Vicki Riley on user research at Co-op Digital

We’re recruiting user researchers.

If you want to help digital teams build the right thing, and if learning about how people behave and why sounds interesting, you might be a good fit. Have a look our job description for more details.

Our user research team come from really varied backgrounds. Here’s Vicki’s story.

(Transcript) Vicki Riley: I’ve been a user researcher for just coming up to a year now, I’ve been at the Co-op for 2 years. Originally I worked on the analytics and optimisation team. That involved looking at the the data so Google Analytics to find out what people were doing on our websites. But being a user research now I can really delve into why people are behaving in a certain way and shape the products that we’re building based on that.

User research is about understanding the behaviour of people. So rather than asking people what they would do we would prefer to observe them. So with colleagues that could involve shadowing in-store, spend a day in the life of a colleague who works in one of our food stores to really get to the bottom of what they’re trying to do, what their pain points are and shape what we’re building based on what we’re seeing rather than just what we’re hearing.

A huge part of user research is kind of getting out of the building, going out to the places that our users are working or spending time. There are a lot of assumptions in Angel Square or in any business there are assumptions and without speaking to the people who use your services or use your products you’ll never really find out what’s happening, you’ll never really get to the bottom of it.

I love working with designers and interaction designers, content designers. They’re really involved in the research and they bring a different perspective to things. They have different backgrounds, different experiences, different knowledge so it
really helps to have a diverse group of people doing the research analysing the

I’m learning something new pretty much every week because I’m working on different teams and moving around a lot learning from people who’ve done user research but 10, 20 years so for my personal development it’s been brilliant this last year I’ve learned more than I have in my entire career.

I’ve wanted to work at the Co-op for a long time ever since I’ve finished University. They’re a company that really makes a difference in the community and I think user research has an opportunity to shape that, to shape what we do in the future.

Vicki Riley
User researcher


Funeralcare team welcomes a new user researcher

Photo of Mark Branigan, user researcher on Funeralcare

I’m Mark and I recently joined Co-op Digital as a user researcher on Co-op Funeralcare. I’m part of a multi-disciplinary team which means I work alongside developers, designers and product managers as well as internal and external subject matter experts from the funeralcare industry.

At Co-op Digital we’re building a service so that our Co-op Funeralcare colleagues can meet the needs of their customers more efficiently. The less time spent doing paperwork, the more time they have for their customers. Their role includes welcoming friends and family who are visiting their loved one, arranging personalised keepsakes, and of course organising the funeral including the cremation or burial.

As a user researcher, I help my team learn about our Funeralcare colleague’s roles; which systems are already in place and where digital can make things better. The best way for me to do this is by visiting funeral homes, listening to my colleagues who work there, and watching them at work.

When I’m back in the office I relay what I’ve found out to the rest of my team. That said, I believe that ‘user research is a team sport’ so I always encourage my colleagues to come and see for themselves too.

Contextual research (actually going to the place to see how things work) makes sure we build a service based on needs rather than on our assumptions of what our colleagues need. So in this sense, my role is to make sure that when my team starts iterating on the service or building a new feature, we know it’s going to be useful as well as useable. Contextual research means that both time and money are spent wisely. We’ll iterate what we build along the way, of course.

I feel privileged to be on this team. Our Funeralcare colleagues only have one chance to arrange a loved one’s funeral. Building something that helps them do that smoothly and sensitively feels like a really important thing to work on and get right.

Mark Branigan
User researcher, Funeralcare

User Research at CoopDigital

Hello, my name’s Simon and I’ve just joined the team at CoopDigital as a user researcher.  I’m really excited to be here and help the team build some world class digital services.

Picture of Simon Hurst - user researcher
Simon Hurst – user researcher

What does a user researcher do?

User researchers fulfil several roles for a team, we’re there to help them understand:

1) Who the users of our services are and understand what they need from the service. To build great services you need to truly empathise with your users.

2) What’s the problem the user is trying to solve, what goal are they trying to achieve? How can we support them to achieve their goal?

3) Whether the solution we’re looking to provide works well and how can it be better?

Meeting real people

We do this by getting out of the building and meeting real people, talking to them and trying to understand their lives, watching them trying to complete their goals or use things we’re building.

We work with a huge variety of people, this includes those who are just learning the ropes, people who have maybe been bought a tablet by their children, or people who use a screenreader to interact with their device because of a visual impairment.

Bringing the team along

It’s even better when you bring members of the team with you, getting people who are building the service and writing the code to see users actually using the thing they’ve built and to see them struggling can have a tremendous impact on how they tackle problems. The result is a team who care about what they’re building and are absolutely committed to making it the best it can be.

User researchers are interested in if people can use things to complete a task, user research isn’t about asking people if they ‘like’ what we’ve built, or what they think of the colours.

It can be frustrating for people to see something they’ve designed and built not working, to see people struggling to understand the words they’ve used, or to interact with the clever little interface they’ve made. However, the sooner we can recognise the issues, the sooner we can fix them, it’s better to find this out before you release the thing.

It’s even more important to understand why we are building something in the first place, is it needed by people? Is it helping them to achieve a goal or to solve a problem? If it isn’t we end up building something that could be the most beautiful designed and usable product or service, but if it’s not needed then no one will ever use it.

We’ll be looking at how we get involved with users more and more in the near future and we’ll be sure to blog about how we’re doing it and what we’re learning along the way. We’ll also be working hard to try and understand how user research applies in an organisation as diverse and varied as Co-op. There’ll be plenty more blogs to come from us on that.

Simon Hurst
User Researcher

We’re looking for user researchers.

We’re recruiting user researchers to join our growing CoopDigital team in Manchester. These new, permanent roles are critical to our ability to deliver brand new digital services for The Co-op, its customers and members.

Our user researchers play a pivotal role in our multidisciplinary agile teams, working with product managers, designers, developers and more to develop and share our understanding of user needs; managing, facilitating and analysing continuous research throughout the phases of service delivery, from discovery to live. We do research the right way.

It’s a chance to join a team at the beginning of its journey, helping to shape CoopDigital as a team and research as a community of practice just as much as the services you’ll lead our research work on. It’s not just the opportunity to deliver services at scale across the UK, but to embed the value of research in The Co-op and bring it ever closer to the needs of its users.

We’re looking for people with a range of experience using qualitative and quantitative research skills; really strong communication skills; and – ideally – experience of an agile environment. An interest or past experience of user experience, design and content roles can help too. If that sounds like you, we’d love to talk.

The Co-op is a special organisation with distinctive values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. On equality, we want a team that is representative of the customers and members we serve and know that we’re not there yet. We believe in diversity and inclusion, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we know it makes us better at what we do. We welcome applications from those traditionally under-represented in design, research, digital and technology roles. If that’s you, or someone you know, we’d really encourage you to think about joining us.

You can apply for our user researcher roles now. The closing date is 31st May 2016.

Andrew Travers
Head of Digital Design




Laura 1

Hello, I’m Laura, a User Experience Designer at the Co-op, currently in my second month with the company and loving it! Recently the team and I attended this year’s Northern User Experience conference NUX4. The talks all addressed a variety of issues – read on to see what I took away from the day…

Tomer Sharon – Google – “User Research”

This talk told a story about a failed (fictional) app called The app fails at first because their user research relied on the opinions of friends and the app didn’t solve any real user need. They then (reluctantly) utilised a user researcher who helped identify a true user, and developed their initial product into something with a different purpose, to serve real needs.

– Just because you would use a product, doesn’t mean there is a need for it.
– “Do the right thing, then things right”
– “Fall in love with problems, then with solutions”
– “Observe people, don’t just listen to what they say”

Jenny Grinblo – Future Workshops – “Clients Don’t Suck”

This talk reassessed the attitude towards ‘the evil client’, supported by sites such as It showed the importance of switching thinking to ‘Our expertise + our client’s expertise = something awesome’. Jenny identified three different client ‘Conditions’, which all need to be handled in different ways.

– Create a toolkit of methods that work with a variety of different stakeholders.
– Record what works and what doesn’t, for different types of people.
– Try and keep the mindset: my work + ideas we create together + client knowledge, expertise and support = client propping you up, not pulling you down.

Stavros Garzonis – cxpartners – “Co-design”

Stravos’ main message was that co-design can be done effectively by using a mixture of users, client stakeholders, (1:1 ratio is the most effective mix to ensure voices are heard in the correct way) and a facilitator (the workshop leader).

– Everyone can sketch, they just need to feel empowered to do so.
– People WILL engage.
– Using the Design Council Double Diamond process within a workshop, ideas can be defined and developed quickly and effectively.

Alberta Soranzo – Tobias & Tobias – “Designing to change behaviours”

A slightly different talk that informed us that a 1940s US ad-campaign transformed diamonds from being ‘common’ and plentiful in the market into something synonymous with romance. This then birthed the concept of engagement rings, eternity rings, and the artificial need of ‘Diamonds are Forever’… which is still believed in 2015.

Designs have impact on our future selves, so we should try and use this power for good.

– With great design comes great responsibility.
– Take responsibility for the behaviour change your designs can bring.
– Use design to help people, and develop behaviours that result in positive outcomes.

Brian Suda – – “Connecting the digital to analog”

This was a talk about a love for paper, and how we can use it to create beautiful and functional things. They shared a few examples such as the no-longer-with-us Little Printer. The focus of the talk was around PocketMod, which creates a ‘discreet personal organiser’, which Brian has developed into pocket custom travel guides, so you don’t scream ‘tourist’.

– Don’t forget about paper.
– Give users a reason to hold onto something and use it for more than its purpose; give them contextual information.

Claire Rowland – Internet of Things – “Designing for connected products”

One of the biggest problems with connected products is trying to marry up the features and familiarity of old products, with new interfaces and designs.

Claire says that the key to this is context, and that there are two ways of looking at this; Either, experiences between connected products and their supporting interfaces should be consistent, so the user understands interactions and features (e.g. an app mirroring the functions/display on the physical product). Or, separate the product from the supporting interface, and isolate features/controls to one or the other (e.g. the physical product having no manual functions or display, and everything is controlled through the supporting app).

– No one needs a wifi-connected kettle
– Always use context to determine what level of feedback you need to give users throughout
– For legacy products, consistent terminology is often more important than what the UI looks like.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Content strategist – “Content for kindness”

This keynote speech was hard-hitting and focused on explaining the importance of compassion within UX, even in what seem to be the smallest areas.

Most people who have encountered form design will have asked the question ‘Do we need this field?’ It’s important to think how these questions affect people on a deeper level than just data capture. When designing for the majority we shouldn’t ignore the minority. Examples Sara used were an app for women to track their periods which overstepped its purpose to the point where it was cringe worthy and Facebook’s naming policy as lots of Native American users had their names rejected by Facebook because they ‘violated their policy’ and ‘did not comply’.

– Be careful with form fields. Everything is a trigger for someone.
– Unless the information is vital, don’t ask for it.
– Adjust to your user’s needs, instead of expecting them to fit ours.

We’re hiring!

Image of Ben Rieveley

Hi, I’m Ben 2 (there’s 3 of us), I work in the Co-op Digital Team and have done since it was a team of one.

I have a huge passion for the Co-op and have always believed that it has immense potential in the new digital world we can be as pioneering as we were back in 1844 (I joined a couple of years later).

With our new digital leadership team we have just turned a massive corner and are about take big steps towards realising our potential. There’s much to do and to do it we need talent. We have talent but we need more. So we are immediately looking for a User Researcher to join us.

We need someone to help build a clear picture of our users and generate new and useful user insights that will allow us to iteratively improve the service for our users.

Are you experienced in using a variety of user testing methodologies to reveal actionable customer insights? Do you have  excellent analytical and problem solving skills with the ability to quickly develop recommendations based on quantitative and qualitative evidence? Are you confident in explaining user needs to colleagues outside of the digital team, and can act as a persuasive advocate for those needs across the whole business?

The Co-operative Support Centre, Angel Square, Manchester

Do you want to be part of transforming this iconic organisation, working in this awesome building in Manchester?

Then take a look at our jobs board and submit your CV today.

Good luck!


p.s. If this isn’t the job for you, keep your eye on this blog as there’s more to come…

Find me on twitter @barthelmess