Keeping it lean – Great experiences don’t cost the earth (pt1)

Hi, I’m Jack. (@J_4ck) User experience designer here at the Co-op. When I joined just over 18 months ago I became part of a small tight knit team of talented individuals helping to create great experiences using a mix of lean, agile and user centred design process’. I thought I’d share a few posts about how creating great experiences doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Here’s part 1…

Get off to the right start

Traditionally there are four main phases of the product development lifecycle. Which don’t necessarily go in this order.

These are often labelled differently but here we’ll categorise them as –

  • Discovery
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development

Before we get ahead of ourselves, at the start of any project it’s good to think about exactly what it is you’re wanting to achieve, ask yourself what’s our / the users key goal? By setting out a clear goal at the start of any project you’ll avoid scope creep as you can challenge every decision that’s made by asking, “will this help achieve this project’s goal?” It’s also a good time to identify some metrics to measure success against as well so you can evidence the impact the project has and learn from it. It might be that there are many goals and success metrics, if so try prioritising these, the more ruthless you can be at this stage the better as it’ll help to focus efforts throughout the development.

I’ve found that following the S.M.A.R.T guide to setting objectives helps me and the team define goals.image_1That’s it for the minute thanks for reading, keep an eye out for Part 2.

You can catch me on Twitter talking digital, user experience and music amongst other ramblings, @J_4ck.


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.

Rapid Prototyping with Atomic Design


Atomic Design is a methodology developed by Brad Frost which, in Brad’s words, is used to construct web design systems. With the increasing movement in front-end/UI development towards building libraries of components, rather than pages, Atomic Design provides a very robust and flexible means of establishing a pattern library that serves as both a front-end framework and a comprehensive style guide for the web.

This is by no means a technical guide (I’m really not very good at writing techie stuff), just an overview of how we’ve been using this approach, and how it’s helped us.

Establishing colours, typefaces etc for the pattern library (or Pattern Lab) was done with a variety of tools and is part of a wider branding project, but when it comes to prototyping, we work primarily in the browser. We find it’s the quickest way of getting something tangible that we can show to others (Show The Thing™), and having a Pattern Lab in place means we can quickly and easily put prototypes together that have a consistent look and feel.

Using Handlebars.js together with Assemble, we built up a library of components that can be combined to form any number of different layouts. This approach really comes into its own when iterating over layouts, with variations of modules or organisms. Finding out, for example, which version of your header prototypes works best with a particular template can be as simple as changing a version number in your template file.

Our Pattern Lab is definitely a work in progress, and going forward it will most likely change shape significantly as we encounter real world design/development problems that we didn’t encounter when creating the components in isolation. But in these early stages, being able to prototype different combinations of ideas so quickly and easily has been a great way of getting things off the ground.

Head in the clouds…

Have you ever heard someone say “you’ve got your head in the clouds”?  Well that was me – literally – yesterday.  I work as a UI designer/developer at the Co-operative in a growing Digital team based on the 11th floor of 1 Angel Square and while the rest of Manchester struggled with the gloom of the fog, we were almost illuminated by it.  I’ve only been with the Co-op for a month or so and am still amazed by my workplace – this unique and innovative building feels like the right place to be as we continue our digital transformation.

Angel Meadows, a hidden gem!
Angel Meadows, a hidden gem!

To say it is exciting times at the moment may be understating it and to not just work for the Co-op but be a part of it as a member adds an extra dimension.  I’m not just working for the company; I’m working for the members – you, me and everyone that has joined this historic establishment on the way.

A fantastic employer

In Manchester the Co-op has always had a fantastic reputation as an employer and as one of its newest employees I can vouch for it – the people are welcoming, loyal – working hard and always wanting to be the best.  My workplace environment, the equipment, (for starters on my first day a brand spanking new Mac Book Pro was waiting for me), tools to help me ‘do a better job’ never mind the ‘little things’ that make coming to work that little bit easier, it’s clear for me to see that the Co-op puts it’s staff at the heart of who it is and what it wants to be and who wouldn’t want to be part of that.

Co-op sent me to NUX4!

The history that surrounds the Co-op means that I’m proud to say that I work for them and even prouder and more excited to be part of its future.

Oh and a little bit about me…

I have a passion for designing and developing websites.  I’ve done this professionally for the last 15 years, cutting my teeth working for fast paced design agencies after starting off self employed to build my portfolio.  Along the way I’ve designed some big sites, the Citizens Advice and Advice Guide websites for example; I transformed the checkouts and subsequent conversion rates for N Brown’s group of e-commerce fashion brands by turning a 10 step multi page process into a 1 page responsive checkout.  Almost without realising it I transformed from a website designer to a designer that codes in the browser and right now, here at the Co-op, it feels like this could be my greatest challenge but I know we’ll achieve all we set out to do together.

Anything could happen

So – back to having my head in the clouds – it feels like anything could happen and any idea could be the one that really changes, improves and moves the Co-op to its next phase – I can’t wait to be part of it – what about you?

I’ll be writing regular blogs about UI design/development and my Co-op journey, find me on twitter @uxeskimo.

Work hard, have fun, make a difference… Join us at Angel Square…