An accessibility audit for the Co-op Insurance website

This is a guest post about co-opinsurance.co.uk – a product developed by a team within Co-op Insurance. The author is Paul Braddock, an interaction designer who works on it.

There are a lot of reasons for checking and improving how accessible co-opinsurance.co.uk is. In the crudest terms, it makes good business sense: the more people who don’t find it frustrating to use, the more potential customers we have. 

But the purpose of accessible design is far more than making a sale. 

AbilityNet estimate there are 19.1 million people in the UK who may have physical, cognitive, visual or hearing impairments that could affect how they interact with the world online. Equality is one of Co-op’s values and it states all members should have the opportunity to be involved. Being inclusive is part of what we do at Co-op and it’s what we strive for in our design.

With this in mind we commissioned a technical accessibility audit of the site. This post is about the recommendations made, how we’re tackling them and the effect we hope setting a standard will have on our partners.

Defining the scope

Our data analyst Nick Jones looked at the site’s traffic and identified the most common user journeys we see on co-opinsurance.co.uk He also pulled out our most frequently used page templates so that if one of those wasn’t accessible, fixing it would mean we could fix a lot relatively quickly.  

We worked on 10 sample website pages with AbilityNet who would be checking to see if the pages comply with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). To get the most value from the audit testing was carried out using JAWS for desktop and Talkback for Android, across all major browsers including Chrome, IE11 and Firefox.

Issues identified

Across the 10 pages, AbilityNet found 18 issues which would affect people who use assistive technology to navigate our website. They estimate 3.8 million people in the UK use assistive technology such as screen readers. They also identified issues that would impact 2.3 million people in the UK who may have difficulty seeing the screen. 

Of the 18 issues, they deemed 3 to be ‘high priority’ because aria labels were not in place so screen readers would not read out:

  1. Icons in tables.
  2. Dropdown options in our live chat feature.
  3. Our sticky ‘Live chat’ button.  

Here’s an example of a table we use on the site. 

insurance-travel-tableThe ticks and crosses are the icons that weren’t announced to users. For example, the ticks and crosses in the table shows that platinum multi-trip insurance includes cruise cover but bronze, silver and gold don’t. However, a screen reader would have announced, “platinum blank column 5”. Not only are the icons not compatible with screen readers, we hadn’t made the information available elsewhere on the page. 

Here’s a screenshot of issue 2: live chat dropdown options.

insurance-yd-chat-dropdown

The live chat window has a drop down so that users can indicate what they’d like help with. But screen readers don’t announce it, so users are at risk of not knowing what the options are. This would have a major impact on our users who are dependent on using live chat as a preferred method of contact.

And below is how the sticky live chat button looks (issue 3).

insurance-car-chat

With our live chat feature, neither the label or the fact it is a button is announced by a screen reader. Which means that screen reader users may not know that the button and method of contact exists.

How we’re fixing them

AbilityNet also gave recommendations on how to fix the issues they identified. Our content, design and developer teams are now in the process of fixing the 18 issues that were identified and taking what we learnt from the audit and applying the fixes across the whole of co-opinsurance.co.uk 

The content team were able to fix their issues straight away, as only minor tweaks to aria labels where required for certain products. James Martin has development fixes in progress and these changes will form part of a future code release. We’ve also been speaking with the external team who built our live chat and to make sure the problems that were identified are prioritised for their future releases.

Hoping to influence good behaviour

The audit was just for co-opinsurance.co.uk – that’s what we own and manage. However, our ‘quote and buy’ journeys are owned and managed by our underwriting partners so once a user clicks ‘get a quote’, their online journey passes over to a partner’s site.

Just like the issues that were identified with our live chat, we can’t necessarily fix them but we can influence them. We are therefore in the process of creating a ‘standard’, similar to a set of guidelines, that would cover our expectations and best practices when it comes to accessibility for our partners. This could eventually be fed into our Design system if we believe it brings value to other areas of the Co-op.

We recognise that inclusive design is a process so we are taking additional steps in our ways of working to make sure that we don’t exclude people when they come to our website:

  • by including accessibility checks in our quality assurance process when publishing new content or doing development improvements
  • using open source tools such as Accessibility Insights and Lighthouse to check co-opinsurance.co.uk on a quarterly basis
  • recruiting Co-op members with accessibility issues for our user research – if you would like to get involved email: gidigital@co-opinsurance.co.uk

Paul Braddock
Designer from Co-op Insurance

How contextual research helped us redesign the replenishing process in our Food stores

Every day, in every Co-op Food store, a colleague does a ‘gap scan’. They walk around the store, they spot gaps on the shelves, and they scan the shelf label with a hand-held terminal. This generates a ‘gap report’ which tells the colleague which products need replenishing. It also flags other tasks, such as which items need taking off the shelves because they should no longer be sold.

This is an essential stock management process in our stores. It ensures:

  • stock we’re low on is ordered automatically
  • customers can get the products they need
  • our stock data is accurate

However, the process is complicated. There’s an 18-page user manual explaining how to do it and on average, gap reports are 25 pages long. 

Making the essential less arduous

In the Operational Innovation Store team, we aim to simplify laborious processes in stores. Product owner and former store manager Ross Milner began thinking about how we might tackle ‘gap’, as store colleagues call it. 

He started by asking some questions:

  • How might we design a process so intuitive our store colleagues don’t need a manual? 
  • How might we help colleagues complete all the priority actions from the report immediately? 
  • How might we save 25 pieces of paper per store, per day – in other words, 22 million sheets per year? 

Learning from users

I’m a user researcher and this is the point where I joined the project. My first research objective was to discover how store colleagues go about the process at the moment, and what they find good and bad about it. To do this, I visited 5 stores. I interviewed the managers about their process – as it’s a task which usually falls to them due to its current complexity – but most importantly, I observed how they use the gap reports.

Adapting what they had to meet their needs

Being there in person in the back offices in stores gave me a far deeper insight than I would have got had I done phone interviews, or even just spoken to colleagues on the shop floor. 

Being there gave me access to reams of old gap reports stashed in the back office. It was invaluable to see how colleagues had adapted them to better meet their needs. Some of the things I saw included:

  • dividing the stack of pages into easily-managed sections
  • highlighting the information that requires action
  • ignoring all the non-actionable information on the report – some users didn’t even know what the information meant
  • changing printer settings to save paper
  • ticking off products as they complete the actions against them 

Photograph of one page of a gap report. Several numbers are highlighted. Not particularly easy to understand.

Seeing the physical artefact in its context revealed a lot of needs we might have otherwise missed, because colleagues are doing these things subconsciously and most likely wouldn’t have thought to mention them to us.

Learning from prototypes

Our contextual research has helped us identify several unmet needs. Delivery manager Lee Connolly built a basic prototype in Sketch and we mocked up a digitised gap reporting process. The design clearly separated and prioritised anything that needed store colleagues to take action. We arranged those tasks in a list so they could be ‘ticked off’ in the moment, on the shop floor.

Screenshot of an early prototype used for scanning labels on shelves

This was intended as a talking point in user interviews and the feedback was positive. The store managers were fascinated, asking when they’d be able to use it, and – unprompted – listing all the benefits we were hoping to achieve, and more.

Developing ‘Replen’: an alpha

We’d validated some assumptions and with increased confidence in the idea, we expanded our team to include a designer and developer so we could build an alpha version of the app. We call this app ‘Replen’ because its aim is to help colleagues replenish products when needed.

Interaction designer Charles Burdett began rapid prototyping and usability testing to fail fast, learn quickly and improve confidence in the interface. It was important to do this in the store alongside colleagues, on the devices they normally use. We wanted to make it feel as realistic as possible so users could imagine how it would work as a whole process and we could elicit a natural response from them. 

photograph of possible interface on a phone in front of co-op food store shelves

Profiling stores so we know where we’re starting from

Before we could give them the app, we needed to understand each trial store’s current situation, so that we’ll be able to understand how much of a difference Replen has made. We visited all the stores we’re including in our trial. Again, being physically there, in context, was vital. 

The following things have an effect on the current gap process and may also affect how useful Replen is for colleagues. We noted:

  • the store layout and the size of their warehouse
  • whether the store tends to print double-sided
  • where managers had created their own posters and guides to help colleagues follow the gap process
  • any workarounds the stores are doing to save time and effort

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 16.25.04

What’s next for Replen?

We’ve just launched the Replen alpha in our 12 trial stores.

The aim of an alpha is to learn. We’re excited to see whether it meets user needs, and validate some of the benefits we’ve been talking about. We’re also keen to see whether stores continue using any workarounds, and whether cognitive load is reduced.

We will, of course, be learning this by visiting the stores in person, observing our product being used in real life, and speaking to our users face to face. When redesigning a process, user research in context is everything. 

Rachel Hand
User researcher

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.

3_walls

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).

8_health

‘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-operate: an online platform to bring communities together

We recently launched Co-operate, an online platform aimed at bringing communities closer together.

So far, our research has told us we should be designing something that makes it easier for people to:

  • start local groups and find others to team up with
  • find a community space
  • club together financially to reach a goal
  • come together and campaign for something they’re passionate about

As always, we’ve started small. We’ve restricted Co-operate to one area for now: Stretford in Manchester.

This post talks about the research that’s shaped the product, what we’ve done so far, and why Co-operate is so very ‘Co-op’.

Community is part of what all co-operatives stand for

The Co-op shares many values with other co-operatives including ‘self-help’ (members joining together and making a difference) and ‘self-responsibility’ (every member supporting their co-op’s activities and using its products and services and encouraging others to support it too).

‘Concern for the community’ is one of the Co-op principles. One of the ways we demonstrate this is by giving 1% of what members spend on Co-op branded products to a local community cause of their choice. Since we launched the new Co-op Membership in 2016, £31.7 million has been invested in around 4,000 community projects thanks to members’ 1%. This has supported a range of community groups including adult literacy classes, youth clubs and schemes that bring isolated older people together close to where they live.

Our new Co-operate platform is an extension of these values and principles. It aims to help communities to make changes autonomously through co-operation – it’s a natural fit for the Co-op.

Clarifying the problem

Last year Co-op started to look into communities. The previous exploration and tests showed us that the combination of people and technology can make it easier for people to co-operate. Over the years, we’ve interviewed volunteers, charity workers, social entrepreneurs and community leaders to find out what’s stopping local communities from coming together to make themselves stronger.

Their research reaffirmed our assumption and we’ve recently been able to clarify the problem: People find it hard to connect and make things happen in their local community.

Poster that says: People find it hard to connect and make things happen in their local community.

From this, we set our vision: Build the one place to go to make things happen in local communities.

poster that says: Build the one place to go to make things happen in local communities.

Ambitious, bold and exciting.

Starting small and locally

As with all digital products we knew that we would need to start small, test, learn and iterate. We decided to do a series of hyper-local trials across Greater Manchester and build collaboratively with users in those areas.

We started in Stretford by assembling a small, multi-disciplinary team and behaving like a start-up. We wanted to build a lean version of the service so we could learn quickly, without wasted effort. By manually adding content ourselves rather than building an expensive content management system, we know what is useful.

Listening to users

We’ve been talking to community organisers in Stretford – the heroes who have managed to start groups that benefit the local area. They’ve told us about the challenges they’ve had to overcome and the ones they’re still struggling with. Most told us:

  • promoting events time-consuming
  • finding more volunteers is hard
  • co-ordinating volunteers is difficult
  • getting access to funding is complicated
  • connecting with other organisers doesn’t happen often

A lot of this is consistent with the research that was done last year. But we are now in direct contact with these people, and see them as an extension of our team. They are the subject matter experts – they’re living and breathing life in a community every day and pushing to improve things for many.

First feature: a ‘digital noticeboard’

As a result of listening and observing, we’ve built a product that pulls together local events and activities that benefit the local area in some way. It’s a kind of digital noticeboard for Stretford called ‘What’s happening’.

Photograph of Co-operate's What's happening in Stretford

We’ve set up a simple, flexible architecture using our Heroku prototype platform along with Contentful, Algolia and Gatsby.js. This lets us quickly try things whilst at the same time being secure and performant.

To get to this point we:

  1. Took photos of all the noticeboards in the area.
  2. Analysed the information and grouped it into categories.
  3. Set up our content management interface and added in the information.
  4. Tested it with users (Stretfordians).
  5. Improved the UX and re-wrote some of the content to make it clearer for users.

You can see this at co-op.co.uk/co-operate.

Next time, we’ll share why we started with a ‘What’s Happening’ product and the next product that we are starting to develop.

If you want to get in touch, email us at co-operate@coopdigital.co.uk

We’re particularly interested in understanding what you’d need to know before you would commit time to helping out in your local area.

Ben Rieveley
Product manager