Tech for good advocates can apply for funded workspace at The Federation

Earlier today, The Federation announced that the Co-op Foundation, has been given £700,000 of funding from Omidyar Network, an organisation that invests in entrepreneurs committed to advancing social good.

At The Federation, Co-op Digital already works alongside organisations and individuals who share our Co-op values but thanks to the funding, there are now 60 workspaces that like-minded tech entrepreneurs can apply for. 

You can apply for a workspace and read more about the funding over on the Federation site.

The funding will also support Federation’s events programme. Many of the events will be themed around how we create a more inclusive digital economy in the UK. Talks and workshops will look at the impact of technology on broader social issues such as loneliness, inclusive participation and the right to privacy.

Sign up to the Federation newsletter to stay up to date.

Co-op Digital team

Matching our research approach to the project

We’ve been drafting our user research principles recently and one idea to come out of the sessions was that:

User researchers shouldn’t fall back on a single research method just because we know it.

It got me thinking about my latest project at Co-op Digital and how interviewing people in a lab may have been easier for us but our insights wouldn’t have been anywhere near as valuable.

My point is: it’s easy to stick with a research method because it’s familiar or we feel confident using it, but different projects demand different approaches and user researchers must think carefully about choosing the most suitable one.

Matching the research approach to the project

I’ve been working on a ‘later life planning’ team, looking at how we can help people plan for the future.

We wanted to have conversations with people around:

  • what planning for the future means in practice
  • their hopes for the future
  • any plans they have in place

But talking about wills, funerals, loss and what might happen to us in the future can be scary and emotional – so much so that it’s a conversation lots of people avoid having. I quickly realised that our research approach needed to be carefully and sensitively planned.

We use research labs regularly and they can be brilliant. They help the whole team witness the research first-hand and the controlled environment allows the researcher to focus on the interview rather than on logistics.

But labs can be quite clinical.

The white walls and huge two-way mirror don’t foster a comfortable, relaxed environment. I wanted the people we spoke to to be comfortable. This is something that needed to be more on their terms.

Researching in context

Photograph of hands cupping a mug at a dining table. Glasses in shot as well as a plate of chocolate biscuits.Apart from putting them at ease, the decision to visit people in their homes came from the desire to understand a wider context. What environment are people in when they have these conversations and make these decisions?

And home visits were great. Talking to someone surrounded by photos of their grandchildren, or with their pets bouncing around, helped us to understand what’s really important to them. By allowing us to see a little bit of how they live, our research participants gave us insights that we might not have got if we’d spoken over the phone or they’d talked to us in a lab.

For example, we saw:

  1. People struggling to find certain documents, despite them telling us that everything was in one place. This indicates that they might not have their plans as organised as they’d made out. We’re less likely to have found this out over the phone or in a lab.
  2. People’s expressions and body language while they had candid conversations with loved ones. One valuable insight was seeing the sense of urgency on a wife’s face when she spoke about needing to replace her husband’s expired life assurance plan. Her expression gave us an idea of what an important and worrying issue this was for her. Their body language show us how much importance each of them placed on different parts of their existing plan.  

Seeing things first-hand was a good reminder that people’s lives are messy. Anything we design or build needs to consider this.

Challenges with timing and practicalities

It took a long time to plan and prepare for the home visits. The logistics of travelling, getting lost, finding somewhere to park and finding the right spot to put the GoPro so we could record the interview was sometimes tricky. And by the time we’d introduced ourselves, talked through consent, set up the GoPro, things felt quite rushed. Next time, I’ll allocate time for these things or chat over the phone before the interview to establish a relationship and cover the basics in advance.

It’s tricky to involve the whole team

I’ve found it’s easier to get the whole team involved when we’re speaking to people in the lab – it’s one place, one day. But we carried out home visits over 2 weeks making it more difficult to pin everyone down.

We discussed who we wanted to speak to and what we’d like to find out as a team beforehand. This then fed into the plan and discussion guide. Product manager Sophia Ridge and designer Matt Tyas were able to come to the various interviews but making sure the whole team heard the voice of the interviewee and got the same insight was difficult.

We all came together to watch the home visit videos and I asked everyone to take notes as they would in a lab setting. I’d hoped we’d sort the findings and uncover themes and insights together. But 2 videos in, people were pulled onto other work. Next time, I’ll take the team out of our working space and ask them to leave their laptops behind.

Research community, how do you do it?

We’d be interested to hear how and why you’ve chosen to step outside the lab for different projects, and whether you think you got more useful insight from it. Leave a comment below.

Vicki Riley
User researcher

Introducing our secondary colour palette

Since Co-op Digital began, we’ve mostly used 4 colours in our products and services. The majority have white backgrounds, blue Co-op logos, black text (sometimes blue) and our boxes and borders are grey. User interface elements such as buttons and error messages use additional colours but we’ve been quite cautious about using colour more broadly.

We wanted to keep things simple to focus on the design of our products but we’re now beginning to develop our visual language and colour will be a big part of this.

This week we’ve added a colour section to the design manual as well as 22 secondary colours to our palette. Here they are:

Grid of secondary colour palette showing blocks of colours and the hex numbers.

Choosing the colours for the secondary palette

The colours we’re trying out have their origins in the illustration and Food colour palettes from the Co-op brand guidelines. The first iteration was 8 dark and 8 light colours but designers didn’t feel those 16 were enough. They also said they looked kind of ‘muddy’ on screen.

We iterated and now we’ve got a range of dark, mid and bright hues. We’ve adapted them by brightening them slightly to make them appear more pure on screen.

Positive feedback on the primary palette

The feedback we’ve had on and has been positive. Users think the sites are easy to read, even on tablets and mobile devices. And making sure the colours we use are accessible, ie, that they’re high contrast enough to be clear and legible, is the most important thing.

However, there’s also an argument that the sites could be more exciting and the secondary colour palette gives us the opportunity to expand ways in which Co-op brand spirit is represented. Yes, we were cautious at first and we made sure we got the basics right before doing too much, but we are a commercial brand and we’re allowed to be a bit more interesting with how we use colour.

Giving designers alternatives

Co-op blue is a dominant colour, one that pops out and grabs the brain’s attention. This makes it great for our logo and for overall brand recognition. But, if a dominant colour is used in numerous elements on a page it can be difficult for a user to prioritise information or find what they’re looking for.

In the past, when our 3 brand colours (plus black for text) were the only ones available, some of our businesses have used Co-op blue behind white text. We use the WebAim colour contrast checker to check our colours meet the minimum colour contrast standards and the white text on Co-op blue isn’t as good as it could be accessibility-wise. Adding the secondary colours to our palette gives designers across the organisation alternatives. Co-op sites are now moving away from using the Co-op blue and are using the secondary palette instead.

Developing an approach to using colour

Along with the secondary colour palette, we’ve added a section on our approach to colour to the design manual. We aim to use colour with purpose (and also with restraint) so as not to make things complex for users.

We’re using colour to:

  • help structure content, eg, grouping things and helping users read content in a certain order
  • indicate what’s important on a page when there are no images
  • attract attention (our Twitter cards are a good example of this)
  • help highlight where action is needed, often by indicating a user’s progression through a service

Some colours already have meaning attached

There are some colour conventions in digital that users are familiar with. For example, a green button is widely used to indicate a primary call to action as a user progresses through a service. This is something we use but we also need other types like sign in buttons. We’re trying out other colours for these but wherever colour conventions already exist in the digital world, we’ll usually adhere to them. There no point making users’ lives harder.

A chance to be consistent

Co-op is a huge organisation and adding a secondary palette gives us the opportunity to create a consistent brand language on screens that’s appropriate to each context. Using just the blue, white and grey is arguably more memorable but it’s just not flexible enough for the wide variety of digital products, services, applications, forms, communications, dashboards and the rest.

Nothing’s final. We’ll need to adjust, add to or take away colours but a defined colour palette should help tie all of these things together under the Co-op brand.

Gail Mellows

5 things we learnt that helped us build the ‘How do I’ service

We’ve recently launched ‘How do I’ – a service that helps colleagues in Co-op Food stores find out how to complete store tasks and procedures in the right way. We built it based on months of research with our Food store colleagues.

Here are 5 things we learnt that challenged our assumptions and helped us create a service that’s based on the needs of the people who use it:

1.The most frequent tasks aren’t the most searched for  

In web design it usually makes sense to prioritise the most common tasks – those which affect the most people, most often. So, for food stores you could assume that might be putting a card payment through the till or putting stock out correctly – the tasks which have to be done frequently.

But we found that the majority of our colleagues had become so familiar with these tasks that they didn’t need to check the detail. It was, of course, the infrequent tasks that our users needed to check – the tasks they only have to do occasionally and need to check the detail of what’s involved.

So, we created a service that prioritised the things we knew colleagues needed to check.

2.People don’t want to rely on those around them for their development

We saw that most colleagues were confident asking for help and were used to learning by being shown. We assumed that this was the best way for colleagues to learn.

However, we found that this takes at least 2 people’s time, colleagues often felt like they were pestering the other person and it’s not always the best way of relaying information – people were sometimes passing on bad habits.

We found that it can be especially frustrating if you’re relying on a manager for information, for instance if you’re trying to learn new procedures to get a promotion. Managers are often busy with other tasks and responsibilities:

I’m going to the manager all the time – that’s why it’s taking me so long. It’d be quicker if I could have gone somewhere to look myself.

– Customer team member training to become a team leader

So we built a service that allows colleagues to be self-sufficient and responsible for their own development.

3.Managers are users too

We assumed that the audience who would benefit most from a service like this would be customer team members (rather than managers). They were our largest audience and those who were often newest to Co-op.  

But, we learnt that those who were new into a management role also felt especially vulnerable. As their responsibility increased, so did the assumption from their colleagues that they immediately knew everything:

Going from customer team member to team leader is a massive jump. It can be quite daunting and hard to get to grip with everything that has to be done.

– New team leader

So we made a service that could help give new managers confidence at the time they need it most.

4.People with specialisms can feel disempowered  

In some of the larger stores, colleagues tended to have responsibility for their own  area, for example, the cash office, newspaper and magazines or the tills. They were experts in their areas and knew the processes inside out. We assumed these colleagues would have little need to use the service.

But, we learnt that their specialism often meant that they were:

  • nervous covering shifts in different parts of the store
  • unable to cover certain shifts
  • lacked confidence applying for overtime opportunities in different stores

If I went to a smaller store I wouldn’t know what to do. I feel disadvantaged because I don’t know how to do things.

– Customer team member in a large store

 So we created a service where colleagues can access any information they want, from computers in any store, and get the knowledge they need to go for other opportunities.

5.Putting information on a website isn’t always the answer

Co-op has a lot of health and safety policies and procedures. A lot. Many people thought that the ‘How do I’ website would be the best place to put all that information. But, just because something is a procedure for Co-op Food store staff, doesn’t mean the website’s the right place to put that content, especially if we want colleagues to pay attention to it.

For information to be useful, it needs to be available at the point it’s needed.

For example, amongst the health and safety procedures are things like how to wash your hands properly after preparing food.  We learnt that people would be more receptive to the information if it was a poster positioned near the sink. It wasn’t effective it to put information like that on a website – people’s hands were dirty and they rarely had a computer nearby (if they did, it didn’t cross their mind to check it in that situation).
So, we made a service that’s based on an understanding of the what the user’s doing and where they are at that point of completing a task.  

Don’t assume. Learn.

When creating ‘How do I’ we:

  • were open-minded
  • tested our assumptions
  • made mistakes
  • were proven wrong

By understanding who our users are and what they need, we’re able to build a service that can help them, rather than a service based on reckons, assumptions and guesses.
And it doing so we were able to focus on the things that were important – our users.

Joanne Schofield
Content designer

Do you want to work with us to design content that puts users first? We’re hiring content designers.

Steve Foreshew-Cain: welcome back

(Transcript) Steve Foreshew-Cain: Hello and welcome to the first Digital team update of 2018. Happy New year to everyone hope you all had an enjoyable and festive break with your families. A big thank you to those of you who worked over the holidays, and particularly those in our social media team who were there for our members and our customers even on Christmas Day.

Before we left for the Christmas break we had the last All Team of 2017. It was a great celebration of all the hard work from everyone during the year. You can see some of the highlights in the short film which was put together and is available on our YouTube channel and linked to from our blog.

But back to the future and back to 2018, and this week we say a big hello to Matt Atkinson who’s joined Co-op as our Chief Member Officer. It’s great to have him here and he’ll be spending the next few weeks getting to know our teams in Digital alongside the other areas within his responsibility. So, a big welcome Matt.

Now, since opening the events space in The Federation in October we’ve held over 90 events for many different organisations, including the latest Digital Summit for the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. The space is available for anyone to book – so if you’re looking for a great space or want to have just a look around, contact
Victoria and the team and they’ll be happy to show you around.

The Pioneer cafe in The Federation is also now serving food as well as amazing coffee. When you’re in the building do come along and check it out.

The new year has also brought some new faces to the team. We’re delighted to welcome
Heidi Berry, who is joining our engineering community, along with Danny McCarthy, Emma Gray and Kimberley Cowell who join our data science team. A big welcome to all our you.

We’ve also said a couple of goodbyes over the last few weeks to Laura Timmins and Tino Triste – thank you and as always we wish you all the very best for the future.

Dave Johnson our Director of Digital Engineering will also be leaving us at the end of January 2018. Jon Ayre will now step up and lead the Digital Engineering team
on an interim basis until we complete the process to find a permanent successor.

That’s it for this week. You’ll find our latest vacancies our blog. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates and follow us on Twitter. Look forward to seeing you next week.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Group Digital Director

Making product decisions requires us to take risks

Designing a good product – one that meets user needs and is both a viable value proposition as well as technically feasible – requires us to be both gamblers and scientists. When we say ‘gamblers’, we don’t mean we’re reckless and irresponsible. We work in an agile way which massively reduces financial risk and helps us find (or discount) solutions to problems quickly. Gambling for agile teams like ours is about speculating and taking risks in the hope of getting a desired result.  

Reducing the risk of building something useless

User-centred design tries to reduce the risk involved in building a product by focusing on what users do now, or what underlying job they’re trying to achieve. It involves determining who your users are, analysing their needs, and determining likely demand for different possible solutions. It’s as much art as it is science but done well it can reduce the risk inherent in deciding on a thing to build. And from these findings, these informed reckons, you do some research and start to shape a product.

If you gamble on your product decisions early you learn more, and the odds on creating a good product fit for your target user base start to shorten.

When to take bigger risks and embrace the long odds

Taking bigger risks at the start of the product life cycle usually pays off. At the start, you’re unlikely to have much data on your users and their behaviour, so prototypes will have a set of assumptions about your users to test.

Because you’ll probably only have relatively few users to test with, your gambles need to be stark in their differences. Be radical in tests as this helps discount huge swathes of things and sets you in roughly the right direction. As the product matures, you need to gamble less and make smaller, more educated guesses as the graph below highlights.

Graph. Y axis label is uncertainty or probability of being wrong. X axis is tests undertaken to validate product. The line goes from top left to bottom right.

Stakeholders: if we don’t take risks, we won’t win

Researcher Sam Ladner sums up the idea of being both gamblers and scientists in her post Design researchers must think fast and slow. She says:

Design researchers should embrace less structure and more openness at the early stages of product design, and rigour and structure in the mature stages of product sales.

Sam Ladner

The graph below, taken from Ladner’s post, illustrates this. It shows the move towards more structure as a product matures. You could plot the decline in uncertainty around market fit, target users, user journey and experience for example, as the product matures too.

The graph shows the move towards more structure as a product matures.

That’s how it should work.

However, being comfortable with uncertainty and embracing the idea of taking risks can make stakeholders and our non-Digital colleagues a little uneasy. And that’s understandable – this is an unfamiliar way of working to them. The Digital team know this though and we’re keen to work inclusively and show how testing assumptions is relatively cheap compared to traditional business.

How it works in practice

We can see from some of our projects at the Co-op that the propensity to gamble differs hugely from one project to the next. 

The Digital Product Research team moved quickly to test new propositions in the market: things like a white goods subscription service, and a service to ‘scrobble’ (automatically get and process) your utility bills to help you work out how your spending changes, and if it might be cheaper to switch. These were ideas spun out quickly and tested with real users. We learnt from doing the work that as products or services, they were unlikely to provide sufficient return for the investment needed.

Then there’s online Wills. We had more belief in this idea, ie, it exists in the market and is clearly already a thing. Here, it was a case of working out where our proposition would best fit with users and the existing business process. The gamble was on shorter odds, but in many ways felt far harder as we were working with an existing business and its staff, and embedded processes in a tightly regulated market.

Strategies for success

Navigating through product decisions and keeping our colleagues in other areas of the Co-op on board is not trivial. We’ve learnt 2 things which have helped us:

  1. Stay focused on the problem you’re trying to solve. Your experiments are trying to prove that it meets the user’s needs effectively.
  2. Business stakeholders prefer the language of data to qualitative research, so use data and qualitative findings to prove out whether the experiment worked and whether it met the user need effectively.

Good luck 🙂

James Boardwell, Head of User Research
Anna Goss, product manager

2017 highlights: there’s a lot to be proud of

Yesterday, at our final All Team of the year, the Digital team came together to look back at 2017. There’s a lot to be proud of so we’ve made a film to show our highlights.

Everyone at Co-op Digital has made a difference. Everyone has been determined to do the right thing, even when the right thing wasn’t easy.

Here’s to being collaborative. Here’s to being brave.

Here’s to 2018.