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

What we mean when we talk about service design at the Co-op

I wanted to write this post to explain what service design is at the Co-op. Service design helps build more inclusive teams as well as products and services that meet user and business needs.

What we mean when we say ‘services’

To understand what service design is, we need to understand what a service is. A ‘service’ is something that helps someone complete a task, like finding information or getting something done.

At the Co-op we help our customers do lots of things, for example, we help them:

We also help our colleagues. For example, we help:

  • Food colleagues find out how to do something in stores through the How do I? website   
  • Funeralcare colleagues spend more time face-to-face time with bereaved families and less on admin through Co-op Guardian
  • Food colleagues check information about when they’re due to work with the Shifts website

These are just some of the services within the Co-op. Some of them are customer-facing, some are colleague-facing, some include elements of both. Some tasks can only be completed online, some can be done entirely offline, but most will include a mix of both.

Service design at the Co-op

And that’s what service design is at the Co-op: it’s designing the sequence of interactions a user has with us. It’s a holistic approach which considers the end-to-end experience, online and offline.

A Co-op service begins the first time a potential customer interacts with us (whether that be online or coming into one of our stores), or at the point a colleague is asked to sign up to one of our online services. The service goes right through to them achieving what they set out to do.  

Digital teams can’t design services alone

In Co-op Digital we refer to service design constantly, but we don’t own it.

Service design includes colleagues from all around the organisation – those from legal teams, marketing teams, colleagues in customer-facing roles, as well as those who speak with customers from our call centre. And everyone in between too.

We cannot design good services that meet the need of our users without the expertise from around the organisation.

Mapping out the service to see the big picture

When we design or iterate a service, we map out each interaction, by each type of user, chronologically. This is service mapping.

We try to understand a customer’s mindset when they come to use a service. What task do they want to complete? For us to design an experience that meets their needs we need to know where they’ve come from, why they’re here, and what they’re here to do.

Service maps:

  • show the whole user experience, visually
  • join up multiple user interactions and channels, beyond digital
  • show the end-to-end experience from awareness through to completing a task

An inclusive way of working

We have walls dedicated to service mapping which we update to reflect anything that has an impact on the service, like if we’ve learnt something new in user research or if the business strategy changes. We map services openly like this so that everyone can see what’s been worked on.

Service maps help teams work better because they:

  • align product teams around a shared understanding of their users’ journeys
  • communicate the user journey to stakeholders
  • help everybody see problems at a glance
  • help the team empathise with the journey their users are on
  • allow anyone to contribute their knowledge of how a service works, or ideas to help improve it with a post it
  • put research and data into the context of the wider service

Photograph of the pharmacy service map and the team and stakeholders crowding round

This photo shows our pharmacy ‘blueprint’ (a type of service map) created by Louise Nicholas and Derek Harvie. It maps the stages of the service, and customer interactions and operational touch points.

photograph of illustration by Jack Fletcher of a Membership storyboard illustrates customer interactions throughout the service, online and offline.

This is Jack Fletcher’s Membership storyboard which illustrates customer interactions throughout the service, online and offline.

A way to make better decisions

User research helps us identify problems. Highlighting them on a service map within the context of a user journey gives us a visual prompt about where we should focus our efforts. Being able to see problems, clearly, helps us prioritise what we need to improve.

Service design also helps us see where operational inefficiencies are and therefore where we can prioritise commercial gain – business goals are as important as user needs.

We use service maps to make better decisions because they help us:

  • highlight pain points and problems
  • spot gaps in our knowledge and the service itself
  • find opportunities to improve the experience
  • raise business inefficiencies
  • prioritise what we should try and fix first
  • pivot as a business to focus on the right things for our customers, members and business

photograph of Store Hub service map designed by Kathryn Grace

Here’s the Food business’s ‘Store Hub’ service map designed by Kathryn Grace. It shows the reality of how colleagues in stores use systems and processes.

We need everyone’s knowledge and expertise

For it to be effective, the whole team should participate in service design. At least initially, a designer will lead the work, but the whole team needs to contribute for it to work. In a discovery, service design will shape how your service needs to work. In later phases, it should inform iterations and strategic direction.

For anyone working at Co-op, the research, content and design teams will be hosting a showcase of our ways of working on Monday 10 December. Come along if you’re interested in finding out more about service design, all welcome. Location to be announced.

Katherine Wastell

Head of Design

Introducing local.co.uk – Co-op’s new marketplace

We’ve recently launched local.co.uk – a marketplace that connects independent businesses to customers across the UK. We’re doing this because we want to give small businesses a fairer way to trade and help make communities across the UK stronger.

We built the service in 13 weeks and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But we know it’s far from perfect – there are parts of the service that could be smoother and features that we want to improve and introduce.

We launched it when we did so that we could learn quickly from real users and make the service valuable for them.

We’ve done a lot and learnt a lot.

This video shows how we created local.co.uk (2 minutes 26 seconds) 

From digital design manual to design system

In January 2017 we released our digital design manual. Now, 18 months later, the design manual has evolved into a design system.

Although it’s been live for months, it’s still (and always will be) a work in progress. We’re sharing it now in line with one of our design principles: ‘we design in the open’.

You can see the Co-op Digital design system at coop.co.uk/designsystem

Evolution of the design manual

The aim of the design manual was to help teams release things faster so they could focus on user needs rather than on making basic design decisions. We iterated and added new pages as and when there was a need, for example, we added guidance on forms, guidance on tables and our secondary colour palette.

But a year after its release, we were at a point where more of our digital services were going live, so we revisited the design manual and asked if it could be more useful.

What we learnt from our users

We asked our design, content design and user research community how well they felt the guidance in the design manual was serving its purpose. Feedback was mixed but most people felt that it didn’t quite cover enough.

A workshop made it clear that users wanted:

  • example-driven patterns
  • guidance on when to use specific design and content patterns
  • examples of ‘experimental’ patterns
  • all guidance in one place

Afterwards, we dedicated time to making some major changes to the content as well as the navigation and layout.

Design system – nice for what?

We found lots of excellent examples of design systems in our research but good, solid design systems are good and solid because they’re unique to the organisation or business they belong to – they meet the needs of designers, content designers and researchers who work there.

The Co-op Digital design system includes our:

  • pattern library
  • content style guide
  • guidance on our design thinking
  • design, user research and content design principles
  • tools (front-end and prototyping kits)
  • resources (Sketch files and brand assets)

Most importantly it’s a living document. Like all good design systems, ours will never really be ‘finished’ but it’ll evolve as our teams and services do. Over the past 6 months we’ve established processes that allow our team members to contribute to the system.

We audited our existing design work and looked for similarities and opportunities to create familiarity. We’ve also spent a lot of time building the foundations for a stronger and more collaborative team through workshops, design crits and making sure we design in the open.

Familiarity over consistency

The Co-op is an organisation with very distinct businesses which all need to communicate with Co-op members, customers and users in an appropriate and relevant way. For example, the way we communicate with a customer in a food store is likely to be very different to how we speak to a customer in a funeral home.

So it’s likely that our services might feel different. And that’s ok, as long they feel familiar.

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

Pattern library

We’ve started creating a library of design patterns – this is the most significant addition to our previous guidance. It doesn’t replace our design guidelines, it just pulls out the useful stuff we learnt designers look for when they’re designing a service. 

Each pattern will have:

  • an example, ie, a visual example of the pattern
  • an associated user need
  • design guidance, ie, how you use it
  • accessibility guidance

Our colour palette pattern is a good example.

The library will be the de facto standard for how we display certain types of information.

Anyone at Co-op can contribute by submitting their pattern to the design community. They can do this by filling in a form justifying why users outside their service might benefit from this pattern or, why what they have created is an improvement on a current one.

Evolution of the design system

We want to continuously improve the guidance designers are looking for. To help us do this we’ll speak to more of the external teams that work with us and invite our colleagues in the Brand and Marketing teams to contribute their own guidance. We’ll also put the system to the test with teams as they build more Co-op services.

Watch this space.

Jack Sheppard
Matt Tyas

Lessons learnt: starting out as a product manager

I came to Co-op Digital as an agile business analyst and relatively speaking, I’m pretty new to product management.

I wanted to take on a product manager (PM) role after working with some inspiring people – Anna Goss, Lawrence Kitson and Charlotte King to name a few. I saw each of these people lead teams to meet user and business needs with design and technical solutions. And I wanted to do the same.

Since then, I’ve had to learn a lot of stuff. And quickly.

The other week at Product Camp Manchester, I gave a talk at on the advice I’d give my less experienced self. This post is about what I know now with the power of hindsight.

1.Context is everything

Yes, it’s the dream to get something in the hands of your users within a couple of months – weeks even – and that might be possible if you’re a product manager in a start-up.

But Co-op isn’t a start-up. It’s a huge, traditional organisation and for the vast majority of stakeholders, the pace digital teams move at can be scary. I understand that worry. Of course, it can take longer to get digital products and services out there when you’re working in an organisation going through digital transformation. And I’ve learnt that that’s ok: you need to take into account the time it takes to communicate what you’re doing clearly, and convincingly, to the right people. That way, you get the credibility to continue.

2.What you work on affects your learning

Many new PMs choose to work on ‘safe’ products or services. I didn’t. Instead, I prioritised working on the most interesting product. I pushed for my first product to be one of Co-op’s new ventures because I was really interested in lean product techniques and working on something new felt like a good way to test them out.

However, there have been times when having more experience would have been useful with a product like this. With experience comes confidence and with that comes the willingness to make decisions more quickly (granted, not always better ones). With the power of hindsight I’d be in a better position to be able to weigh up working on something that has more structure because it already exists and the challenge of shaping and influencing the direction of a product from inception.

Although I’m glad I stuck with the product, having the right people in place (an excellent community of practice and a supportive team) has been essential.

3.Influence team morale

Part of a PM’s role is to be in tune with the team’s morale, and sometimes to influence it. I’ve found that keeping these 3 things in mind is helpful.

‘Failing’ is just part of the process

Occasionally, things won’t go to plan. That’s unavoidable. We’ll make the wrong assumptions; we’ll test the wrong thing; a user will interact with a prototype in a completely different way to how we expected, and there’ll be times when we don’t do everything we set out to in a sprint.

As a PM you need to make sure the team knows that all of those things are ok and that making mistakes is fine as long as we’re learning. Letting them know gives each person autonomy, it shows you support them to get on with their job and that you trust their expertise.

The best bad decision is better than no decision

Sometimes, you won’t have enough information to make an informed decision. In those instances, accepting a sensible amount of risk, taking a punt and learning is more beneficial for the team because it keeps things moving. It’s always a good idea to explain a ‘best bad’ decision and the options to the team.

Hand-drawn doodle. A man standing in front of a sign post choosing to go in the direction of 'bad decision' rather than 'badder decision'

Any compromise warrants a thank you

You’re undoubtedly working with some very skilled and knowledgeable people and sometimes you’ll be in a position where you need them to compromise in the name of progress. Nobody likes compromise so if someone does it, showing your gratitude is essential.

4.Learn from doing, not just reading about doing

So much of the role is about how you interact with people, how cooperative they are and how much confidence they have in you – a lot of this can only be learnt through experience, through doing the job. You can read as many PM books as you like but the only way to learn properly is practically, by being on a team. Applying theory to deliver something valuable is the hard part.

5.Empower the team by being clear on your mission

Teams always say they want autonomy. But, if a team has complete autonomy but no mission they might end up building something super impressive and, unfortunately, completely useless to the problem they’re trying to solve.

They might end up building a rocket and not know why.

Hand-drawn doodle of 3 people looking at a very impressive rocket. One says: We built a rocket! Another says: Why?

Autonomy only works if the team is aligned. Creating a mission and communicating it to the whole team will give a clear purpose and empower each person to get on with delivery.

I’ve learnt a lot in a really short time. And as long as there are problems to solve, the learning won’t stop. We’ll be hiring product managers again very soon. Keep an eye on our jobs page and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter to stay in the loop.

Anthony Wilson
Product manager

Illustrations by Maisie Platts

 

 

How to run a design crit and why they’re important

One of our design principles is ‘design in the open’. This means we choose to be collaborative, we show our early design work and invite feedback. Holding design critiques, or ‘crits’, is a useful way to do this.

Done well, they:

  • improve our designs
  • improve collaboration between designers and between disciplines
  • offer a different perspective
  • boost morale and strengthen communities of practice
  • show the decisions behind the design

I recently asked on Twitter if a post on ‘how to run crits and how to get the most out of them’ would be useful. People said yes.

So here it is.

What’s the point?

The purpose of a design crit is to give a designer feedback, to evaluate an idea and identify possible changes or different approaches. It’s not to figure out a solution there and then.

Crits can focus on (but definitely aren’t limited to) things like:

  • interaction of specific page elements
  • a specific user flow
  • the emotion a visual style portrays
  • competitor services

Who to invite

Having the right people there is essential. The temptation might be to fill the room with designers but inviting people from different disciplines will make sure you hear a range of perspectives. In most cases it’s good to start with content designers and user researchers because their work is so intrinsically linked with design.

But they’re not the only ones who really understand how design works. I’d be hesitant to blanket call out other disciplines, instead I’d say it’s up to the person whose work is being critiqued to use their judgement and invite individuals they think would offer valuable input into the specific thing they’re sharing.

A golden rule is to invite the maximum number of people you’d be comfortable hosting a dinner party for – a group big enough to encourage discussion but not so big things are unmanageable.

It’s best when the crit is led by the designer who did the work so they can explain the decisions they made around their design. It also means they’re there to receive feedback first-hand rather than hear chinese whispers. However, if that designer isn’t comfortable leading the session, someone else can facilitate and steer discussions while the designer makes notes on the feedback.  

When to run a crit

Run them often at the start of a project then less frequently as the project goes on. Early crits will most likely focus on top-level ideas. When you’re further along in a project, it’s useful to hold crits to look at particular issues with a view to making specific decisions.

They’re also beneficial before project milestones, for example, before it’s too late to iterate features, flows or ideas.

Actually running a crit

  1. Start the session by identifying the aim(s) of the discussion. For example, we want to:
    • improve the registration flow
    • understand if the design is easy to follow
    • assess whether the design meets the project goals
  2. Point out any constraints, blockers and considerations. For example:
    • any content that can’t be changed – this might be due to legal or policy restraints, or deadlines
    • anything that’s already been built and will take more work to change
  3. Show the design. At this point it’s useful to:
    • explain reasoning or constraints of that specific thing. For example, your navigation choice might need to be consistent with someone else’s work or all the content has been agreed and signed off
    • show alternative designs if you have any
  4. Facilitate discussion by:
    • encouraging the group to share 1 or 2 pieces of feedback. Give the option to do this on post-its for anyone not comfortable giving verbal feedback
    • prompting the quieter people so that nobody dominates the discussion
  5. Collect feedback in a format you can share. This could be Trello.
  6. Share feedback and next steps to the wider group while allowing people to give more – not everyone will be comfortable in the session.

One rule: be kind

Sharing work and opening it up to criticism can be a terrifying prospect. Here are a few ways we can make it less daunting and much more productive for everyone.

When sharing your work you must remember the golden rule: you are not your design.

When critiquing work remember to:

Listen. Then speak thoughtfully.

Crits should be a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts. Listen carefully. If you want to respond, consider whether your thoughts are relevant or whether they’ll progress the discussion.

Ask questions

Rather than stating “X is bad” or “Y doesn’t make sense”, ask questions about the reason behind a design decision. Yes, “what’s the reason for…” is kinder than “that’s rubbish”, but it’s also more useful for the session – if you were wondering about something, chances are the rest of the group are too.

State what’s fact, opinion or assumptions

Everything you say in a crit is your point of view but it’s worth clarifying if something is your personal preference or opinion, or whether it’s backed up by research. “My assumption is that…” is just as valuable in a crit than “user research shows that…”. Both are better than “that should be green/bigger/bolder.”

How do you do it?

Designing collaboratively and in the open is important and design crits help us do that. There’s no set method but this is one that has worked for me and teams I’ve worked with.

Do you place importance on critiques and design reviews in your organisation? How do they work? All crit-related tips and tricks are welcome in the comments.

Jack Sheppard
Lead interaction designer