We’ve added user research guides to the design system

We recently added 4 user research guides to our Co-op design system. The guides cover:

  • how to plan and prepare for research as a team
  • how to choose the most appropriate research method, and how to use it
  • how to analyse your findings, turn them into something actionable and how to share with the rest of the team
  • a list of useful research tools

We’re committed to user-centred design. We start small, we test for user value and we work iteratively – research and reacting to feedback is vitally important to us.

But it’s not easy to do good research and by ‘good’ we mean using the appropriate method and ensuring the way we do it is planned, thorough and unbiased.

You need skilled researchers.

Helping teams help themselves

We have a superb small team of researchers at Co-op Digital. We have varying background, skills and strengths which means asking for advice on how to tackle something is always interesting and useful. But we can’t cover all our projects, at all product phases, all the time. There aren’t enough of us.

So in a few cases, we set the direction and encourage teams to do their own research, with us there as support.

Sharing the knowledge

The idea came while I was writing a research strategy for a team working on a particular scope of work. I realised the strategy could be adapted into more of a ‘how to do research at the Co-op’ guide. For years, in an unofficial, internal-channels-only type way, several researchers had been writing guides on things like ‘how to recruit users / gather informed consent / write a survey’. It made sense to pull this useful work together and make it open and available in our design system.

Presenting guidance in this way means that instead of individual researchers writing a strategy for a team now and then, we can give more general advice.We want to make sure people are doing good, useful research in the right way and we can now add value to any digital team by giving them a ‘best practice’ resource.

We’re working on it

As always, the plan is to iterate and add more guidance as we go. We’ve been looking towards the GDS service manual as an excellent, detailed resource for planning research.

As we come across a method that we don’t have a guide for, we’ll write one up. For example, the next time one of our researchers needs to conduct a diary study they’ll write that up.

We know we need to improve how we help people choose the appropriate method so that people don’t just fall back on conducting usability testing in a lab or face-to-face interviews. As Vicki Riley says in her post, matching our research approach to the project is really important.

We’d like your feedback on it too so if you have any, leave a comment.

Simon Hurst
Lead user researcher

From digital design manual to design system

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

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

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

Evolution of the design manual

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

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

What we learnt from our users

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

A workshop made it clear that users wanted:

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

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

Design system – nice for what?

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

The Co-op Digital design system includes our:

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

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

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

Familiarity over consistency

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

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

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

Pattern library

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

Each pattern will have:

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

Our colour palette pattern is a good example.

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

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

Evolution of the design system

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

Watch this space.

Jack Sheppard
Matt Tyas