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

 

User research, not user testing

I’ve now been at the Co-op for a couple of months. In that time I’ve met lots of people, seen lots of work going on and talked about what I do with many, many people. I’ve even written my first CoopDigital blog post about user research at the Co-op.

One thing that I know we still need to work on is sharing wider what user research really is and how it should be used to influence what we do and how we do it. This is fine, it’s part of our jobs as experienced agile people and experienced researchers. It’s one of the reasons we’re hiring so many good people.

In my previous place of work, if someone called what we do ‘user testing’ there would almost always be someone who’d jump up and say ‘User Research NOT User Testing!’. I was always fairly relaxed about it, I knew what they meant, the person uttering it knew what they meant and it always felt like a bit of an over-reaction to me, personally, I’d just smile and let it go.

Moving to somewhere where it is a less familiar concept I’m beginning to realise why people did it.

I’m finding that, for some people, ‘user testing’ is something you do near the end, you’re fairly convinced you’ve got it right, you’re fairly convinced it’s going to work and it’s going to go down well. What you might get is some feedback or minor tweaks to make it even better. I think the issue is the word ‘testing’, where testing is generally done just before you go live to spot bugs and defects.

That’s not what user research and agile development is, what it’s for and what it’s brilliant at.

A picture of one of the CoopDigital product teams

User research is invaluable to us to help decide if we should build/release something at all, what that something should be and how it should work. It shows us how the thing we make will fit into users lives. It gives us insight into the language people use and how they view the world. It also helps us understand the problems in their lives they’re trying to solve, the tasks they’re trying to achieve and how what we build can help solve that problem or complete that task.

There is also the issue of what we’re testing when we do research: we’re testing our designs, we aren’t testing our users. The user doesn’t pass or fail, the design does.

Simon Hurst
User researcher

User Research at CoopDigital

Hello, my name’s Simon and I’ve just joined the team at CoopDigital as a user researcher.  I’m really excited to be here and help the team build some world class digital services.

Picture of Simon Hurst - user researcher
Simon Hurst – user researcher

What does a user researcher do?

User researchers fulfil several roles for a team, we’re there to help them understand:

1) Who the users of our services are and understand what they need from the service. To build great services you need to truly empathise with your users.

2) What’s the problem the user is trying to solve, what goal are they trying to achieve? How can we support them to achieve their goal?

3) Whether the solution we’re looking to provide works well and how can it be better?

Meeting real people

We do this by getting out of the building and meeting real people, talking to them and trying to understand their lives, watching them trying to complete their goals or use things we’re building.

We work with a huge variety of people, this includes those who are just learning the ropes, people who have maybe been bought a tablet by their children, or people who use a screenreader to interact with their device because of a visual impairment.

Bringing the team along

It’s even better when you bring members of the team with you, getting people who are building the service and writing the code to see users actually using the thing they’ve built and to see them struggling can have a tremendous impact on how they tackle problems. The result is a team who care about what they’re building and are absolutely committed to making it the best it can be.

User researchers are interested in if people can use things to complete a task, user research isn’t about asking people if they ‘like’ what we’ve built, or what they think of the colours.

It can be frustrating for people to see something they’ve designed and built not working, to see people struggling to understand the words they’ve used, or to interact with the clever little interface they’ve made. However, the sooner we can recognise the issues, the sooner we can fix them, it’s better to find this out before you release the thing.

It’s even more important to understand why we are building something in the first place, is it needed by people? Is it helping them to achieve a goal or to solve a problem? If it isn’t we end up building something that could be the most beautiful designed and usable product or service, but if it’s not needed then no one will ever use it.

We’ll be looking at how we get involved with users more and more in the near future and we’ll be sure to blog about how we’re doing it and what we’re learning along the way. We’ll also be working hard to try and understand how user research applies in an organisation as diverse and varied as Co-op. There’ll be plenty more blogs to come from us on that.

Simon Hurst
User Researcher

We’re looking for user researchers.

We’re recruiting user researchers to join our growing CoopDigital team in Manchester. These new, permanent roles are critical to our ability to deliver brand new digital services for The Co-op, its customers and members.

Our user researchers play a pivotal role in our multidisciplinary agile teams, working with product managers, designers, developers and more to develop and share our understanding of user needs; managing, facilitating and analysing continuous research throughout the phases of service delivery, from discovery to live. We do research the right way.

It’s a chance to join a team at the beginning of its journey, helping to shape CoopDigital as a team and research as a community of practice just as much as the services you’ll lead our research work on. It’s not just the opportunity to deliver services at scale across the UK, but to embed the value of research in The Co-op and bring it ever closer to the needs of its users.

We’re looking for people with a range of experience using qualitative and quantitative research skills; really strong communication skills; and – ideally – experience of an agile environment. An interest or past experience of user experience, design and content roles can help too. If that sounds like you, we’d love to talk.

The Co-op is a special organisation with distinctive values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. On equality, we want a team that is representative of the customers and members we serve and know that we’re not there yet. We believe in diversity and inclusion, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we know it makes us better at what we do. We welcome applications from those traditionally under-represented in design, research, digital and technology roles. If that’s you, or someone you know, we’d really encourage you to think about joining us.

You can apply for our user researcher roles now. The closing date is 31st May 2016.

Andrew Travers
Head of Digital Design