Making a will can be daunting. We’re trying to change that.

How changing where we give content has made our digital service easier for users.

I’m Joanne, a content designer working on the wills digital service. We’re building a new way for people to tell us what they want in their will.

Content design is finding out why people come to a web page – what they came to find out, order, apply for  –  and giving them this information:

  • in a way they understand
  • through the most appropriate channel
  • at the time they need it

How and when we give users information is critical for our service.

Why we need to make wills easy to understand

A lot of people find wills intimidating because of the complex terminology used. When you make a will you’re asked to make decisions about your:

  • ‘estate’ (the things you own when you die)
  • ‘executors’ (the people who manage your will when you’ve died)
  • ‘beneficiaries’ (the people or charities you want to leave things to)

We’re asking people to learn new concepts and unfamiliar terminology. We then ask them to make important decisions based on what they understand of these concepts. We need to make this easy, so people can be certain they’re making the right decision.

How we started trying to make it easy

We started by breaking up definitions of complex concepts using short, simple sentences and paragraphs written in a clear way. We presented this content over a few web pages before showing a screen asking the user to fill in the related question.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

We know users tend to read very little on the web – studies show only 16% of people read web pages word-for-word . We thought that by forcing users through these pages of information, it’s more likely that they’d take the time to read them, and therefore more likely that they’d be able to make an informed decision.

Initially it seemed to work. People commented on how straight-forward it seemed – it felt easy, not complex.

But, people were impatient

The further people got through the form, the less they were reading. They were scanning the pages, clicking through them quickly, and missing a lot of the information.

When they were asked a question, they skipped back and forth between screens to remind themselves of the concepts they needed to understand to answer. One person took pictures of the pages before moving on.

People were finding it time-consuming and frustrating.

And, we knew it was likely that this frustration would increase if users:

  • were in a busy environment
  • had short-term memory problems
  • had English as a second language

We realised we couldn’t truly rely on users reading, understanding and remembering the earlier information, even if we knew they would have passed through it.

We needed to rethink where and when we gave users information.

Make it easier, make it successful

By asking users to read information on one page and remember it later, we were increasing the mental and physical effort we were asking them to go through (called the ‘interaction cost’).

Having to go back to be reminded of information – finding the back button, clicking it, waiting for pages to load – also increases the interaction cost.

Research shows that usage goes down as the interaction cost goes up. So, to give our service a better chance of success, we needed to lower the effort involved to use it.

Give information at the point it’s needed

So we moved the information to the same page as the question – to the point the user needs to refer to it to make a decision.

In places, this made the pages long.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

So, we:

  • kept the sentence and paragraphs clear and succinct
  • broke up lists into bullet points
  • interspersed the content with logical subheadings

This makes the text easier to scan – users can jump to the section they need without having to travel to a separate section or memorise information.

We’ve reduced the effort required to use our service and reduced frustration.

We’re giving users what they need, when they need it.

Joanne Schofield

Why content design matters at Co-op

Hello, I’m Joanne, a new Content Designer at Co-op. I’m one of 3 new content designers who’ve recently joined CoopDigital’s design team. The team has a range of experience and skills from user research to interaction design. We’ve been recruited from both within and outside Co-op to build transformational, user-focused digital services.

Content design might be new to you. So, here’s what it is, how it’ll change what we put on Co-op’s website and why it’s essential for the future of the business.

Content designers Joanne Schofield, Fiona Linton-Forrest & Sophie Colbert
Content designers Joanne Schofield, Fiona Linton-Forrest & Sophie Colbert

What is content design?

Content design isn’t just writing and editing words.

Content design is discovering why someone has come to our website or web page – what they came to do, find out, order – then exploring the quickest, easiest, simplest way to allow them to do that.

Content design gives essential content only at the point that it’s relevant and through the most effective channel. That means we must understand the whole service – all the steps the user goes through to get their task done – to determine the most effective place to give the user information.

So, content designers will ask ‘why?’. A lot.

Why we need to design content

The internet has given customers power. Expectations are raised. People expect online services to be easy and straight-forward. If we don’t serve customers well, we’ll disappoint them, frustrate them, lose their trust, and consequently their business.The future of Co-op relies on knowing our users and making services that will make their lives simpler.

It’s impossible to have good services without good content design. Getting information to people when they need it, how they need it and in a way that they understand, is critical. Content is the service.

So, we research our services with real users. We’re building services that we’re proud of, that are revolutionary, but more importantly, are built with the user at the centre.

Words get in the way

Users interact with web content in a different way to print. They’re impatient. They’re usually on a mobile device and time-poor. So they skim-read, looking for headings and links that will help them get to where they need to be. 75% of each web page isn’t read. We need to edit content to a bare minimum and get out of the way, so the user can get where they need, fast.

Web content should only exist if we know that there’s a need for it to be there. People generally don’t want to spend much time on a company’s website. They usually know why they’re there and what they want to do. We need to make this easy. If we can’t explain what content is helping our users do, it shouldn’t be on our site.

And all content should be meaningful, written using words we know our users use and understand. This might not be what we call things internally. Each word is competing for our users attention – we need to make each one count.

Designing for all

We can’t control who views our website. We can’t assume any prior knowledge of the subject we write about, the user’s web experience or their personal circumstance.

By writing in a consistently clear, simple, honest way we open up our services to all. The average reading age in the UK is 9 years old, and many users have English as a second language. We should write in a clear way, get rid of jargon and service-specific terminology, be friendly but to the point. We shouldn’t be afraid to be obvious. If we’re not we’ll create a barrier between us and our users. And they’ll go elsewhere.

Designing with empathy

Each user comes to our site with their own story, situation, insecurities and struggles. What we think may be a simple field in a form could have emotional triggers for our users. What if someone is asked to enter their ‘home address’ and they’re homeless or in a safe house? Insensitivity can not just lose customers, but can upset and offend.

Regular user research with a diverse range of users will help us design empathetic services for everyone. And nothing underpins Co-op’s values more so than inclusive, honest, transparent design that puts users at the heart of the business and in control of Co-op services and products.

Joanne Schofield