3 reasons why sketching is useful in large organisations

Sketching can be really useful for teams working on digital products and services. It can help you quickly:

  1. Clarify your thoughts while you work through ideas, problems and potential solutions.  
  2. Communicate ideas to a wider team.

Recently, designer and illustrator Eva-Lotta Lamm came in and ran sketching workshops with the Co-op Digital Design team. Although sketching is something we already do, the sessions with Eva were beneficial because she:

  • showed us how to become more confident with our pens
  • encouraged us to be more comfortable sketching in front of the team
  • made us consider the right level of detail for what we need to communicate
  • shared tips to help us improve the quality of our sketches
  • made us consider using the technique in situations we hadn’t been using it in

Apart from these practical things listed, the workshops made us rethink the value of expressing ideas in visual ways within the Co-op – a huge organisation going through transformation.

Here’s why sketching is super useful.

1. Sketching can help us communicate more clearly

Often, there’s a lack of clarity within large teams. It’s not necessarily someone’s fault, it’s just sometimes hard to avoid Chinese whispers. However, sketching means there’s less room for misinterpretation.

Colleagues will have different learning styles, they’ll interpret things in various ways and they’re likely to communicate the same thing differently. Having something visual means there’s something tangible everyone can point to, to explain things clearly to a wider team or stakeholders. They’re showing the same thing, not their interpretation of what they heard days (or even weeks) before.

Of course, there’s something to be said for matching the level of detail in your sketch to whoever you need to convey your idea to. An abstract, visual metaphor help explain something technical to a colleague whose role isn’t technical, but if you need to talk through a webpage layout with a developer, you’ll need to include more detail.

2. It’s a quick, cheap and collaborative problem solving technique

Articulating a complex problem or idea can be tricky and sometimes, sketching it will help. However, being ‘good at drawing’ isn’t a prerequisite for giving sketching a go. Sketching has a low barrier to entry – it’s not about creating perfect works of art, it just needs to capture the spirit of what you’re trying to communicate.

Because we can sketch so quickly and cheaply, sketches can be easily iterated. We can also scrap them completely without feeling like we need to commit to anything.

3. It’s less about ownership, more about collaboration

When we’re working with people who aren’t used to working in an agile way, sketching could be a good way to introduce a more flexible way of thinking. It echoes the idea that nothing’s ‘final’ or ‘perfect’.

Teams can consider a problem and sketch ideas around it within seconds. Some will be potential solutions, some won’t. Either way, the quick pace helps us stay focused on the problem, and with each iteration we get closer to the most feasible solution. The constant discussion while various team members sketch makes the activity really collaborative.

Sure, it was the Design team that attended Eva’s sketching workshops but very few of us were super confident sketchers at the beginning of the session. Sketching isn’t a skill that should be owned by designers or even by a Digital team but it’s a technique we’d encourage all team members from Digital, policy, legal to get involved in. There’s value for everyone in it because it’s something we can use together to create visual interpretations of a problem or idea. This helps the whole team have a shared understanding which we believe could only be a positive thing for team morale.

Try it yourself

Here are 5 tips to change your note taking with sketching. You can watch Eva-Lotta’s video on the same thing too.

IMG_1674

Louise Nicholas and Ciaran Greene
Interaction designers

Co-op Digital talks service design at Design Manchester

Today’s the first day of Design Manchester 2017, Manchester’s annual design festival. From today until 22 October, there’ll be talks, exhibitions, workshops, films, fairs and parties across the city celebrating design in its various forms.

The Co-op is sponsoring the festival, and Co-op Digital is running and speaking at several events this year too. We’ll be talking a lot about ‘service design’ – something that’s really relevant to what we do here at Co-op Digital.

Group of people at The Federation for the launch of Design Manchester this morning, 11 October.

What do we mean by ‘service design’?

A ‘service’ is something that helps someone do something. Co-op services help our customers and members to save money; give to local causes; find out where their local Co-op store is and when they’re open; make a will or organise a funeral. These are just a few.

Co-op Digital has helped our Funeralcare team to give time back to funeral colleagues, so that they can spend more time with families when dealing with bereavement by putting parts of these services online which has made things simpler for users.

For businesses, service design is an holistic, end-to-end design approach that takes into consideration business, customer and colleague needs and creates shared value.

Service design is about collaboration and this is reflected in the events we’re involved in at Design Manchester.

Here’s a round-up.

Service design jam days

Service designer and user researcher Kathryn Grace from Co-op Digital is leading a two-part, co-created event on consecutive Saturdays. The first ‘jam’ day will be an introduction to the importance of service design in a city. Different companies and organisations from Manchester will be sharing skills and their approaches to service design.

The second jam day will be an opportunity to put into practice some of the things we learnt from the first day. The aim of the second day will be to develop a service within 24 hours.  

Read more about the service design jams

We have a great design community in Manchester and we’re privileged to help showcase those in service design. 

Panel discussion: Service design and Manchester

Technology Engagement Lead Emer Coleman and Co-op’s Group Design Director Ben Terrett will be part of the panel to discuss how cities grow and evolve. The panel will specifically be talking about how Manchester can attract people and businesses that can develop and maintain vital services that make a city work and make it an enjoyable and easy place to live in.

Read more about the Service design and Manchester event

Design city reframed

Co-op Digital’s Lawrence Kitson will be speaking about service design as a team sport. He’ll explore how we can make a difference and affect change by co-operatively designing great end-to-end services that solve user needs and provide shared value.

Read more about the Design city reframed event

Everyone’s welcome (not just designers!)

Yep, this is Design Manchester so we’re expecting to see a lot of designers over the fortnight. But our events are open to all. If you have an interest in how Manchester’s future is being shaped and how cities ‘work’, these events will be of interest to you. We’re mostly aiming to open up discussion and get people talking about, and sharing ideas about, the design of services across Manchester.

Kathryn Grace
Service design and user research

Gail Mellows
Designer

We’ve added tables to our design manual

This week, we’ve added a section about designing tables to our design manual. We’ve done this so that our tables are understandable, are used for suitable information and address user needs first.

This is the second update to the design manual since we publicly released in January 2017. We released our design manual so we could start to share design styles, patterns and advice for people building digital services at Co-op.

What we’ve done

We looked at a lot of different tables from around the Co-op to explore what kind of information we need to be able to present, and what a user needs to understand from it. We also looked at best practice in how data should be displayed working closely with the Co-op’s data science team. From this, we created a set of styles that can be used as guidelines for designing tables in our digital services.

Designing tables

In her book Letting Go of the Words, Ginny Reddish writes:

When a site visitor asks a question to which your first answer is “it depends,” that’s a clue that you need a table. What it depends on becomes the left column of the table. The answer to the question for each site visitor’s situation becomes the right column.

Tables are good for answering questions with multiple answers as they are a good way of presenting a lot of information in a way that’s easy to scan.

You can use the design manual to find out when and how to:

  • use a table to display data
  • format data in a table
  • use borders and type within a table
  • create a responsive table
  • code an HTML table correctly

We’ve got more research to do

What happens next is more important than the work we’ve done so far. We’ll be asking the design team (which includes interaction designers, content designers and user researchers) to see if our tables help solve design problems. We’ll continue to research how well they help real users find the answers they’re looking for.

We’ll update the design manual with what we learn.

What else have we done?

Created a simpler prototyping kit for designers

Testing our assumptions with real ‘in browser’ prototypes is an important part of building a new service. However we’d had feedback that the current prototyping kit was a bit difficult for some designers to set up. We’ve responded to that by building a more simple HTML and CSS only ‘copy and paste’ version that we think will help.

Added a section on 404 pages

When a user follows a broken link, they arrive on a 404 page. You can use the design manual to find out how to create a 404 page that:

  • reassures the user
  • helps them get back on track
  • doesn’t make them feel as though they’ve done something wrong

Tell us what you think

Check out our tables and 404 sections and let us know what you think. Your feedback will make the design manual better.

Matt Tyas
On behalf of the Design Manual team

We’ve updated the ‘forms’ bit of our design manual

On 26 January 2017 we posted to say we’d released our design manual so we could start to share design styles, patterns and advice for people building digital services at Co-op.

We’ve now updated the section about making forms. We’ve done this so that our forms are clear, simple and easy to understand for anyone who wants to use them.

The forms section now includes information about ‘inputs’ (any point that the user gives us data), ‘patterns’ (ways to solve commonly occurring problems) and advice about how to design a good form.

Form inputs and patterns

We’ve updated our form input and pattern guidance with things that the design team has learned over the past 2 months.

You can use the manual to find out why, when and how to:

  • use things like radio buttons, checkboxes and text areas
  • ask people for personal information like their name, address, date of birth and so on
  • tackle recurring patterns like validation messages and ‘progressive reveals’ (showing more information based on a previous answer)

Designing a good form

But, we didn’t want it just to be a pattern library. As Steve Krug said in his foreword to ‘Forms that work‘ by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney:

“[Form design] isn’t just about colons and choosing the right widgets. It’s about the whole process of making good forms, which has a lot more to do with making sure you’re asking the right questions in a way that your users can answer than it does with whether you use a drop-down list or radio buttons.”

So, we’ve included advice about forming, structuring and wording questions to encourage us to consider the effect on the user at every point of the interaction.

What’s next

The next thing we’re going to look at is how we should design tables and data visualisation at Co-op. This will include research about:

  • how words and figures are presented
  • horizontal and vertical space
  • type sizes and weights
  • lines
  • colour
  • basic trends and comparisons

We’ll update you with the things that we learn.

Tell us what you think

Check out our updates to the form section and let us know what you think — you can now send us feedback directly from each page of the manual, without having to email.

Your feedback will make the design manual better.

Joanne Schofield
On behalf of the Design Manual Team

We’ve released coop.co.uk/designmanual

Today we’ve released coop.co.uk/designmanual. The digital design manual is the new version of the ‘Co-op style guide’. In June 2016 I wrote about our progress with how we design digital services at Co-op. Since then, we’ve fixed the basics, taken a fresh look at what the design manual is for, and we’re now providing a stronger baseline for future Co-op services to be built on.

There are actually 3 things that help us design digitally:

  1. Design manual: our guidelines on digital design.
  2. Front-end toolkit: the Sass (CSS) that gives the design manual and our services their base look and feel.
  3. Prototyping kit: that allows designers and developers to quickly test and iterate services.

The design manual can help if you:

  • design or build digital services at the Co-op
  • write digital content for the Co-op
  • are checking if a service meets the standards, matches our design principles and the Co-op’s values

We want the design manual to:

  • help teams release faster and focus on user needs rather than spending time on the basics
  • help document what we learn from research so we apply it in our work
  • be a collaborative document that is widely and regularly contributed too

The design manual isn’t a set of rules, it’s a strong backbone for our digital services. It will change in line with learnings from user research, the changing business landscape or new technology. The design manual and its assets are the starting point for designers to design, not paint by numbers.

design-manual-1

What we’ve done

Reworked our basic design system

We’ve actually removed quite a lot from the style guide. At least for now anyway. It’s ok if a service still uses these things but we want evidence of how they’re working for users before we add them back in.

Some of the changes we’ve made are:

We reworked our typography

What we had worked well for our printed material. But, it needed to be bolder and more flexible so it’d be suitable for different devices and have a better vertical rhythm (the vertical spacing we use between text and other page elements) to make it more easily legible on screen.

design-manual-2

We added guidelines for writing for Co-op

Writing for digital is different to writing for other mediums. It’s about finding and doing things quickly — getting maximum meaning into minimum content.

We looked at how we approach accessibility

Equality and equity sit at the heart of the Co-op’s values so it’s important to us that anyone can use Co-op digital services. Becky Arrowsmith recently wrote about how we’ve been improving accessibility in the Co-op wills service.

We created some design principles

Our principles help to align ourselves around some central ideas that will guide our future design decisions. We’ll be writing more about these soon.

We’ve given it a new name

It’s now called the ‘design manual’.

This signifies a move away from ‘rules’ about design elements, to evidence-based advice on how design patterns are used in combination to create compelling digital services. This advice will evolve as we learn more about what works for the people who use our services.

What does this mean for our current services?

As a favourite quote of mine from information architect Abby Covert says:

‘Perfection isn’t possible, but progress is.’
Abby Covert – How to make sense of any Mess

You’ll start to see more of Co-op’s digital services sharing this updated design language creating consistent experience across the wills service, Membership, co-operative.coop and coop.co.uk. We don’t expect every service to suddenly shift all of their design work over to match the updated design language though. Instead, you’ll see a more gradual iteration as services adopt the updated styles – something many of our designers are already doing.

What’s next?

Most importantly we want to iterate and release much more often. This is an extra part of everyone’s job so keeping this momentum up is always the challenge.

We will:

  • create a more visible backlog of upcoming improvements based on user research and live services
  • put in place a clear way for colleagues to feed into the design manual
  • look at what our shared design language for more complex design elements should be
  • communicate changes to the design manual effectively and widely
  • add more guidance about writing for Co-op
  • find a way to host and link to user research from design elements
  • develop the user journeys and information architecture for users of the design manual
  • link to live examples of design patterns in use
  • create a more simple HTML and CSS template for developers
  • continue to refactor and improve the front-end tool-kit
  • do ‘show and tells’ on each release

Finally, a thank you

Creating and maintaining a strong design system is not easy. It requires a lot of buy-in from an organisation and a lot of extra work from its contributors. With cooperation being at the heart of what we do it’s no surprise that I’ve had this from all the service teams, business units and senior leadership I’ve worked with as well, of course, from the design team. Thank you to everyone – too many to mention – who has been involved so far.

The design manual will continue to grow and evolve as our services do. You mark my words.

Matt Tyas
Interaction designer

Bringing non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s an advantage

I’m Gail. I’ve been a graphic designer for over 20 years and up to now I’ve worked predominantly in pedestrian signage systems, exhibition and information design projects.

These projects have mostly involved the ordering and arrangement of words (typography) and mapping systems on physical products to help orientate and direct people around cities and spaces.

A picture of Gail Mellows
Gail Mellows

But at the Co-op in the digital team I’m developing typographic guidance for designers and helping them create clear typographic hierarchies without using lots of different sizes and weights (which creates visual noise and makes things harder to read and understand).

In past projects this is what I’ve done in the context of displaying information on physical products in physical environments. Now I’m applying it to information on-screen.

Why am I now working in digital?

Just over 2 years ago I moved from London to Manchester with my partner and daughter. After looking at the design industry in Manchester, I wondered where I fitted into this young, predominantly male, techie and advertising-led industry in which I had few established professional relationships.

I decided to explore other ways of applying what I’d spent years doing

I came across the Ladies that UX group. The first meet-up I went to happened to be at the Co-op in Angel Square. A number of women from the digital team at the Co-op were speaking about their roles and how they had come to be there.

The panel were really encouraging about trying new things career-wise and taking a chance. Ben Terrett was also there and described the principles behind the development of Co-op digital products and services.

There were lots of parallels with my approach and ethos. At the end of the event, feeling pretty nervous, I approached Andrew Travers to talk to him about what I’d been doing.

I’ve now been at Co-op Digital for 2 months

I started by looking at how typography is being used across various products and services and using this information to develop specific typographic guidance for the use of Co-op’s new typeface, Avenir Next. The size, position, colour, juxtaposition, vertical and horizontal spacing of type has a very practical job to do as well as fundamentally conveying the character of Co-op.

For the team that work on our brand I’ve been developing ways of sharing information and best practice for using type, imagery and colour across digital and non-digital applications.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work on the Wills digital service.

It’s a steep learning curve for me

I spend a lot of my time moving bits of type up and down so that they look good as well as make sense as content (familiar ground) and wrestling with things like ‘the fold’, ‘screen real estate’ and CSS modules (unfamiliar ground).

I like the fact that the Digital team at the Co-op is actively encouraging women to work with them and offers flexibility around work and family commitments.

There’s been an open and positive reaction to me bringing my non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s seen as being an advantage.

Gail Mellows
Designer

Visiting Edge Hill University

Last week Laura Hiard an interaction designer and user researcher Tom Walker visited Edge Hill University. Tom graduated from Edge Hill 2 years ago and was invited back to talk to some third year students who are currently studying web design and development.

Picture of the interior of Federation House
Laura Hiard & Tom Walker

Why did you do it?

Laura: I graduated  3 years ago and remember what it was like to be in my final year and how unprepared I was for the real world. Since then I’ve worked for a number of companies in varying roles and I’ve learned a lot. I felt like I’d be able to connect and hopefully offer something of use to them. I also saw it as a good opportunity to practice my public speaking skills with a slightly more forgiving audience.

Tom: For me it was a similar thing. I was on the same course as these students just a few years ago and it felt good to have an opportunity to try and curb some of the fears and worries that I had around that time.

Picture of Edge Hill University
Edge Hill University

What did you speak about?

Laura: Our brief was to speak to the students about anything we felt would be useful, but to discuss how we incorporate the user into our processes and decisions. With that in mind, once we spoke about doing the talk together, it became clear that it would be good to highlight within a specific example how user research and design work together.

We began by showing the difference between user experience design and service design, and the importance of starting with user needs to make something that’s not just usable, but useful too. Then, we discussed how to use these, along with hypotheses, to make design decisions.

Tom: We also took the opportunity to give the students some advice for their working lives, based on our own experiences. I think that part went down particularly well. We spoke about how to make the best of a bad working situation and how to keep learning and striving for their goals. Their tutor gave me some really positive feedback about that part.

A picture of Lara and Tom talking to third year students at Edge Hill University

What was the response like from the students?

Tom: The response was great. We got some really astute questions about our work process while we were there and a few students even reached out to us on Twitter afterwards to ask advice.

Laura: A few of them even set up Twitter accounts after we said how useful it can be for networking.

What did you learn?

Laura: I learned that there definitely seems to be value in going out and speaking to students. Talking about what a real working day is like in the careers that they’re striving for, and introducing them to new practices that they might not yet be familiar with. After some feedback about them wanting a little more detail about some of the topics we covered, we know what we’d change for next time. We heard that some of the students were later looking at the Co-op jobs site, so we must have made a fairly good impression.

For students that weren’t there, what advice do you have for them?

Tom: A couple of things. These are the points we touched on during the talk. 

Immerse yourself and continue learning outside the classroom. Which is a lot easier than you might think. You can read and reading doesn’t have to be boring. You can do that on Twitter or read some Medium blogs or a few articles. Try to attend meet ups and get to know the community. And talk to each other. If you have read something, tell someone about it. Ask them about the things they have read or the meet ups they’ve attended. Then continue into your career.

Identify your own personal weaknesses. Studying for a degree is difficult and does take time but don’t give up. If you’re not good at something, try to understand why you might not be good at it and fix it. I struggled with code when I was a student. So I filmed myself talking through my code and then watched it back. It helped me cemented my learning and understand that it was some basics stuff that I didn’t quite get. Once I knew that, I knew what I needed to do to change it.

Thank you to the students and staff at Edge Hill University.

Laura Hiard and Tom Walker