feasibility, which is exactly the result you want after working on a service map.

Tell your story well – and often

One thing to prepare for when you finish a map and have your insights and plan is to prepare to talk a lot about what you discovered. We presented the map to at least 12 groups of about 20 people each from around the business and we’ve been asked by external individuals and businesses to talk about it.

Tom’s tweet about the map has had a lot of engagement.

This could be because people are as fascinated about the subject matter as we are, but also service maps are a very tactile way of drawing out key opportunities and pain points. Done well, they can attract a lot of attention.

We’re now prioritising and working on the ideas and will be testing and learning from them over the next few months. Hopefully, we’ll have more to tell you then.
Rae Spencer, Lead interaction designer
Tom Walker, Lead user researcher
Hannah Horton, Principal designer

What we learnt from Jared Spool

On Tuesday eve, much of the design community from Co-op Digital and the wider north west attended User Research North’s event to hear Jared Spool’s talk.

Over the years, Jared’s influence and presence in the design world has been widely felt and acknowledged. He co-founded Center Centre, a school to train user experience designers and ultimately, Jared helps designers help their organisations deliver well-designed products and services. You can read more about his work here.  

We learnt a lot from him.

In this post, a handful of Co-op Digital colleagues reflect on what they learnt on Tuesday and how:

  • their new knowledge will help them with their current Co-op work
  • knowing this earlier would have helped with past work

Experience design: all the moments, all the gaps

My big take away from the talk was this quote:

When we think in terms of experience, we’re thinking of the entire flow: all of the gaps, all of the moments. That’s what we mean by experience design.

In Co-op Health, we’re providing a service for people who want to order their repeat prescription through our app. This is the front stage – the part the end user sees.

But the back stage of the service needs to be considered to fulfil that entire flow so every moment is accounted for. For example, when you order a prescription, this needs to talk to the NHS and the GP surgery. The prescription order then needs to be made and checked by a pharmacist before it’s picked up by the Royal Mail and delivered. All of those aspects of the service will impact the experience and service we’re providing for people.

Jared’s talk made me think even harder about the importance of collaboration, inclusivity and co-creation across teams and external organisation – it’s a good place to start to ensure the overall service is the best it can be with ‘moments of delight’ Jared mentioned.

Lucy Tallon, principal designer

Demonstrating difficulty is worthwhile

I loved this analogy from Jared. I’ll paraphrase:

A tightrope walker’s act is to walk up and down a rope in a circus. Realistically, keeping their balance and walking the length of the rope is easy for them – they can do it without any trouble. But, if their act appeared to be super easy, the audience is less likely to appreciate the tightrope walker’s skill because the difficulty in doing such a thing isn’t being amplified. The ‘act’ of ponderous steps and motioning a wobble every now and then, which in turn prompts a drum roll every time they do so, is meant to produce suspense and show how hard the task is.

We can learn from this circus act. We too can show the challenges of a design process.

What we do is hard, but to people whose expertise aren’t in design, most websites and apps seem easy. Working in the open; being transparent about how we make decisions and why we’ve made them; ensuring that we have a diverse set of people in the room helps everyone understand the process. Blog posts, week notes, putting our work on the wall, inviting feedback, seeking out stakeholders who haven’t been involved in the design and taking them on research are all things that help. The talk highlighted the importance of continuing to do these things.

Nate Langley, principal designer

Context is where design happens

Jared spoke about the importance of context when solving design decisions.

He showed examples where designers had made improvements to designs from other organisations that they had found particularly poor.

But, although the designs used user-centred design techniques and looked more appealing, they were not feasible in the context in which the organisations operated. The hardware the organisations used, the interconnectivity of their systems, the constraints of their tools and processes, rendered the suggested ‘improvements’ to designs almost impossible (and would cost far too much). As Jared said in a related blog post:

“Often when we see usability problems in designs, it’s because the design team didn’t know something about the context that they should have. Teams with a strong awareness of the different contexts that will crop up are more likely to produce designs that will consistently delight users.”

I’m working on the new Co-op Health app. The majority of the team are new to working within health. And, because we connect to NHS systems, there are a number of constraints that are out of our control.

Jared’s talk reminded me how valuable it is to get as many people involved in the research and design process as possible. Doing this not only allows us to understand the technical constraints and challenges that our designs must operate within, but diverse perspectives help us design for the different personal contexts of our users too. By understanding the challenges that we and our users are facing, we’re able to design solutions that meet both our operational goals and the needs of our users.

Joanne Schofield, lead content designer

From ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘unconsciously competent’

I’m working on a Co-op Food project with people from across the organisation whose expertise are in many different disciplines.

Jared explained that everyone needs to be involved in the design process in order to deliver a successful service. He said that everyone is a designer – we’re just at different stages of the 4 stages of design understanding.

4 post it notes showing the progression of design understanding. far left - far right reads: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence

Jared talked about how organisations sometimes use strategies or ‘plays’ (an American football analogy) to help teams improve their awareness.

It’s our job as designers to help people who don’t identify as designers move from being ‘unconsciously incompetent’ at design to being ‘consciously incompetent’. This highlighted the importance of exposing the wider team to journey maps; the concept of story mapping and involving them in user research so they see how people are using a service first-hand.

From now on, I’m going to start identifying activities in our playbook that Digital team members can use when we need to help colleagues jump between stages. Some ‘plays’ may not be effective, but that’s OK, we can try another until we’re all playing as one team in perfect formation.

James Rice, lead designer

Changing the behaviour of others… with our thoughts

Jared talked about an experiment where a group of rats were labelled as ‘smart’ or ‘dull’ and what people were told about the rats affected the result of the experiment. Sounds like nonsense, but I’ve seen this happen.

Screenshot_20190531_104922_com.instagram.android

This is down to something called the ‘expectancy bias’. Your expectations of people or a team will affect how they perform. If you go in believing someone is not a designer, and therefore not capable of creating good design, they won’t.

“Expectations can change outcomes,” Jared said. “Our expectations can change our team’s outcomes.”

I’ve noticed that when I go into something assuming the worst, whether it’s a stakeholder who I presume has bad intentions, or a team I think aren’t capable of making a good product, I tend to prove myself right. Now I try very hard to assume the best possible thing of people and, even if they have different motivations to me, they believe they’re doing the right thing.

I once worked on a product with a very inexperienced design team, and quickly got very concerned we couldn’t deliver the design. When I forced myself to think positively, I saw a significant change in the quality and output of our work, and we delivered.

Katherine Wastell, Head of Design

We’re always interested in hearing about great speakers and significant talks that have changed your way of thinking and working. Comment below.

Co-op health: running a design sprint across disciplines

Last week we launched an app that helps people view, order and manage their NHS repeat prescription from their phone. We want to make prescription ordering easy and convenient for people by providing self-service, simple collection and delivery options, and transparency throughout the process.

The app is very much a first version that we’ll continue to test with users and iterate on.

However, we think this is a good opportunity to talk about the work we did on a feature that we hope to add to the app soon.

Trying out a 5-day design sprint

As with many big, traditional organisations it can sometimes be difficult to move at pace within the Co-op. Design sprints can be useful to answer critical business questions quickly so we thought we’d give it a go. We got a group of designers, researchers, engineers, pharmacists, product managers as well as subject matter experts together for 5 consecutive days to build a realistic prototype. Having the relevant people in the room who could make decisions on behalf of their area of expertise was essential.

Design sprint: booking medical appointments

During the design sprint we were looking at how people book an appointment with a medical professional.

Together, we spent a day on each of the following tasks:

  1. Defining the challenge.
  2. Sketching ideas that might help us solve the challenge.
  3. Choosing an idea to take forward, then storyboarding it.
  4. Designing a prototype of the chosen idea.
  5. Putting the prototype in front of users and listening to feedback.

Day 1: Defining the challenge

The first day allowed us to reframe the problem we were trying to solve. So, our week-long sprint goal was to build a simple, intuitive app for booking appointments for anyone registered with a GP in England. With this in mind we created ‘how might we’ questions, and turned problems into opportunities by asking questions such as:

  • How might we help people get the help they need, more quickly, so they can lead happier and healthier lives?
  • How might we be open and transparent about the process of booking appointments?
  • How might we update people about their appointment?

Working in this way encouraged everyone involved to see the bigger picture. It helped us think about our end goal and why we want to achieve it. Zooming out like this also helped keep us on track for the rest of the sprint when there’s a focus on detail.

Day 2: Sketching ideas

photo of team sketching on day 2

When it came to sketching out ideas for possible solutions to the ‘how might we’ questions, we used the ‘4-part sketch method’. It guides team members through note-taking and generating 8 rough ideas through to a ‘solution sketch’ – something slightly more carefully thought-out. Importantly, it asks that people work alone at this stage.

We found this really beneficial because when you’re working with people you don’t necessarily often work with, it can be intimidating. Working alone and then sharing ideas anonymously avoided extraverts and ‘leaders’ grabbing the most air time and encouraged more confident participation from quieter team members because they knew their ideas would later be seen and heard.  

The solution sketches included chatbots; statistics dashboards and smart reminders as well as the use of video to explain complex processes and ideas that use artificial intelligence.

The next step was to choose which of these ideas we’d take forward into the rest of the sprint.

Day 3: Choosing and idea and storyboarding

photo of storyboards - lots of post it notes

On decision day, we put the solution sketches on the wall for everyone to see. The ideas were so wide-ranging which shows the importance of including colleagues from different business areas. It highlighted that we all have different priorities, but explaining our sketch solutions helped everyone understand where those priorities come from.

Using stickers, we flagged anything that aligned to our sprint goal which made it easier to see where or if we could merge different ideas. We then did a ‘speed critique’ which involved an impartial person talking through an idea that wasn’t theirs – it helped make sure everyone’s ideas were viewed equally.

Settling on one idea

photo of the chosen idea's storyboard

After a vote, the team decided to combine ideas around organising different types of appointments, smart reminders and linking repeat prescriptions and appointments. This is what we’d take forward to prototype, but first we created a storyboard –  a visual map of the user journey.

Day 4: Prototyping

photograph of 4 of the team prototyping

The next day we brought the storyboard idea to life by creating a working prototype. Working in this way allowed us to quickly create something which we could place in front of users the following day to get their feedback.

These images show how reminders might work in the app.

screenshot of the reminder in the app prototype

Day 5: Getting feedback from users

photo of user research participant's hand and mobile phone using the app prototype

On the final day of the sprint we put the prototype in front of potential users. We held 5 sessions in the Federation user research lab, and we visited 1 participant who had accessibility issues in their home.

Here are some of the things we learnt from the research:

  1. People don’t just manage their own health, they book appointments for children, parents or grandparents too.
  2. A big pain point in the process of making an appointment is waiting (particularly waiting on the phone for half an hour) Any way we can reduce the time spent on managing / booking the better.
  3. People often have a preference about things like whether they see a male or female doctor, or their appointment time (for example, on their lunch break). Allowing people choice is important.
  4. People were very positive about appointment reminders. They felt they helped them manage their health better.
  5. Our service needs to be reliable with no technical issues. If there are issues a person is less likely to use a service like ours again and revert back to non-digital methods.

What’s next

We’ll be feeding what we’ve learnt back into the design process and improving the prototype. Now the app is live we’re also gathering customer feedback & seeing what the pain points are we need to work on next.

And we’ll continue to work closely with stakeholders because their expertise have been invaluable.

Lucy Tallon
User researcher

You can read more about the Co-op health’s proposed work.

Why Co-op Digital writes a newsletter

The Co-op Digital newsletter recently turned 3 years old. This week we’re writing newsletter number 139.

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The newsletter is a weekly email that looks at what’s happening in the internet/digital world and how it’s relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. You can:

“Poke the organisation”

In 2016, Co-op Digital was in its infancy and Deputy Group CEO Pippa Wicks and Russell Davies, then the Digital Strategy Director, asked me to put together a weekly newsletter. Pippa’s simple brief was to “poke the organisation!” Their plan was that it should challenge the Co-op Group to think about how ‘digital’ changes retail and how retail could use digital. The newsletter summarised what was happening on the internet, and explained how other retailers were using technology.

It also helped set a tone for Co-op Digital because it demonstrated to senior leaders, the wider Co-op, and to the rest of the world that we were watching the internet and that we understood it. All of this was important because the Co-op Group was in a period of reinvention after some difficult years.

Content and tone

Many of the early stories were “Amazon is cominggg!”, or this is what Tesco’s doing with AI, here’s a funeral startup, or an AI is surprisingly good at chess. We were explaining what was happening on the internet, and what some of the new technology weirdness promised.

We write it in fairly plain language, and in a way that readers don’t need to click the links unless they want to read about a story in more detail. Sometimes there are jokes. “They’re trying to make me ICO to rehab” was a story about hospitals helping cryptocurrency addicts (and yes let’s acknowledge here that explaining a poor joke makes it even weaker). But the humour can make the words more engaging and accessible, and can let us talk about things that aren’t the Co-op’s ‘official position’.

The importance of images

Each newsletter is published with an image which is there to catch the eye when the reader is scrolling through their Twitter timeline. Some studies say tweets with image links result in up to 200% more engagement so we always include one. Sometimes the image is just decorative, sometimes it relates to the newsletter’s content.

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How it’s made, and how it’s read

The newsletter is made by a team. Stories are found and then debated by Co-op colleagues in the #newsletter Slack channel – big salute to Richard Sullivan, Jack Fletcher, Linda Humphries, Gail Lyon and others who’ve found and written about many excellent stories. Suggestions also come from readers to me on Twitter.

It’s published as a public-facing email newsletter, and as an internal email, and to the web. Mailchimp (which handles the public email bit) reckons it has an open rate of 50%, compared to an industry average of 11% for other retail organisations.

Plus it’s been well-received internally too…

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Evolving with the organisation

The newsletter has evolved, mostly in response to feedback from readers, but also to the Co-op’s maturing digital capability. We don’t need to explain ‘digital’ in the same way these days because many teams and departments at the Co-op have transformed the business over the last 3 years. Where the Co-op was once an organisation of tradition, now it is also an organisation of the internet. This evolution has given the newsletter space to look at wider concerns, like privacy, ethics, climate change, and occasionally even Brexit.

External intelligence

It’s still valuable to keep track of what other organisations are trying and to think about whether what they’re doing could mean something new for us, our members, our colleagues, or for co-operativism. So the newsletter is both external intelligence for the Group and an informal channel to communicate with the public and members.

We’ve learned that newsletters are good at showing our thinking in public, exploring new ideas and clarifying them, speculating wildly about what’s next, and occasionally ‘poking the organisation’.

Still the same

There are still “Amazon is coming!” stories, and there are frequent “this seems like a problem for big tech companies” stories. Occasionally we add small bits of fiction if we think they might be a good way to explore an idea.

However the jokes are still terrible. “Do you want frAIes with that?” needs not an explanation (machine learning at McDonald’s) but apologies forever, sorry.

You can help

You can help make the newsletter better. Sign up to get the newsletter by email and participate by sending us ideas, questions, thoughts. And better puns.

Rod McLaren
Newsletter writer

Data ethics canvas: helping us make good data decisions from the start

Being ‘trusted with data’ is something we talk about a lot at the Co-op and part of the Data team’s role is to make sure that every team is thinking about data responsibly. To help, we provide guidance and practical support to colleagues across the business.

Last June we started introducing our Digital teams to the Open Data Institute’s (ODI) Data ethics canvas. The ‘canvas’ is a template. It’s designed to help teams anticipate potential ethical issues associated with data they’re using, or coming into contact with, right from the beginning of a project.

A year on, the canvas has been gladly received and well-used, and now we’re rolling it out further.

Here’s a call to anyone making data decisions to use the Data ethics canvas.

The benefits and why they matter

The canvas allows teams to design with data in mind, making sure we maximise its value and understand associated risks. Tackling data-related questions early, with support from our expert teams at the Co-op can help minimise or even avoid any rework or surprise challenges or unintended consequences. Dedicating time to map out and consider the possible consequences of their data decisions has helped teams move forward quickly and autonomously and feel confident that they’re doing the right thing for our members, colleagues and communities.

Data ethics are here to stay

A clear message is emerging from regulatory bodies: the ethical use of data is a growing priority, and rightly so. The ODI has referred to ‘trust as the new currency’ and responsible technology think tank Doteveryone has launched their ‘Consequence scanning’ event to help tech companies replace the ‘move fast and break things’ culture with a more considered approach.

Using the data ethics canvas for the first time

If you’re working on a new project, product or service, we recommend running a workshop to consider the decisions you’ll need to make about the data you’ll come into contact with.

The sooner in the process you do this, the better.

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To get the most out of your workshop you should:

1. Scope and prepare it beforehand. You can do this with fewer people but try to include the project expert, the product manager and a delivery manager who can later facilitate the workshop. You’ll need to get a shared understanding of the importance of the canvas, pin down the benefits of working through it in the context of your specific project and decide what you want to get from the workshop.

2. Invite your digital product or service team as well as data experts to the workshop itself. You’ll need to around 90 minutes of their time. The data representatives could be from data management, data protection and information security depending on the project so email co-opdatamanagement@coop.co.uk to find out whose expertise would be best suited.

3. Print out the canvas and the topic headers (you can download them). The bigger you print, the more space you have to write which makes things feel more inclusive. 

4. Enlist scribes from the delivery team. Make it clear that everyone can and should contribute but delivery managers usually feel comfortable being on their feet, taking a lead when it comes to capturing thoughts, encouraging participation and collaboration and generally making workshops more dynamic.

5. Together, work through the 15 topics.

Topics and discussion points  

The canvas has more detailed discussion prompts but here’s an overview of the questions it asks the team to think about.

  1. Data sources (Where does it come from?)
  2. Limitations with the data (Is the data poor quality or does it have a known bais?)
  3. Sharing this data (Who are we sharing it with? Why? How?)
  4. Laws, policies and classification (Are we in line with GDPR; the Data Protection Act 2018; Co-op Information Classification and Handling Policy; is the information confidential?)
  5. Rights over data sources (Do we have permission to do what we’re planning to do with it?)
  6. Existing ethical framework (Does it align with the Co-op ethical values?)
  7. Purpose for using this data (Is there a good, mutually beneficial reason for collecting or using the data? Does collecting the data make things better for members, or, can we gain insights into products from it?)
  8. Communicating your purpose (When we ask for data, are we explaining why, in the most appropriate way?)
  9. Positive effects (How can we increase the positive impact of the project and how can we measure it?)
  10. Negative effects (Are there any points where there’s potential for a data breach?)
  11. Minimising negative impact (Where can we reduce harm and how can we measure the impact?)
  12. Engaging with people (Describe how people can engage with you and your project, are the people affected able to appeal or request changes to the product or service)
  13. Risks and issues (Where are the financial and reputational risks?)
  14. Reviews and iterations (When should we revisit the canvas?)
  15. What happens next (Who’s doing what and where should they go for support if it’s needed?)

Checking in and following up

As with all workshops, you’re likely to have a list of actions. Check in with the team on their progress against them. Schedule in another workshop when a product or service enters a new delivery phase.

Wider data support for Co-op colleagues

The Data ethics canvas is an introduction to thinking about data, and there’s more information on our intranet and Confluence pages. Our ‘Privacy by design’ playbook gives teams design considerations at the next level of detail.

You can find more support on running the workshops in our Data ethics canvas guide. Or you can email co-opdatamanagement@coop.co.uk for further support.

Find out more

You can read our commitment to data ethics in the Co-op Way Report 2018, and we’ve recently published our internal data ethics policy. We’ll be sharing our latest news and progress on data ethics to other ODI partners and members at an ODI Fridays lunchtime lecture on 10 May 2019.

Dale Upton
Data education and awareness manager