The Co-op Experience Library is a collection of guidelines, tools and resources to help us create better customer experiences at Co-op. It’s the latest iteration of the Co-op Design System, and it’s for anyone working on products, services and communications at Co-op.
Co-op is made up of many business areas including our Food stores, Funeralcare, Legal and Insurance. And colleagues from each of these businesses communicate with their customers every day through a wide range of channels including websites, apps, email, telephone, forms, in store and in communities.
These customer experiences (that’s each point a customer interacts with Co-op) must be connected and consistent so that customers understand us, trust us and choose to use our services. So, we want to create a place where colleagues can go to get help building accessible, consistent and inclusive customer experiences.
By creating a central library of reusable assets and guides, we believe that teams can:
We’d spent a lot of time researching the design system with colleagues. And, although we knew it was being used, we found that there were areas we could improve, including:
making it more inclusive for people who were not designers
making it more inspiring
reducing the gaps in design advice and documentation
So we’ve spent the last few months trying to fix these issues. We’ve:
changed the name to the ‘Experience Library’ to encourage both designers and non-designers to use it
worked with other teams and business units to include a broader range of topics
added more detailed design advice and documentation
established content processes so that anything that gets added to the library is researched, critiqued, understandable and accessible
worked with subject matter experts from around Co-op to feed in and check the guidance
created a new visual language that we hope will inspire people to experiment and build on the foundations within the Experience Library
worked in the open, shared what we’re doing and regularly got feedback from colleagues
We’ve started by focusing mostly on the digital experience. But this is only the beginning, we have big aspirations. We want the Experience Library to be useful for anyone who communicates on behalf of the Co-op. That’s anyone who a customer interacts with, through any channel, in any business area. Our long-term vision is:
To create and maintain a comprehensive, evolving library of foundational tools, resources and assets that empower us to create better customer experiences across Co-op.
To do this we need the library to be truly collaborative – the one place where colleagues can go to get trusted and up-to-date guidance that meets their needs and makes their jobs easier.
So next, we’ll be working with teams across digital, communications and brand to understand how we can better support and collaborate with them.
Tell us what you think
We’d love to know what you think about the Experience Library. Fill in this form to give feedback.
Last week we published a post that explains what we mean when we talk about customer experience at Co-op. Today’s post aims to show the applied, practical side of some of the things we spoke about. We’re using a piece of work that we – the Customer Experience Strategy team – has been involved in as an example.
(Slightly surprising) background and context
Most UK residents will be familiar with Nisa Locals, the convenience shops. What is perhaps lesser known is that those shops are actually independently run – in fact, Nisa’s tagline is ‘the family of independent grocers’. Nisa is a wholesaler who the independent shops buy their stock from (plus, many independent shops also buy from them but do not call themselves Nisa). So, when we refer to ‘customers’ in this post, we’re referring to each independent, local shop.
Since Co-op completed its acquisition of Nisa Retail Limited, teams from both businesses have been sharing approaches and ways of working. The Nisa leadership team were concerned that the customer experience (CX) for the independent retailers who interact with the wholesaler was lacking in some areas – they said they would like to improve customer retention, loyalty and sales.
This felt like a good chance for Co-op’s relatively newly-formed Customer Experience Strategy team to set out a vision for what the experience of interacting with Nisa could be. We knew the vision should stem from our research with Nisa’s customers, and this would then inform the CX strategy.
Taking an end-to-end view to understand challenges
In short, our research allowed us to identify the top pain points the shops were having when interacting with Nisa when they:
place an order for stock
receive a delivery
update prices or promotions in their stores
We then used these conversations to map the customer experience for those 3 user journeys. It was important that we also took internal data into consideration, as well as the existing processes and systems that Nisa colleagues currently use which will also have an impact on their experience. We worked closely with Nisa teams who helped us unpack the complexities of the business and improve our understanding of how and why things happen so we could more easily identify genuine opportunities.
Defining an ‘experience vision’
Our insight from the user journey maps, contextual research and interviews with Nisa colleagues meant we could pinpoint opportunities for immediate improvement.
But more importantly, and on a bigger scale, the maps helped define an overarching ‘experience vision’ – this is what an organisation aspires to become for its customers. This experience vision feeds into Nisa’s existing brand proposition, which in turn supports its brand purpose (but that stuff was outside the CX Strategy team’s remit).
Working out how to get there
If an ‘experience vision’ is something aspirational – a place where Nisa is aiming to get to – we started to look at how they were going to get there. This is where the concept of ‘strategic priorities’ came in – in other words, guiding principles to help Nisa make better decisions that give customers the experience they want. Those decisions could be around things like a new technology architecture, updates to the ordering system, or an improved onboarding process for new customers. The strategic priorities allow Nisa to assess whether their actions support the delivery of the experience vision.
Together, we identified 3 strategic priorities, within those the CX team created ‘service briefs’ which formed the bulk of our recommendations. They included:
our observations of customer pain points
the underlying reasons these were happening
our recommendations for improvement
the metrics to track impact
Basically, the top priority work for them to start delivering on the strategic priorities.
We underpinned the service briefs with 3 ‘foundational principles’ that focused on setting the teams and organisation up with appropriate ways of working to achieve the vision. (You can read more about how we make sure team objectives align with a vision here).
Early days but so far, so good
We only recently shared our recommendations, but changes have already been put in place. For example:
The Nisa brand team championed the new tone of voice document and encouraged colleagues to use it .
Nisa’s senior leadership team is taking our recommendations on board and has confirmed it will put an accountable project sponsor in place. (In 6 months, we’ll check in on the progress).
Good collaboration: we needed Nisa’s subject matter experts
A CX team like ours could not have just come in and made customer pain points less painful without working closely with the subject matter experts from Nisa and the people working in the independent shops. Speaking to them helped us see and understand the underlying reasons for the experiences customers are having.
It has also been invaluable to work alongside sales and finance teams who helped us to size up the opportunity and balance it against perceived time, effort and expense for Nisa to make the changes. This helped massively with prioritisation.
Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions that colleagues make, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.
Co-op recently created a new Customer Experience (CX) Strategy team. This post explains why our team exists, our purpose and how we work.
What we mean when we say ‘customer experience’
Customer experience (CX) is how a customer thinks and feels about all interactions they have with a brand. Customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal to brands that offer the best experiences. This means brands can gain a competitive advantage by providing customers with a consistent, personal and rewarding experience.
We need to consider CX across the whole customer journey
At Co-op, we offer a varied range of products and services. Customers can come to us to buy both pet food and pet insurance. They can pick up today’s dinner from a Food store or prepare for their future through Life Services. They can place an online food order or plan their funeral. And along the way, they have many different interactions with us.
Speaking to a Co-op colleague in a Food store is just one of the many interactions that customers can have with us
By meeting or exceeding customer expectations every time they connect with us – whether in physical or digital spaces – we create better experiences for them. This means customers will be more likely to continue to use our services and to recommend Co-op. In the long term, this helps us gain a competitive advantage through:
more effective cross-selling
bigger customer networks
Lots of our colleagues are already working to create better customer experiences. But an approach that works across the whole business and considers the entire end-to-end experience for customers is a new and exciting opportunity for us. This is where the new CX Strategy team comes in.
Our CX Strategy team is responsible for the holistic customer experience across Co-op
The CX Strategy team works in partnership with colleagues across the business to create seamless journeys that solve customer problems and improve their experience.
collaborate with business areas, working alongside them to develop actionable CX strategy
shape strategies based on customer insights
join the dots across different teams, systems and processes
define opportunities for improving the end-to-end experience for customers
The CX Strategy team is partnering with teams across the business
As well as CX strategists, the CX Strategy team is made up of experts in content strategy, research and service design. When we partner with a business area team on a project, it’s important that we begin by understanding the current landscape. We ask the team to share their expertise on their business area and customers with us. We then work with them to map customer journeys and identify points of friction. As we move through the process of exploring and setting the strategy, we’re able to distil our focus and make recommendations. This helps us create a realistic implementation plan that the business area team can put into action.
So far, we’ve:
worked with Life Services to create a customer experience strategy grounded in insight, making changes across a customer journey that crossed two business areas to generate new revenue streams
worked with Nisa to understand the current wholesale customer experience and identified opportunities that have the potential to increase sales by millions
mapped how we’re measuring CX at Co-op
Next, we’ll be working with Membership, our customer service centre, Co-op Power and Food. We’ll be focusing on creating customer experience that works for our customers, members and communities and that also benefits our business.
The CX Strategy team
Co-op colleagues can join our ‘Customer Experience Spotlight’ talks
We’re marking CX Day 2021 with a series of CX best practice talks on Tuesday 5, Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 October.
If you’re a Co-op colleague, you can sign up to join our lunchtime Customer Experience Spotlight talks to find out how Insurance, Life Services and Food are championing CX.
Allow people to contribute anonymously or in smaller groups.
Check if people can access the tools you’re using, explain how to use them and offer an alternative if necessary.
Use visible timers and allow thinking time.
Use captions and transcripts where possible.
Consider how people could contribute outside of the meeting, in their own time.
Set clear expectations, early
Send out an agenda in advance.
Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and the outcome you want to achieve.
Give a running order, include approximate times.
Give context: do not assume any prior knowledge
Reiterate any information that someone would need to know to be able to contribute.
Give regular recaps. Consider taking notes as you go so you can easily refer back.
Be mindful of late joiners and the context they might lack.
Use clear language
Do not use acronyms without explaining what they mean.
Use plain English.
Be mindful of people who are new to Co-op, or a team. If you use jargon, explain what you mean.
Respect people’s time
Book only the amount of time you need with people, and allow people to leave if they’ve contributed all they need to.
Plan your meeting to allow people breaks between meetings, for example 5 or 15 minutes past the hour.
If the meeting is long, schedule in regular breaks.
Value all contributions equally
Give everyone a chance to speak, do not allow one voice to dominate.
If you’re referencing what’s been inputted, reference contributions from a range of people.
Consider your audience. Be prepared to adapt your approach or process to encourage contribution from more people.
Encourage clarity, curiosity, and challenges
Explain how people can ask questions.
Encourage people to get clarity on things they do not understand.
Allow people to ask questions anonymously, for example by adding post-its to a collaboration board.
Why we created inclusive meeting guidelines
With a lot of collaboration now online, it can be harder for people to contribute effectively. This can mean some voices are not heard.
We want everyone to be able to contribute in a way they feel comfortable. This means being thoughtful about people who, for example:
have a disability or condition
are new to a team
cannot attend a meeting at a specific time
cannot access certain tools or systems
need thinking time
We hope these guidelines will encourage more inclusive discussions and more perspectives to be heard.
As a result of more inclusive collaboration we believe Co-op will:
become aware of problems earlier
save money, as problems can be fixed earlier
create more inclusive products and services
open up our products and services to more people
How we created these guidelines
Our hypothesis is that remote working has made some of the ways we collaborate exclusive. We wanted to see if this was an issue for others and if so, how they’d overcome it.
Using a survey, we asked people:
what they believed could prevent people from engaging with and inputting into a meeting
for practical tools and techniques that can help people to engage and input in to a meeting
We gathered loads of valuable advice, ideas and knowledge from people in Co-op and from other organisations. After synthesising the responses, we ended up with broad themes that helped us form the guidelines.
Using what we’d learnt to structure the guidelines
From the analysis it was clear that people were time-poor and often meeting-fatigued. They wanted to get the most out of collaborative sessions as efficiently as possible.
So, we reflected this in our guidelines.
We focused on the actions – the tools, techniques and ideas – that could be immediately useful for facilitators and attendees at the start of a meeting.
The guidelines are not overly prescriptive, to allow them to be adapted for different contexts and scenarios. And we hope they’ll be shared in a whichever way works well for the facilitator – maybe added to the start of a Miro board, a Word document or a meeting invitation.
We’re looking forward to learning if and how they’re useful, and if they encourage more mindful and inclusive meetings.
These inclusive meeting guidelines are a first draft. We will continue to:
get feedback and make them better
understand if and how they’re being used
understand if they’re helping us have better discussions
share updates and get involved in wider inclusion discussions
see how they can complement other work that’s happening in Co-op and beyond
In September 2020, Manchester Metropolitan undergraduate students Ana Thompson and Precious Oladele – who are both are working towards a BSc in Digital User Experience Design – joined Co-op Digital as part of their 4-year degree apprenticeship. The course is designed to give students the opportunity to learn by working in an environment they will likely get their first job in.
In the past year, Ana and Precious have spent around 80% of their week with Co-op digital product or service team experiencing disciplines including content design, user research, service design and interaction design. The other 20% has been spent studying.
In this post they reflect on their first year.
Which teams are you working with at the moment?
Ana: We’re both working in the Operational Innovation (OI) team at the moment so our focus is on digital products and services used by colleagues in Co-op Food stores – things like Date Code, Age and Safety Perception. Sometimes though, there are projects that are more customer-facing.
Precious: I’m on the same team but I recently moved from Co-operate, a digital product for amplifying the good things happening in local communities.
What led up to you applying for the apprenticeship?
Precious: I started looking for an apprenticeship after college because I prefer hands-on learning. I applied for positions in journalism and digital marketing but none of them worked out. When my mentor sent me this opening, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. But I realised that I care about why people are the way they are, and how that can contribute to creating a product/experience that works for them. The opportunity sounded like a good fit so I applied.
Ana: I’d always liked customising my MySpace theme (now I feel old) and I definitely wanted to work in the digital design space, with apps and websites. But I had no idea where to get started. I’d thought about going back to uni and was looking into which degree I might like to do when I came across the apprenticeship. To be honest, the idea of starting uni again having worked full-time for 5 years wasn’t appealing, but I did think the apprenticeship sounded like something I would enjoy. And now, here I am.
How are you finding having to balance university studies with work?
Ana: I’ve not found it too bad so far but I do anticipate that will change as I gain more responsibility over the next 3 years.
Precious: It’s been going well. Co-op is invested in people’s personal development, apprentice or not, so it makes it easier to dedicate the time to study/learn.
The apprenticeship gives you exposure to a range of disciplines. Are there benefits of being discipline-agnostic at this stage of your training?
Ana: Yes, at this early stage, it is good not to be boxed into one role. I like that we are encouraged to explore a wide range of disciplines because I think there’s a danger that someone quickly writes a role off as not being for them but perhaps they don’t understand it well enough to make a good decision.
Precious: It’s all about making an informed decision and moving around gives you the experience you need to do that. If I’d had to choose a discipline in the early months, I’d have probably chosen content design because I enjoy writing. But a year on I’ve learnt that ‘content design’ in UX is different from the content creation I thought it might be – it’s less creative and based on data and user research. Instead of going into it fully, I prefer to learn about it alongside a different discipline. Overall, getting to explore each of them helps to gain an understanding of what it is, what it’s not and how they all feed into each other.
What have you been most proud of so far?
Precious: This year, I’ve facilitated user testing sessions and co-presented at the Black Young Professionals summit. However, I’m most proud of co-organising a ‘conversational design workshop’. The aim was to help the team understand how to make sign-up forms for Co-operate more engaging for our users. It was exciting to run it and learn about how we can bring conventions from real life conversations into the digital world to make better onboarding journeys.
Ana: I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone a lot this year and I’m proud of that. I did my first user interview, presented back findings and designs to the team, and I did well in my first uni assignment. However, I think the best thing was the first time something I’d designed went live! It was in the News and Mags app and was something small that told colleagues when they needed to return newspapers to a supplier.
How does the work culture compare to what you’ve known before
Ana: I worked in retail for around 7 years and, although I do not miss it, I think it helped me to develop more empathy as well as how I relate to and communicate with others. It’s also helped me to become more resilient. It also taught me what I want and expect from an organisation and its culture. I chose the Co-op in part because its values align closely with my own. So far, it’s been living up to my expectations. I work with people who hold similar values which makes a difference.
One year down, 3 to go. How well do you think you’ve found your feet?
Precious: I was excited to work in a professional role, it was overwhelming at first to try to learn so much at once. We had to familiarise ourselves with the product, UX design, balancing the apprenticeship with study. Also, the world was mid-pandemic so we were all working from home. A year on though, I’m more confident. I know how teams and each discipline work together. I’d like to get a better grasp of the apprenticeship structure to help me get better at managing my time. I know now that learning takes time – it’s best to be patient.
Ana: I was apprehensive before I started. I came in not really knowing anything about UX design, agile ways of working or how a digital product team works together. I was quieter and more reserved when I first started, but over the last couple of months I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of the basics and feel comfortable and confident to contribute to discussions, no matter who is involved. I’m beginning to be able to navigate a wider range of tasks more autonomously.
What are your hopes for your personal development by the end of the fourth year of the apprenticeship?
Ana: I’d like to have tried out and explored a range of design disciplines. Maybe I’ll find something that I want to really focus on or perhaps I’ll want to be more of a generalist. I hope to feel more confident and comfortable in my presentation and public speaking skills. More generally speaking, I would like to feel like I’m ready to take on the role of designer in a team. Finally, doing well in my degree would round things off nicely!
Precious: Like Ana, I want to have explored multiple disciplines and grasp a better understanding of what they entail so I can start to have an idea of what I’d like to specialise in. I’d also expect to have a clearer view of what I want my career to look like in this industry.
What should colleagues you work with in the future know about you?
Ana: I’m one of those people who is quiet when I start something new but once I feel more comfortable, I can be chatty and more forthcoming with ideas. I am finding it’s taking me a little bit longer to come out of my shell in a remote setting though, so bear with me!
Precious: I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Also, I’m not a very good talker, I prefer to listen and observe.
Choose one person who has been super influential since last September and tell us why.
Ana: There have been a number of people but my number one would be my line manager Elisa Pasceri. She’s been my biggest advocate and cheerleader over this time, giving me the opportunities to push outside of my comfort zone whilst also making sure I don’t feel like I’m drowning either.
Precious: I’ve had 2 managers at different points this year and they’ve both been positive influences in my work/study life. Catherine helped to build my communication skills and Matt has contributed highly to my personal development.
1. How can teams test with real users if they can’t afford to pay for participant recruitment?
If you’re tight on budget or have a business challenge on procurement, a good alternative is to find user research participants with access needs through related charities. (We’d still suggest making a contribution to the charity and reward the participants for their time, of course).
Charities want to raise awareness and improve the lives of those they serve, and we’ve found that teams tend to get more than they expect in return – often not just feedback on their prototype or live site. We started doing usability research with visually impaired people through the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – they helped us to identify issues on our website whilst also raising awareness of accessibility internally with colleagues. This turned out to be the catalyst for making accessibility a priority at Co-op.
you’re using the passive rather than the active voice
there’s a plainer English alternative to a word you’ve used
There’s also Grammarly which is also free. However, we never rely on these tools. Another content designer or member of your team should always crit the content you create but the best way to test content accessibility is to put your content in front of users – preferably with a range of literacy levels.
4. Do you have any tips for managing an accessibility champions community in a large company?
If you don’t already have a loosely-organised group of experts, get started by bringing together a group of people who are passionate about accessibility – being interested and being aware of the importance of inclusivity is the main thing at the beginning. Start small.
At Co-op, our core team meet at least once a month. We set objectives that align to our accessibility policy and overarching vision: to make all Co-op products and services accessible for everyone.
We’ve made some noise to raise awareness – we’ve held events, we’ve written blog posts, we created our accessibility policy – all of this stuff helps colleagues to embed accessibility into the culture of the organisation.
As time goes on, you’ll notice that the group will naturally evolve and infiltrate the rest of an organisation. We also meet quarterly and often invite external speakers to join us to share their knowledge and experience.
5. When it comes to running experiments, how have you been able to balance the accessibility policy needs with creating a prototype to test a hypotheses at speed?
We test for accessibility at various stages throughout the design process. When we test prototypes at the beginning, we can still test with people with access needs. I tend to test with users who use screen magnification as it is purely reliant on the design and the user interface rather than code. However, even when we have tested with people who use assistive technology such as voice activation, we still learn more about how they navigate as well as specific components they usually have issues with.
When we conduct usability studies, we ask for 2 in 5 people to have an accessibility need such as learning difficulties or colour blindness. This also helps to ensure we are in line with our accessibility policy (for example, readability), but means we can still work at speed.
The coding part of accessibility is tested when we have something in production. This allows us to test even further, doing our own automated, manual testing, whilst also using the resources of assisted tech users at Fable.
Having an accessible design system also helps ensure we are adhering to our accessibility policy; and with Fable having a 2-day turnaround has really helped us work at speed without any delays on the project.
6. How is Co-op championing the accessibility guidelines laid out in the design system so that everyone from colleagues to third parties use them?
It will take time before they are fully adopted both internally by colleagues and externally with people we work with. That said, we are asking all third parties we work with to follow our accessibility standards. The standards are one part of a set of measures we have created to begin changing the culture. We are also:
making sure all our communities of practice have diversity and inclusion objectives which involve accessibility
creating our ‘Experience Library’ which will have lots of tools and guidance for accessibility
All of this means shifting the mindset of the organisation to one where accessibility is always part of the conversation.
7. How are you prioritising which accessibility issue that need fixing?
We prioritise based on the biggest disruption to a user trying to use a service. We look at quantative and qualitative research to find out if an accessibility issue might stop someone carrying out the task they came to us to complete. Anything that prevented them continuing would be the first priority, and areas that caused confusion would come later – of course, we aim to address them all.
We haven’t, no. It’s the first version of these simplified standards that we have done so we’d like to test them to see how they work and improve them. Since the talks last month, we’ve heard from a few people who are also trying to simplify these guidelines so perhaps we will try to approach WAI together.
9. Can you share the Accessibility Testing framework that was shown during the talks?
10. Does Google Analytics offer an option to track user data of assistive technologies? If not, is there an appropriate a hack? For example, a large text setting or turning images off.
GA doesn’t, and – to my knowledge – there’s no tracking software that does this as there could be too many potential issues arise. You could maybe target click events on hidden “skip-to-content” links to give some idea of usage, but sadly this isn’t an exact science.
We want as many people as possible to be able to use Co-op products and services. Aside from it being good business sense, we know that being inclusive with our design is the right thing to do.
We’ve posted before that we are committed to further improving inclusivity. However, we haven’t explicitly spoken about the importance of content design in making services accessible. At Co-op, we design content to open up our services so that as many people as possible can:
Often, when we think of accessibility, there’s a tendency to think about colour contrast, screen readers and typefaces. All of them are important, but no more so than clear and well-considered content design.
1. We use words people understand
We design content so that as many people as possible can understand what we’re saying. So we write using plain English – everyday, familiar words without unnecessary jargon.
We research words that our users use and reflect these in our products and services – these might not be the words we use at Co-op, or the way we want people to refer to things officially. But doing this makes what we’re saying more understandable, relatable and increases trust between us and our users.
If we use unfamiliar or complex terms, it can:
add additional mental effort
leave room for doubt
mean the difference between people using our services and not
We use objective and neutral language that does not make assumptions about our audience, their circumstances or what they might be going through. We design so that no one is alienated, and in doing so, open up our services so they can be used by more people.
2. We do not use words if something else works better
Content design means giving information to people in a way that’s most effective. This may not always be words. Some things can be more meaningful and quicker for people to understand in a different format – for example, a video illustrating how to change a till roll, or a calculator to give tailored financial information.
We do research to understand users’ mental models – how the user believes or understands things to work. This helps us work out the easiest way for them to consume information. We hide complexity where we can to make content and interactions relevant to our users.
By being deliberate about the format of our content we:
make things quicker for people to use
remove ambiguity and doubt
3. We remove things that are unnecessary
People often come to services to find information, buy something, or report something. They want to do the thing and then leave quickly. If there’s information on a page that’s not relevant to them it can become overwhelming and confusing. So we edit ruthlessly. We give only the essential information people need to achieve their goal.
Although we write in a familiar and friendly way, we are not overfamiliar. As well as replacing any jargon with plain English (or at least plain English definitions), we remove any figures of speech that could be confusing, misinterpreted or meaningless to people.
We use playful content, in the appropriate context, but not at the expense of usability. If something could be misinterpreted, misunderstood or incomprehensible to people, we get rid of it.
4. We structure content to reflect how people read
We know that lots of unformatted content can be hard to follow and understand. So we:
use short sentences
make only one point per sentence
use descriptive sub-headings to break up walls of text
front-load sentences and bullet points (put the most useful words near the start)
put the most important content at the start, for example, what we’re talking about, who it’s for, how it can benefit them
We structure content to reflect how we know people read online – they scan, looking for words, phrases or links that will help them decide if they’re in the right place to achieve what they came to do. By focusing relentlessly on what the user needs to know, and structuring content in a more manageable way, we reduce the amount of shortcuts users take, and help them get to where they need to be, quickly. People often compare tasks across multiple websites, using minimum effort on each (from NN Group). By reducing the effort needed to navigate our site and services, we make it more likely they’ll choose – and stay with – us.
5. We research when to communicate, and through which channel
We research the full end-to-end service with users to understand where they are when they need to understand information. We then choose the most appropriate time and channel to give that information – this could be a poster in store, a message on Co-op packaging, or a text message reminder for an appointment.
By surfacing content at the relevant time and place, we create services that reduce friction and effort for people.
Making services accessible makes them easier for everyone
Designing accessible services means:
focusing persistently on the experience of our users
meeting their needs
This is content design.
Everything we do as content designers is to increase understanding, usability and reduce the effort required of the user. By being respectful and thoughtful of our users’ circumstances, we create services that are easier to use for all. We remove barriers and open up Co-op services to more people.
This post summarises what the speakers covered. We pre-recorded the talks and added captions afterwards which meant that we didn’t give live answers to the questions that were asked after each talk. We didn’t anticipate getting so many so we’ll save them for a separate post to give us a little more time to answer them thoroughly.
I tell a story about my everyday experience as a neurodivergent software engineer. I talk about an unexpected difficulty I met and how a seemingly small thing caused me big problems. I want to show some of my lived experience as a disabled person, and how my impairments, the history of that lived experience, and its psychological consequences can interact in complex ways. I’m hoping that talking about what went wrong might create better understanding so people making decision on product and service teams can avoid unintended consequences that might make life worse for people like me.
Before we develop or buy new equipment, we always consider customer and colleague needs. However, we know there’s always room for improvement. In my talk I talk about how an isolated incident involving one of our Food store colleagues who uses a wheelchair has led to a more inclusive way of working for our team. I also talk about our plans to work with the Represent team to help make sure all store solutions are as open and as accessible as possible for all customers and colleagues.
I have tried and failed to implement accessibility at scale before. I have run training sessions. Done audits. It’s tough, and when you leave an organisation, the desire of the team often does too.
In my talk I shout about our accessibility policy which makes accessibility standards more tangible and sustainable because colleagues can see what their responsibilities include.
To deliver the things set out in a policy, we must remove barriers for our teams. We also need to fit in to the way they work and enable people at scale.
To help, we brought in Fable to ensure our designers could regularly crit their work with native users of assistive tech such as screen readers, magnification, dragon naturally speaking. Thus, saving valuable time whilst building an army of designers with working knowledge of the diverse ways people use computers.
I’m on the design system team – the team responsible for the foundations of Co-op products and service. We believe accessibility needs to be baked into the products we build, from the beginning, that includes the design system. that’s why we take accessibility seriously, and want to ensure that our colleagues have the utmost trust in the tools that we provide them.
We also want our colleagues to know that anyone can contribute into the design system, into their design system.
There’s a lot of useful information on accessibility out there, but often this information is not very accessible itself. Take something like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. A fantastic resource, but it’s full of complex guidance and specialist language. They, like a lot of accessibility information, can be difficult to understand and use. My talk is about this and how we kept this in mind when we created our digital accessibility standards.
We wanted them to be clear, concise and actionable. We have also tried to make them into simple rules that are easy to remember and share. These standards are one of many things we are doing to try and create an accessibility culture at Co-op.
In many cases, website banners are often inaccessible and ineffective. There are often issues such as small text and poor colour contrast but once they are spotted, they’re easy to fix. I think what’s interesting is the question around whether we need really a banner at all? In my talk I explain how I discovered pain points and opportunities with several banners and how I found that in many scenarios we can give users the information in a different but more accessible, effective way.
Getting people to prioritise accessibility changes is hard. It’s a behavior change that requires empathy for the users but also support and education for your team to learn how to approach, understand the impacts and learn how to apply design and engineering techniques that will make a huge difference.
In my talk I explain how I’ve got this wrong. I lacked understanding of other teams’ motivation and decision process, and I lacked empathy and understanding for my colleagues and what support and reassurances they needed.
Then I talk about what I did to make things better. Briefly: the best way to learn, build understanding and alignment as a group is to put the work you care about in front of users.
When it comes to accessibility, a lot of people automatically think of screen readers. My talk is about the importance of testing with other types of assistive technology as well as my experience of using Fable, web accessibility testing software that lets us do audits and moderated sessions with people who use assistive technology easily and quickly.
I talk about how we used Fable to test our careers website with a range of assistive technology, for example, screen magnification, voice activation as well as a screen reader. Each one uncovered different issues showing that relying on screen reader testing alone isn’t good or thorough enough.
Fable has helped us feel confident about running our own tests within the team and we’re in a better, more accessible place for it.
We have a lot of forms at Co-op – in fact, every meaningful interaction involves at least one. Good user experience encourages users to return. We know that 83% of people with access needs limit their shopping to websites they know are barrier-free. Forms can attract a lot of usability and accessibility issues.
My talk explains why and how I follow these rules when designing a form:
Give the user context.
Allow users to change their answer.
Give examples to make it clearer what a user is expected to do.
Tell users why we may need certain information.
Use plain English; be clear, concise, specific, consistent, and human.
The One web team exists to create a platform of tools and resources that all Co-op teams can build efficient, coherent websites on. In September, we reorganised the One web team to help us achieve our vision:
Enable Co-op teams to deliver cost-efficient and coherent user experiences
And, as part of the reorganisation, we finally formed a dedicated team to own our design system (we’d been working on it in the background for 7 years before then).
Starting with research
Part of our work was to look harder at the design system itself. What and who is it really for? How well are we doing right now?
Interviews and a survey told us:
there’s lots missing from the documentation
designers struggle to know how and when to change something
it’s not clear how to design ‘on top’ of the design system to create the right experience for the variety of products we have at Co-op
We’d already begun to address some of these problems by starting to create the documentation for production and process, and by adding new content to a prototype that we planned to iterate internally.
However, the other insights were more difficult to tackle, and linked to feedback we’ve had in the past describing the design system as ‘boring’. But in many ways being ‘boring’ is a good thing for a design system because “The job is not to invent, but to curate.”
We agree with this. Our One web vision is to enable product teams not design what we think is right for them – they know their users far better than we do.
That said, it still felt like:
the design system did not inspire enough
we were not articulating its purpose very well
it did not reflect the values we hold as a design and product community
Exploring the problem with a brand sprint
The customer experience team recently presented a brand sprint they’d run that had begun to define the proposition and design direction for one of our businesses. It inspired me – it felt like a process that could help us solve some of the problems we’d identified.
After doing the exercises, the team gets a common language to describe what their company is about — and all subsequent squishy decisions about visuals, voice, and identity become way easier.
The techniques in a brand sprint could help us define a common language we could use to help explain why and how:
the design system is good for Co-op and its customers
how we ‘do design’ – the values that are embedded in all of our work
it is a base for innovation
it is for everyone at Co-op – not just designers or engineers
it is a community
Doing the brand sprint
We formed a team comprising of the core design system team (design, content, product and front-end), James Rice (who developed the process for us and helped keep us on track) and designers from outside the team to act as fresh eyes and bring specialist skills in visual design and illustration.
The process at a high level was:
a 3-hour brand sprint kick off consisting of a custom set of the exercises in the Google Ventures article and using the findings of a survey we conducted upfront to get insight into the values we hold as a community of designers at Co-op
a 2-week ‘divergence’ – where we split into 2 teams creating many different concept designs and content directions
a series of critiques to identify what we felt was working and what was not
a 2-week ‘convergence’ – where we made decisions and worked up final examples of webpages, posters and banners to give a sense of the final direction
Highlights from the 3-hour brand sprint kick off
Personality sliders exercise
The personality sliders exercise showed an apparent lack of consensus on the personality of the design system. What we discovered after group discussion was that we all wanted the design system to speak to people in a different tone depending on what they were trying to do.
The application of design and community content should be innovative and playful, but our documentation should be authoritative, clear, and in some ways conventional.
Defining audiences and sequence of targeting
We decided initially we would try to create design and content for 2 groups:
our core users of designers and digital product teams
senior leadership at Co-op
We want to create something that:
designers, know how to use, helps them understand the values of the team and are motivated to contribute
helps senior leadership quickly understand the value of having a design system
A culture survey to inform how we talk about culture
We want the design system to reflect our culture, so we sent out a survey to our Digital community to discover what people thought and felt about working on digital products at Co-op. Paraphrasing the results – people said things like:
we have a strong culture of collaboration
we aspire to be a renowned design team and it’s a conscious goal
the design team is here to use design to make things better for Co-op
working here is an opportunity to share skills and learn
The culture turned inward creates the product. The culture turned outward creates the brand.
Setting a brief for the team
I summarised the outputs into a brief for the next stage, giving closer direction on the audiences we wanted our design to speak to and the kind of outputs we should create. We would create design and content on:
the principles of ‘how we design at Co-op’ – for example, how to customise a base design system component
community ‘calls to action’ to contribute
high-level benefits of why the design system is valuable to Co-op and its customers
Going wide with our design thinking
After the brief was set, we split into 2 teams and spent 2 weeks researching and experimenting with ideas. Here are some of the concepts we came up with, including crit notes from the wider design team.
Converging on a design direction
Finally we took the elements from the diverge stage we felt were working and decided on a set of artifacts that represented how we might apply design and content to different areas of the design system. We created a landing and documentation page, poster, and call-to-action banner.
Below are some snapshots of the work that will set the direction for the design system brand. It’s important to say that this is a direction – we still have work to do to refine exactly how we’ll apply this kind of design and content.
We’ve also been brainstorming names during the process. We feel the name ‘design system’ could alienate some people we could work with in the future at Co-op who don’t consider themselves to be designers. That name also doesn’t reflect the breadth of what will be included. Nothing is set yet, but on these examples you’ll see we’ve been using the name ‘Experience Library’ in its place.
With photography, we’re keen to reflect how we communicate right now while we’re all working from home, and we’ll also be diverse. We design with colleagues from all around Co-op with a wide range of skills and backgrounds. Our Experience library and the photography we use within it should reflect that.
We have a pretty well-formed roadmap for the next few months focusing on creating all the missing documentation and the processes that will support this in the future. During this time we will develop the visual language and also create a content strategy focussed on what we want to achieve and how we’ll achieve it, workflow and governance, our personality and tone, and how we’ll measure success.
We’ll be working this design direction back into the prototype and releasing it iteratively internally to our teams alongside the new documentation. Then we’ll be going back to speak to more of our users and getting even more feedback.
Was the brand sprint useful?
The brand sprint process was intense, and it derailed our work on content for a while. But not only has it helped us develop the design language of the experience library and focus even more intently on our users, it’s also given the team a greater understanding of the vision and goals we’re working toward.
We’re creating a place where Co-op colleagues can go to get help creating better, more inclusive customer experiences.
It’s not just for designers. It’s for anyone working on products, services and communications.
Becoming a funeral director at Co-op Funeralcare is not something people go into half-heartedly. Our colleagues in this front-line role meet recently-bereaved people daily and it demands a level of care and empathy from them (especially during the pandemic). They also need to be able to communicate clearly and calmly with people who could be in an emotionally heightened state.
The Digital part of the Co-op Funeralcare team supports colleagues in funeral homes in many ways but in this post we’re looking specifically at the language we use when we engage with clients online. It must reflect the clarity, kindness and reassurance a client would get from speaking to one of our colleagues.
We created 4 principles to guide our content design and communications decisions.
When we write for Co-op Funeralcare, we are:
1. Down to earth
‘Good’ content design opens up what we’re communicating so that it’s accessible to, and understood by, as many of our (potential) clients as possible.
This means we work hard to remove barriers in several ways.
We reduce the chances of misinterpretation by being very deliberate with the language we choose. For example, we say “he died” not “he passed away” because euphemisms can be misunderstood – especially when English is not someone’s first language. Defined by Collins Dictionary as “a polite expression used to refer to things which people may find upsetting to talk about”, euphemisms about death do not soften the blow but they can lead to confusion. A bereavement counsellor explained the terror of a child when they were told their sister had “passed out”. Months before, their mother had died and her death had been referred to as her “passing away”. The child had assumed the same had happened to their sister. The language we use is informed by years of working alongside funeral directors and research.
We lower the cognitive load by explaining terms specific to funeralcare at the point the customer needs to understand them – words like ‘embalming’ and ‘disbursements’. Providing definitions within the content means we save them the unnecessary frustration of looking them up, and – from a business point of view – giving them everything they need means they’re less likely to leave our site.
We say: If someone has died and you need our help, you can call us 24 hours a day. We’ll bring the person into our care at a time that suits you, then guide you through everything that needs to be done.
We don’t say: We’re sorry your loved one passed away. Please accept our condolences.
Most clients who make contact with us shortly after someone has died, are grieving. However, we have to be careful with our tone because they’re not coming to us for an outpouring of sympathy, they come to us because – as experienced funeralcare providers – we understand what they’re likely going through and we are here to provide a service. Being empathetic through our language online means giving customers what they need to know clearly, quickly and sensitively.
We say: The first thing we do is listen to you, then advise, guide, and inspire you to create the perfect funeral arrangement.
We don’t say: We’ve been arranging funerals for more than 100 years.
Dealing with the death of someone is often a distressing time and we cannot heal anyone’s grief. We’ve found the best reassurance we can give is through clear, concise guidance to make the task of organising a funeral as painless as possible. Just as a dentist wouldn’t lean over you with a drill and say “this is going to hurt”, (of course it is) we focus on conveying that we’re knowledgeable and experienced, trustworthy and kind to try and remove any anxieties a customer might have around leaving such an important service in our hands.
We say: Our team will support you from the moment you get in touch with us. We’ll help you through the funeral arrangements, on the day and even after the funeral.
We don’t say: We know how difficult and disorientating it can be when someone you love dies.
Research shows that in recent years, attitudes towards funerals in the UK have begun to change and personal touches that reflect the person’s personality or interests are more popular. Our tone and language around the extra touches we can offer should be inspiring – it should focus on possibilities and what can be done.
For example, the hearse doesn’t need to be a traditional hearse. It could be a tractor, a motorcycle hearse or a converted VW camper van. We even have a poppy covered hearse and one with a rainbow flag. Families can choose one that best reflects who the person was. Or they can keep it traditional. When clients tell us what they want, we do our best to make it happen, and it’s important this message comes through on our site.
We say: When we arrange a tailored funeral with you, the first thing we do is listen. Then we’ll advise, guide, and inspire you to create a tailored funeral arrangement. Tell us what you want, and we’ll do our best to make it happen.
We don’t say: There are three different funeral types to choose from.
A caveat: the spoken word is different to the written word
The 4 principles above guide how we write for Co-op Funeralcare’s online platforms. Although in the most part they reflect how our front-line colleagues in our funeral homes speak to a customer, there’s a difference between the spoken and written word and it feels important to say that this post is not an attempt to influence the language or tone of our brilliant colleagues.
When we communicate through spoken words, we have body language (or at least intonation) that contributes to how we convey and understand a message. So for example, mirroring someone else’s language is empathetic and if a customer says “passed away”, a colleague is likely to say that too (often subconsciously). But with the written word we rely solely on the clarity of words on a page which makes it important that we understand our users and design content for people coming to terms with loss.
We’ll continue to develop these principles over time.