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.

Shifts is now available to all Food store colleagues

If you’re having trouble with the Shifts website, email shiftsfeedback@coop.co.uk

Today, all Co-op Food store colleagues have access to Shifts, a website that allows them to view:

  • their past and upcoming shifts
  • who’s scheduled to work each shift in their store
  • their shift preferences
  • their break entitlements
  • the payday calendar

Image shows screenshots of 3 screens from the Shifts website.

Managers can also view their stores productivity and see who’s using Shifts in their team.

We’re working on new features to add to the website too. We’ve found a need for colleagues to be able to:

  • check their holiday balance and book holidays
  • see new features as they’re added to Shifts
  • manage their availability

We’re also planning to add the following features for the management team:

  • check colleague shift availability
  • approve holidays
  • create financial forecasts

So far, so good

We tested the website with colleagues in 140 stores over the last year. Here are some of their thoughts.

Quick history of Shifts

In March 2017, Co-op Digital product lead Anna Goss posted that we’d identified a range of ways we could give time back to Food store colleagues. She described how we chose which 3 discoveries we’d take forward to alpha phase.

By August, we were taking Shifts prototypes (then called My Schedule) into stores and testing our assumptions with colleagues and iterating based on their feedback.

A month later, we’d rolled the website out a little more and were testing it with colleagues in 10 stores. Without us asking them to, they shared the log in page with colleagues from neighbouring stores and by November, 600 people across 140 stores were using the app.

We’d known there was a need for the product and this natural uptake was a good indication that it was meeting needs.

A success story

Shifts’ success is down to the collaborative design process. You can read Chris Ward, workstream lead’s post about Co-designing the Shifts website to find out more.

Co-op Digital team

If you’re a Co-op Food store colleague, you can log into Shifts now.

3 reasons why sketching is useful in large organisations

Sketching can be really useful for teams working on digital products and services. It can help you quickly:

  1. Clarify your thoughts while you work through ideas, problems and potential solutions.  
  2. Communicate ideas to a wider team.

Recently, designer and illustrator Eva-Lotta Lamm came in and ran sketching workshops with the Co-op Digital Design team. Although sketching is something we already do, the sessions with Eva were beneficial because she:

  • showed us how to become more confident with our pens
  • encouraged us to be more comfortable sketching in front of the team
  • made us consider the right level of detail for what we need to communicate
  • shared tips to help us improve the quality of our sketches
  • made us consider using the technique in situations we hadn’t been using it in

Apart from these practical things listed, the workshops made us rethink the value of expressing ideas in visual ways within the Co-op – a huge organisation going through transformation.

Here’s why sketching is super useful.

1. Sketching can help us communicate more clearly

Often, there’s a lack of clarity within large teams. It’s not necessarily someone’s fault, it’s just sometimes hard to avoid Chinese whispers. However, sketching means there’s less room for misinterpretation.

Colleagues will have different learning styles, they’ll interpret things in various ways and they’re likely to communicate the same thing differently. Having something visual means there’s something tangible everyone can point to, to explain things clearly to a wider team or stakeholders. They’re showing the same thing, not their interpretation of what they heard days (or even weeks) before.

Of course, there’s something to be said for matching the level of detail in your sketch to whoever you need to convey your idea to. An abstract, visual metaphor help explain something technical to a colleague whose role isn’t technical, but if you need to talk through a webpage layout with a developer, you’ll need to include more detail.

2. It’s a quick, cheap and collaborative problem solving technique

Articulating a complex problem or idea can be tricky and sometimes, sketching it will help. However, being ‘good at drawing’ isn’t a prerequisite for giving sketching a go. Sketching has a low barrier to entry – it’s not about creating perfect works of art, it just needs to capture the spirit of what you’re trying to communicate.

Because we can sketch so quickly and cheaply, sketches can be easily iterated. We can also scrap them completely without feeling like we need to commit to anything.

3. It’s less about ownership, more about collaboration

When we’re working with people who aren’t used to working in an agile way, sketching could be a good way to introduce a more flexible way of thinking. It echoes the idea that nothing’s ‘final’ or ‘perfect’.

Teams can consider a problem and sketch ideas around it within seconds. Some will be potential solutions, some won’t. Either way, the quick pace helps us stay focused on the problem, and with each iteration we get closer to the most feasible solution. The constant discussion while various team members sketch makes the activity really collaborative.

Sure, it was the Design team that attended Eva’s sketching workshops but very few of us were super confident sketchers at the beginning of the session. Sketching isn’t a skill that should be owned by designers or even by a Digital team but it’s a technique we’d encourage all team members from Digital, policy, legal to get involved in. There’s value for everyone in it because it’s something we can use together to create visual interpretations of a problem or idea. This helps the whole team have a shared understanding which we believe could only be a positive thing for team morale.

Try it yourself

Here are 5 tips to change your note taking with sketching. You can watch Eva-Lotta’s video on the same thing too.

IMG_1674

Louise Nicholas and Ciaran Greene
Interaction designers

Making design better by being open

TL;DR: GCHQ’s tech team published a paper on GitHub about their digital transformation. Lots of people should read it, so we’ve improved their design to make it clearer. GCHQ made things open, so we could make things better.

GHCQ’s activities are often highly contentious.

However few would argue that their technology capability is anything other than world-class, notwithstanding widespread concern as to how that capability is put to use.

Recently GCHQ’s technology leadership team published a paper entitled  “GCHQ: Boiling Frogs? Technology organisations need to change radically to survive increasing technical and business disruption

Example page from original design of GCHQ: Boiling Frogs
GCHQ’s Boiling Frogs paper

Anyone interested in digital transformation should sit down and read it.

It describes how GCHQ has embraced the culture, processes, practices and technologies of the internet era, optimising for agility.

It also explicitly encourages other UK organisations to adopt a similar approaches to their own digital transformation.

To give you a flavour, here’s the table of contents:

• Operating Model (including structure and interaction styles) • Organisational cultures • Use of accommodation • Approach to measurement • Skills management • Use of commercial suppliers • Leveraging Big Data • Approach to architecture • Use of processes and techniques • Approach to Security • Approach to HR

I only have two minor criticisms.

Firstly, the language could be clearer. Maybe the GCHQ team could ask someone who’s not a technology expert redraft a future edition?

Secondly, the paper’s amateurish design risks undermining the perceived importance of the content, and hence reduces its impact.

Fortunately, GCHQ made a point of publishing their paper via GitHub.com, the mother-lode of open source code and culture.

So, while we were loathe to edit the words, here at Co-op Digital we’ve been able to improve the document’s design.

We’ve also published our redesigned version on GitHub.  

Example page from new design of GCHQ: Boiling Frogs
Our redesigned version

Our redesign is not branded Co-op. The design is neutral. That should make it easier for anyone to share it. The words are the same, but it’s hopefully easier to read and less likely to be rejected as “a collection of clip-art and geeky blog posts” (not a quote from anyone at the Co-op, I hasten to add!)

We’ve used one of GitHub’s co-operation tools (aka a  ‘pull request’) to make it easy for GCHQ to incorporate our new design into a future edition, should they so wish.

Make things open. It lets us all make things better.

Tom Loosemore
Director of Digital Services