Designing the research studio at Federation House

In February, we announced that we’re building a user research lab in The Federation. We’ve now finished designing the space, confirmed our technical and furnishing suppliers, and we’re about to start building.

This post is about what we learnt about the needs of our users, and how our learnings informed the Federation Research Studio design.

Speaking to users

The studio will be available to Co-op teams including Digital, Brand and Marketing; Federation tenants and eventually, to external customers too. We spoke to a range of these people to find out about their current lab experiences and needs. We’ve also taken into account lessons learned from previous lab builds and we’ve asked for feedback from across industry too.

Two examples are:

Image of Kate's tweet that asks: Quick poll: in user research labs, what kind of sofa do you prefer? Results of the poll say 19% prefer regular 2-3 seat sofa, 56% prefer corner sofas, 25% say it doesn't make a difference

 

Identifying user needs

In the design, we considered the needs of participants, researchers and observers. Most of these needs weren’t out of the ordinary and match those documented in this post about how to build a great user research lab.

However, we also found a few needs not listed that are important to Co-op and other potential users too. These are:


1.Keeping data safe

User research labs have video and audio equipment to record users’ answers or interactions with what we’re testing. The recordings mean the responses can be shared with the rest of the team and viewed at a later date. In May, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a regulation that’s designed to improve privacy around citizen’s data – comes into force, so making sure we keep recordings safe and secure will be a legal obligation.

We’re planning on integrating the lab’s audio visual (A/V) recorder with a media asset management solution. This will allow us to organise and securely store A/V content and, importantly, control and track who’s using it and how. Initially, the solution we choose may be simple, and we’ll iterate on it as we learn how the lab is used. We’ll share more about this in a future post.

2.A remote viewing capability

All good products and services are informed by research and making live user research easily accessible is important. Co-op is a national organisation and colleagues and stakeholders are scattered across the country, so there’s a real need for the lab to include equipment that allows for remote viewing. Having these capabilities will also help solve the ‘problem’ (a very good one to have) of an oversubscribed viewing room.

3.A flexible, multi-purpose space

Co-op teams, like Brand, often run sessions such as focus groups that are more space-needy than the one-on-one research sessions Co-op Digital researchers tend to do.

We need to use technology to make the most of the space we’ve got, so we’ll install cameras and microphones in both the viewing room and the user lounge. This way, the viewing room can be used for research activities that need more space (the tables can be folded way for even more space), and the research can either be viewed from the user lounge or from a remote meeting room. This also means that both rooms could simultaneously be used for research, with teams viewing from a meeting room, even in another building.

4.Suitable for tasks other than research

The Federation tenants expressed the need for a space to produce high-quality videos and podcasts. The lab will be a professionally soundproofed space with excellent A/V capabilities, so it’s not unimaginable that it could be used for this too.

Considering the interiors

Labs aren’t all about the technology. Getting the interior right is important too. Ideally, we want participants, user researchers and observers to feel relaxed and comfortable and the look and feel of the space is a big part of this.

The lab’s interiors will be plain and unbranded. This is to avoid distracting participants, and to ensure external brands can use the space without feeling defined by it. It’s also important that the space is neutral so that people taking part in internal research, ie, Co-op colleagues, don’t feel that they’re being tested by their employer, something that’s come up in previous research sessions.

A comfortable viewing room

Viewing rooms are often smaller and much less loved than user lounges. The more frequently team members and stakeholders watch research live, the better. Participants are generally in and out of the lab within 45 minutes, whereas observers can be in the lab for anything from 3-8 hours at a stretch. For this reason, we’re focusing on making the viewing room as comfortable as possible with dimmable warm-white lights, comfortable chairs, dark grey walls to reduce eye strain, and a large whiteboard wall for analysis and collaboration. It will be a working space.

We’ll use grey matt finishes on all flat surfaces to enhance contrast and avoid glare which will help make sure that the video image quality is the best it can be.

A lab made with users in mind

The building work will start soon and we’re confident we’ve designed the right thing for our various types of user. We’ll share more on the technology we’re using soon.

Kate Towsey
User research operations

We’re building a user research lab

Co-op Digital is building an in-house user research lab on the lower ground floor of The Federation. It will be available to all Co-op teams, the Federation community and, eventually, the wider world.

We’re calling it Fed Lab.

What’s a user research lab?

A user research lab is a physical space. It’s usually 2 rooms: one room that looks like a lounge but with cameras and microphones installed, and another that looks like a regular meeting room but with a very large TV. The ‘lounge’ is for researchers and participants to do research tasks, like co-designing something or doing a task on a website. And the ‘meeting room’, called a viewing room, is where the team sit and watch the research happening live.

Labs help whole teams see first-hand how their designs are working or not working. This way, a team can learn together and work on changing designs and interactions there and then. This fast response to live user research is what makes a lab such an important tool in agile delivery.

Why we’re building a lab now

Co-op Digital’s remit is to create new digital products, services and platforms; pioneer new ways to cooperate online; and help our existing businesses make the most of digital. To do this, we put users and their needs first, and help teams across the Co-op do the same.

Until now, we’ve been using external labs for lab-based user and market research, but we know from past experience that having a dedicated in-house research space significantly ups the ante on how much time teams and stakeholders spend with users.

And we believe the more time we spend with users, the better.

In the long run, the lab will help us offer teams across the Co-op a complete in-house research service. As a result, we’ll be able to build consistency in research across the business, maintain knowledge and build on it in-house, and be more financially efficient and even profitable.

But it’s not just about us. The Federation, is a fast-growing community of like-minded digital businesses and innovators. Fed Lab will give these organisations access to the tools they need to learn more about their users too.

Where we’re up to

We’ve completed the discovery and design phase of the lab, we’ve chosen the technology, and we expect to have the lab up and running in the summer. We’re pioneering a new solution, so everything needs more care and time.  

In building the lab, we’re planning on using cutting-edge, military-grade technology that will not only offer a top-end experience for people in (and out of) the lab, but also support us in maintaining our data privacy standards and help us conform to GDPR.

As the project takes shape, we’ll share much more about the technology and the design. To keep up to date with our progress, subscribe to the Co-op Digital blog. For more information, get in touch with Kate Towsey.

Kate Towsey
User research operations

Steve Foreshew-Cain: an app for members, training Funeralcare colleagues and an award win

(Transcript) Steve Foreshew-Cain: Hello, and welcome to this week’s Co-op Digital update.

The week started with the brilliant news that the team won the ‘Best Loyalty Initiative’ for Co-op Membership at the Retail Week Technology Awards. A massive well done to the team. Thanks to Danielle, Georgina, Anna and Dave who picked up the award on behalf of the team.

Our social media team have also been nominated for a number of awards at both The Drum’s DADIs and UK Social Media Awards in the last few weeks – so fingers crossed for them too.

On Wednesday we welcomed our Group Board to The Federation for their September board meeting. Whilst they were in the building we were able to give them a tour around and they were some of the first people to see the new Pioneer coffee shop – which is looking amazing.

It will be open for colleagues and tenants in the Federation shortly, and then open to the public after that – watch this space for more updates.

Also this week our Deputy CEO Pippa Wicks spent some time chatting openly and listening to some of our Digital colleagues. She then visited Adam Warburton and the team working on the membership app, heard about what they’ve learnt so far and even got to try it out for herself. Thanks Pippa.

Carl Burton, Helen Lawson, Michelle Monaghan and the rest of the Funeralcare digital service team have been busy this week. They’ve started to train colleagues in Funeralcare how to use the new system. If you’re a colleague and want to know more, you can at the next show and tell which is next Tuesday, 26 September at 2pm on 12th floor of Angel Square. But don’t worry if you’re not in Manchester, it will be filmed.

We’ve just said goodbye to Mark Brannigan one of our user researchers – but as they say, ‘user research is a team sport’ and thank you Mark for everything that you’ve done to really live this, and all the best for the future.

This week we it was great to say hello to some new faces. Alex Lynham joined us as a software engineer in our Data Services team and Amber Garland is our new apprentice software engineer, joining the Membership team. Welcome.

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. See you next week.

Steve Foreshew-Cain
Group Digital Director

Gail Lyon: events at Federation and £50 million in member rewards

(Transcript) Gail Lyon: Hello and welcome to this week’s Co-op Digital weekly update. As you can see, I’m definitely not Mike. I’m Gail Lyon and I’m responsible for digital engagement at Co-op Digital.

As is tradition with all our updates, I’ll start with a big number. £50 million has been earned by our Co-op members since the new membership scheme was launched on the 21st of September last year.

If you’re a Co-op member it’s really easy to see how much that you’ve earned. You can do it online or you can do it by simply checking your till receipt the next time you shop at one of our food stores. And you can spend it anytime as well, you can even spend it at Co-op Electrical.

We welcomed 2 events at Federation House this week. On Monday, Hacks Hackers has their first Manchester meet up, and on Wednesday, DotEveryone joined us to talk about how we can make digital fair for everyone. It’s an important question and only the start of this conversation. Thanks to Ian and Emer from the team for presenting.

And a big thanks to Steve Murrells, our CEO, for dropping in to take a look at our recently opened co-working floor in Federation House and adding to the signatures and the positive messages on the picnic benches.

And finally, subscribe to the blog for regular updates on what the team’s been working on. We really want to hear from you and if you’ve got any questions you can comment on the blog or please send us a tweet.

Thanks, and that’s it for this week.

Gail Lyon
Digital Engagement

Mike Bracken: 4.5 million active members, Federation and thanks to Jamie

(Transcript) Mike Bracken: Hello, welcome to the Co-op Digital weekly update.

We’ll start as ever with a big number, 4.5 million active members now at the Co-op, so those numbers keep growing and that’s a huge change since September 21st last year, so well done to the team for that. And that work’s being recognised.  This week the team in Membership have been shortlisted for a Retail Week Technology Award for that program, so well done to them.

Other highlights of the week, we’ve opened our co-working space in Federation building, the Federation right over the road from Angel Square you can now go see that check out the details on the blog.

I’d like to welcome a few people Nassali Douglas has joined as a Member Pioneer Manager, Richard Shenton coming as a Finance Manager, they’ve come from other parts of the Co-op, Louise Nicholas has joined us as a designer welcome to the Co-op and I’d like to say goodbye to Jamie Arnold who’s been brilliant leading our agile work as a delivery manager, he’ll be much missed.

Thank you very much to him and see you next week.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

The co-working floor is now open at The Federation

We’ve blogged before about how the work is progressing at Federation House. The co-working floor at The Federation opened this week. Victoria Howlett the Federation Manager agreed to show us around the space.

(Transcript) Victoria: Hi, I’m Victoria Howlett and I’m the Federation Manager over here at The Federation. We’ve just added a bit more work to the first floor which is open this week, so would you like to come and have a look?

So as you can see, we’ve added some artwork to the walls here which was done by the wonderful artists Nomad Clan. We actually added this artwork after the attack at the MEN, which we thought was an incredible thing to do for our city and the people here.

As you can see all the furniture is now in place, we’ve got the lovely Chesterfield lemon sofas here, we also have green and pink sofas dotted around.

Here we have the main communal kitchen point on the floor and we’ve got these picnic benches here. We’ve asked everyone who’s been involved in this project and all Co-op colleagues to come over and sign the benches, which is actually such a lovely thing. We’ve had some amazingly heartwarming messages on here. We welcome everybody to come and sign these and anybody that visits the floor please grab a sharpie that will be on here and sign.

We’re really excited because the NHS research and development North West team moved in here this week. Kainos moved into the pods here this week too and we’re welcoming the Startup Factory.Tech on this floor soon. We’ve had such a high interest in the pods on this floor that they are more or less all taken now, we’ve only got one left.

Now we come to the second floor, and on this floor we have 9 private suites which roughly range from 200 square foot all the way up to 1,400 square foot.

This is the main kitchen point, the communal kitchen point on the floor and I will walk you through the corridor here. You can see on this hallway we’ve added in the windows here along the sides and this is just to create that community feel still. There are private suites here, but it’s also to ensure that there is that level of community engagement throughout the building and that everybody’s a part of each of the businesses that are based here.

Keep an eye on Twitter and the blog for more updates on The Federation.

Victoria Howlett
Federation Manager

Mike Bracken: 850k new members, Agile Manchester and Mental Health Awareness Week

(Transcript) Mike: Hello. Thanks to Dave for doing this video last week. I’m back this week and again another big number 850,000 new members joined the Co-op since September 21st last year. That’s a terrific achievement by the team and membership continues to grow.

On that note, our members will be voting next week in our AGM, in Manchester at the end of next week. If you’re eligible to vote, please do. The cut-off date is a 15th of May.

Four big shoutouts this week. The first goes to Rufus, Paul Gerrard and the team have published our Modern Slavery report. It’s vitally important that the Co-op backs this initiative and we’re taking real action to put people back into society, back into the workplace. Do check out the report on the website.

Another shout out to Tom Walker, one of our user researchers has been leading on Mental Health Awareness Week and it’s great to see the Co-op support him and him engage with all the colleagues in Manchester and in the wider community to support mental health issues.

Also shout out to Anna Dick, James Boardwell, Ian Drysdale and the team for speaking at Agile Manchester a big event that we sponsored here and that we’ll continue to back, as we back that agile way of working.

And finally I got a little time this week in Federation. You see that on our website and great work with Victoria and the team who have fitted out nearly 5 floors now and with local designers and local artists, the place looks amazing.

We’ll be having a launch event later in the year and I look forward to seeing you there.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer