Ethnography online shopping and delivery experiences

Innovation – ethnography, online shopping and delivery experiences

DPD Group is the second largest parcel delivery network in Europe, which delivers over three million parcels every day.  As part of an international innovation project across the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Poland, InProcess, an innovation consultancy based in Paris, were commissioned to identify opportunities for innovation, create value for the different customer profiles and enhance the customer journey from the moment of purchase through to delivery and returns.

Working with a range of different shopper types in the UK, we used a range of tools including observation, video diaries and in-depth contextual interviews to explore the online purchasing behaviour of young shoppers as well as the home and other delivery experiences.

The ethnographic research helped to identify the motivations and different emotional needs of purchasers across the customer journey.  This is being used to underpin a framework and programme of innovation at the DPD Group in this highly competitive market place.

If you would like to discuss how we could potentially help you please don’t hesitate to phone 07866 742628 or email Richard.

User Research – Product and Service Innovation: An interview with Chris Bangle, Managing Director of Chris Bangle Associates

User Research – Product and Service Innovation: An interview with Chris Bangle, Managing Director of Chris Bangle Associates
The aim of User Research – Product and Service Innovation series of interviews is to act as a source of inspiration and information about the role of user research. We have just started working on the series of interviews and if you would like to be interviewed please do not hesitate to contact Richard Linington.

Hi Chris could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Chris Bangle Associates?
I studied at the University of Wisconsin and after graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California I started working at Opel in 1981. Later I joined Fiat and then moved to BMW where I was named the first American Chief of Design. After leaving BMW in 2009 I set up Chris Bangle Associates in Clavesana, a small village in the Langhe region of northern Italy. I am now building a hybrid “Studio/Design Residency” for design amid the vineyards south of Turin with room to exercise some new-found creative freedom.

Chris Bangle
Photo kindly supplied by Chris Bangle Associates

What type of design projects do you work on at Chris Bangle Associates?
I would like to think we work on about any design-related project that people are passionate about––because that gets the team and I passionate too. So far the range has been from sailboat branding to electric vehicles; from consumer appliances and electronics to Japanese nursing homes; from exhibition stands to iconic lighting. Along with the “normal” things we like to try our hand at art projects like the colored glass trees or the giant bench that everyone seems to like; our interpretation of that old idea is gathering quite a following (number two is on a nearby hill and the third edition is about to be set up).

Chris Bangle Associates
Photo kindly supplied by Chris Bangle Associates

What role has human centred design research played in the design projects you have worked on?
As opposed to what, “Alien-centered” design? I used to think all our work was “Human Centered” but the way you pose the question that seems to be the copyright of somebody else. I am always a bit leery of design methodologies with titles; they sort of sound like the flavor of the month. Research per se is a tough one for many clients; either their users are everywhere and everyone (consumer electronics, for instance) or they are super specific and unique to their context (the nursing home comes to mind). Often a project comes with reams of “Marketing Research” which is at best confusing as hell and at worst a barrel of red herrings. Designers often do not have the luxury to go out and individually question the end users, but at the same time many designers have substituted “Google Image Search” for “research”––not real research by any definition.

What specific user research methods have you used?
The best teacher is experience so if possible I like to have the designers go through the real motions of living with the design in question. Mock-ups are the best way to ensure that, but there are other ways to achieve understanding. Sometimes being forced to change medium––switch from drawing to acting-out a design, for instance––leads to lots of new insights.

Do you encounter any particular challenges when you carry out user research?
The greatest challenge in any design process is understanding the truth of the situation. What is important and what are hidden or even “straw” issues is often not clear, even to the client. There is also a difference between what people say they want and what they really want. Everybody knows Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted all they asked for was a better horse”; but now we will never know what would have happened if he had actually made them one. Of course at the time New York and other metropoles were drowning in horse manure and animal carcasses; still, the climate-changing CO2 levels and ozone depletion are not something you can easily take a shovel to. My favorite anecdote from GM research done years ago was the woman who wrote “Safety” as the most important aspect in determining her new car; causing engineers to go back and beef up brakes and crash resistance. A follow-up team re-interviewed her, asking “What do you mean by ‘safety’?”; to which she replied, “A place for my gun.” To understand the difference between what you Must Do, what you Can Do, what you Want to Do, and what you Should Do is the purpose of all the first phases of any design process, no matter what you call them. “Human Centered Design” seems to be a play for “Should” over “Must/Can/Want”, but reality is not so simple.

What do you feel the benefits of user research have been for you and your team?
The difference between Art and Design is that in Art the Artist gets to decide when to stop. The benefits of any research are to set up guidelines for choices so that the process of design is not whim-driven by the client or the design director nor subject to the vicissitudes of peripheral issues.

Chris, perhaps we could end on something about the future areas for innovation in the design sector?
My hope is that the general awakening of societies to the rights and contributions of individuals that social media has given new impetus to will find form in a new “Design Ethic” that is indeed “humanistic”. I would argue that today we are symbiotic supporters of a system that marginalizes anyone outside of the “process” of design that we have crafted around ourselves. We designers are very jealous and protective of the creative process; after the designer has had his or her say everyone else in the process is reduced to machine-like tolerances of good quality of bad quality, of faster production or slower production, of more costs or less. Once we (or our proxies, the “clients”) sign off on the design, everything from there on is either right or wrong. We do not allow interpretations of our creative genius; our idea of “inclusion” is to dole out pre-configured choices as “user designed” variations intended to convince the plebiscite that they have had a hand in our magic world. In doing so we have turned everyone but us into machines. We have replaced the robotic assembly line workers of the past in Detroit with endless rows of face-masked drones in China pleading for help with their notes stuffed in Halloween toys or their desperate suicides. Design has had 200 years to get good at mediating between man and his usable world; creating mass-produced perfection to fulfill every imaginable want and need. But along the way we left the “human” out of the equation, and now it is about time we turn our attention to making the people of the world “participants”, not just “users”. We need to come to grips with a design aesthetic that is “imperfect” yet very very “human”; to embrace and cherish the added value of hundreds of individuals engaged in the chain of creativity. I will acknowledge that any change in our system today seems horrifically disruptive to the efficiency of manufacture and the joy of consumption, but that of course is the challenge design needs to solve. If we don’t solve it, who will?

To find out more about Chris Bangle Associates please visit their website 

Back to the design and innovation interviews.

A conversation with Andy Hovey, Head of Design at Xero

Andy, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about yourself
I started as a graphic designer. I went to design school and was very passionate about design and typography. I didn’t really like the web at all. I was a bit of a typography nerd and I wanted to make beautiful books. So I left design school as a very passionate typographer and I got a job at a digital company – my first project was slicing images for a CD-ROM. I worked on another CD-ROM project that was helping kids improve their reading, spelling and writing.

Andy Hovey Xero
Image kindly supplied by Andy Hovey

I immediately flipped when I realised I was making a tool. It was something someone else used to get something done in their life.

I guess every couple of years things on the web got a little bit better and I moved from websites into creating products and applications. Now, that’s where my passion lies.

Xero – solving complex issues for small business owners
Xero is a cloud based accounting software service for small businesses and their advisors. If we wind the clock back to eight or nine years ago the state of small business accounting was essentially that a small business would have a pile of receipts, a few spreadsheets and maybe some desktop software.

Business owners very rarely had an up to date view of their cashflow. This was because to get a current view you had to do a bank reconciliation. This is where you match all the transactions in your bank accounts with the transactions in your accounting system. It was a horrible and hard process.

Because of this they would only go through this process once, twice or maybe three times a year. It was at these infrequent points in time where people really understood where their business was at. Sometimes you could reconcile everything and then realise your business was quite broke.

Xero changed this by automatically importing bank transactions and categorising them for you – the bank reconciliation process is taken care of. As a result we’re seeing nearly half of our customers doing it weekly. It has given business owners a much better view of their cashflow.

Xero mobile

Image kindly supplied by Andy Hovey

The next issue was that your accountant would have their own software and their own set of the books. As a business owner you would visit your accountant at the end of the year and perhaps at various points during the year. It was a mish-mash process trying to keep these books in sync. There was an awful amount of work and pain involved!

So what Xero did was make sure there was one version of the books – a single ledger in the cloud. As a customer you log in to Xero and see what your accountant sees, which means you can have a much more cohesive conversation about your financial position right throughout the year.

In March 2015 we just tipped over 475,000 paying customers and three years prior there were approximately 75,000 customers.

Organisational considerations: Centralised and decentralised product development
We are separated into small cross-functional teams, which includes front-end development, back-end development, testing, design, a product owner and sometimes a business analyst. As in many large companies there’s a natural tension between more centralised design, which helps to maintain a cohesive experience and decentralised design which gives greater autonomy to these individual teams. I am a fan of the decentralised approach, I like it when design and development are very close.

User research – building a service based on identifying and understanding customer pain points
At the very beginning of Xero there were some people who designed things and there were some who wrote code. One of them was the very smart Co-Founder Philip Fierlinger. His process was: let’s go out and follow a few people and see what they are doing in their day to day life and understand the relationship they have with their business finances. So Philip was doing this user research work as part of the design process.

They were trying to understand how people were carrying out their accounting. They had this sort of epiphany that their “accounting” was to do with this bank reconciliation process, which was only done a few times a year. There was one participant they were working with who came in and said “I would rather have root canal surgery with no anesthetic than do a bank reconciliation.”

They realised this was quite a consistent feeling among the people they were spending time with. Of all the things they could build early on they honed in on this reconciliation process. From those sorts of conservations they started to identify other areas of pain customers were experiencing.

Once they imagined how the future of bank reconciliation could work they started to test the current experience against the new Xero experience using wireframes. Customers would roll their eyes and want to leave when testing the current experience. When they tested it against the new Xero process – the difference in expression on people’s faces and how they felt about the process was the first ‘a-ha’ moment.

I get really interested in how people are using Xero now to solve their problems and what sort of hacks, workarounds and workflows they’re using. I am very interested in identifying how we can better support customers’ workflows and make Xero a little bit easier, faster or give customers a little more financial insight.

The growth of user research at Xero
User research has grown at Xero. We now have a dedicated user research team, and it’s part of the work multi-disciplinary product designers carry out. There is a large group of product designers and sometimes their work involves talking to people, designing, analysis, writing, user testing, coding, and probably other things I’m forgetting!

User research – the Xero community and Customer Experience Team
User research happens all over Xero – not just with the researchers and product designers. Product owners, analysts, developers and others all read information from our customers.

The Xero community, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are all areas where customers discuss Xero and their businesses. We read these communities to gather insights into their working lives.

Another crucial part is the questions the Customer Support Team (called customer experience) answers. They neatly categorise every question that comes in from a customer. We use this information all of the time. It helps us find hotspots and areas of pain.

Each of the product designers spends time with the customer experience team – we try and do half a day every six weeks. It helps designers feel the pain and it’s a good opportunity to dig into areas and share some ideas with the customer experience team.

Observation hours – spending time with customers
There was an article by Jared Spool a little while ago. He’s been on fire at the moment, writing some fantastic articles. He wrote that there are basically no ‘silver bullets’ to improving your user experience, which is true as far as I can tell. But if there’s anything as close to a ‘silver bullet’ it is spending hours observing your customers use your software. It’s kind of that basic – you are better off watching someone for two hours than five people for a short period of time each. Spreading the observation hours with customers across the people that actually build the software is eye opening and crucial.

We have just completed a 30 day diary study with 12 people in various locations across the United States and that qualitative research was matched up with quantitative research. From this key recommendations emerged for a team to work on. The team building the solution was part of the diary study research process – collecting the research each day with the researcher. This has created a good camaraderie and user centred approach in that team.

User research Xero
Image kindly supplied by Andy Hovey

What are some of the challenges of carrying out user research?
Dedicated user researchers are new to Xero. So, like many challenges of a growing business, integrating them into the day to day project workflow takes a wee while. But now they’re entrenched we’re seeing a huge thirst for the insights they bring to projects.

The challenges of user research themselves are not too dissimilar from anywhere else I think. Recruiting is a pain. Learning from the right participants and synthesising the right insights is the hard part.

You can find out more about Andy Hovey on his LinkedIn profile or follow Andy on Twitter and for Xero please visit their website or follow @Xero

If you would like to take part in this series of interviews please contact Richard Linington.

A conversation with David Gentle, Director of Foresight and Planning at Fujitsu

David, perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your role at Fujitsu
I come from a technology consulting background – for most of my career I have been working with customers implementing technology projects. I spent a very interesting couple of years working in Azerbaijan in the Caspian region building technology infrastructure and I’ve also spent a lot of time working with financial services companies in London. About six years ago I started to do more consulting work with CIOs around strategy and looking at the big picture – how they can bring innovation in, how they can use new technology and respond to new technology trends.

David Gentle
Image kindly supplied by Fujitsu

My title is Director of Foresight and Planning and what that means is I look at technology and market trends and reflect those back into our business. The idea being we can intersect the future market. I am also part of the team that creates the Fujitsu company vision and there is an internal and external side to my role. Externally, we use the vision to engage with customers at events and conferences and internally as a means to align all of the different things we do. The external role is about going out and talking about where we are going and the latest trends. The internal role is about helping to shape the direction of the company and to make sure we are doing things that are relevant.

Fujitsu is the largest company in Japan and the fourth largest IT services company in the world.

We are going through a technology threshold
Technology is enabling us to create value on a much wider scale than was ever possible before. You can use technology in a social context where in the past it was very difficult to reach that many people. An example of that is a technology we have called SPATIOWL.

Image kindly supplied by Fujitsu

This is a technology which is an information management service – it is able to take information from lots of different sources and handle it in real time and identify correlations and patterns. The first implementation of this technology was in Tokyo where we put sensors in 2,000 taxis around the city and they were pulling in information from these taxis. That gives you a very rich real time picture of traffic in the city. People can start to leverage that information. It is very easy to put a logistics company in touch with that information and they can use it to help schedule the best deliveries. We can put a municipal authority in touch with that information and they can use it to work out how to phase traffic lights. We can quite easily now create solutions on a wide scale that you couldn’t even imagine ten years ago. This is why we think this idea of Human Centric Technology, technology that can empower people is quite important.

We created the K Computer and for a while it was the fastest computer in the world. We have found very good uses for this technology. A really good example is the University of Toyko who have been using it to simulate human organs. They have got a heart simulation created on the computer – what you can do is bring it down to the cellular level where it can simulate something like half a million cells. This means that surgeons can model various scenarios on this simulated heart and make decisions before they operate on someone. It is shifting the threshold of what is happening. It’s a very exciting time. There are tremendous opportunities.

Culture and technology
The team which produces the company vision is based in Japan and I represent the rest of the world to make sure the vision is relevant outside of Japan. There are different cultural influences – in Japan for example, there is quite a big focus on society. I think it is a lot to do with the national identity in Japan, it is an island nation that has limited natural resources, limited agricultural land and it’s very mountainous. Japan has a very cohesive society, a society that believes that the group is stronger than the individual. Whereas in the West we are the opposite of that – it’s very much about the individual.

There is an interesting technological side to this. In Japan people are very interested in technologies that can empower society whereas in the West we see technology that can empower us as individuals. For example, citizens are alerted within seconds to their mobile phones if a serious earthquake has occurred. Which is kind of incredible – the infrastructure required to be able to do that.

Our vision has elements of the Japanese cultural identity in it. Our vision is based around Human Centric Innovation. It’s about how we can use technology to empower people and bring useful information in to people’s everyday lives.

IT challenges organisations are facing
We are moving into a much more digitalised world and it’s a challenge everyone faces at the moment. The rules are being re-written. For technology there’s a traditional set of technologies that lots of IT players have grown up around – ERP systems, CRM systems, directory systems and data centre services.

There’s this new style of technology that is emerging – we are talking about the Internet of Things, social technologies and mobile technologies, it’s quite a significant shift.

We have got an interesting challenge around how can we make ourselves relevant for a new type of customer, while at the same time developing skills, capabilities and offerings around the new types of technologies.

In any large organisation particularly now, there is a challenge around how you change culture and how you adapt. It’s a really difficult issue. There is a lot of risk associated with change. People have a lot invested in how they have done things in the past. But you have got to be mindful of what is the greater opportunity.

Innovation is constant
There is a real significant shift. We used to think about innovation being this exceptional thing – now we have got to adapt to the thing that innovation is a constant. You have to innovate radically – questioning your business model and value proposition. If you are not willing to change you could be in trouble.

I think for businesses generally we are really having quite a radical shift. The pace of innovation at the moment is extraordinary – there are a huge number of new companies starting. Underpinning this is that it is very easy to get access to the building blocks you need to create a business – you can just go to the cloud for certain services.

Anyone can be an innovator: the maker movement and Fujitsu
We are moving into the era where innovation is becoming ever more accessible. Fujitsu have just entered into a partnership with an organisation called TechShop, who provide maker spaces. This is a phenomenally interesting area – with TechShop you can go into this place and make anything – you’ve got 3D printers and laser cutters. What’s great about it is that it puts people with ideas in touch with the means to create prototypes. It gives you a very rapid means of prototyping.

Image kindly supplied by Fujitsu

The partnership we have entered into with TechShop is not a pure commercial opportunity. It’s more about recognising the importance of innovation and encouraging people in our organisation and outside of our organisation to recognise the importance of innovation. Regardless of who you are in a company, anyone can be an innovator.

makerspace-tables 1
Image kindly supplied by Fujitsu

There is a social side to this to. We have created a mobile maker space which is attached to a truck which is aimed at school children.

Social innovation
We talk about business innovation and social innovation. Social innovation is not a traditional area of business – it is quite new, we are discovering it ourselves. Our traditional customer base has been the business customer, but now we are looking at forming new relationships, for example how we can partner with universities or city authorities. For example, we are doing a piece of work now with the Singapore Government around their vision of being a smart nation. We have been talking to them about using our SPATIOWL technology to help them manage urban mobility. Social innovation is a growing area, it is an area which is very important to us as it is a strong means to delivering value above and beyond what we would have been able to in the past.

Involving the user
A piece of work we did in California involved a technology we produced in our R&D Lab. It’s called Sprout – it is a device that is able to take information wirelessly from wearable and mobile technologies.

We were engaged by the Veteran’s Association in the US. A number of service personnel who had returned home from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. If you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, even driving to work can be a problem as when you are driving you may constantly be looking out for potential IEDs.

We applied this Sprout technology and trialled it with a number of veterans to monitor their stress levels throughout the day. You could get a very good proxy for the level of stress by looking at and comparing different pieces of data that was coming out of these wearable devices so things like heart rate, how quickly people moved, blood pressure and all this information is aggregated to this Sprout device which connects to a smartphone app. This gives you a log of someone’s stress levels over the day – it was about trying to understand the condition and draw insights from it. That was all about the individual.

People are becoming less aware of technology
With Human Centric Technology you are becoming less and less aware of the technology itself. For example, we have just unveiled a biometric technology which does a scan of your iris. When you pick up your phone it will validate your identity through scanning your irises. You can just pick up your phone and if it sees you it will unlock. There’s no transaction there you are aware of anymore. You don’t even have to press a button. These technologies are driven by the user need.

The hyper-connected economic era – delivering personalised experiences at scale
Things are changing – we are entering a new business and economic paradigm. We call it the hyper-connected era, it’s enabled by digital and connected technologies. It means you can deliver things which are highly personalised at scale and at a low cost. If you think of your smartphone it is unique to you. You won’t find another smart phone in the world which has the same combination of apps and content as yours. In order to get this device which reflects your lifestyle needs you have to be able to customise that incredibly cheaply with the apps and content. By having a digital platform and connected technology underneath it you are able to deliver things at scale that are highly personalised.

A new type of transaction changes the boundaries of privacy
If we think about digital technology it enables a different type of transaction. The traditional model of a transaction is based around money: you give up some money to receive goods or a service.

In the digital era privacy comes much more into that transaction. You are actually giving up some of that privacy to receive that service. An example might be if you have got a smart machine in your home, a smart washing machine, a smart thermostat, the potential is that organisations will know a lot about your daily movements. A smart light bulb – you will have the information when someone is in their house or not, so people might feel uncomfortable about that information going into the wrong hands. But at the same time new services will be innovated around these things.

Take the washing machine example, you might be able integrate your washing machine with your smart meter so it automatically washes your clothes when electricity is at its cheapest. There is some inherent value in the services which will be created around this. It’s no longer a simple binary – I pay you this and I get this. You have to kind of think about the privacy angle. I think younger people are probably more savvy about this.

Future opportunities and technology
It’s like moving from a tennis court to a football pitch, you are moving to a different playing field in terms of the size of the opportunity. In the past the way in which we have used technology has been constrained – in other words you implemented some technology in a physical context, for example, in a building and it’s always had this almost tethered characteristic.

I think increasingly the opportunity is that technology is becoming totally fluid, so there’s no situation where you can’t conceive technology being applied. We are no longer limited by thinking that technology sits in a backroom somewhere with some sort of flashing lights on it. I think that’s the really exciting opportunity.

What springs from that really is technology becoming ubiquitous in the physical world and that then drives the creation of information. Again in the past we have thought of information as this thing you kind of control – you store it on your servers and put a perimeter around it. I think we have to think of information as being more like air or oxygen. It’s all around and it’s being created by the growth in technology services and devices. There’s a tremendous opportunity there – what insights can you deliver from that information. Information when you link it to other pieces of information, that’s where you get the value from.

Ultimately if technology doesn’t provide value it doesn’t succeed. It’s not about the technology, it is about the value it provides.

You can find out more about David Gentle on his Linkedin profile and for Fujitsu please visit their website or follow @Fujitsu_Global

If you would like to take part in this series of interviews please contact Richard Linington.

A conversation with Rachel Murphy-Cooper, Chief Technology Officer at The Nursing & Midwifery Council

Rachel, perhaps you could tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
Since I left school, I’ve only ever been an interim, I didn’t go to university, I was keen to get stuck in with work. I started in project management and went through project and programme management, predominantly on the business side. They were IT projects but I was very heavily sitting on the business side. In my early 20’s I setup, ran and sold my first company providing resources to implement IT systems.

Rachel Murphy-Cooper
Image kindly supplied by Rachel Murphy-Cooper

I worked for three of the big five consultancies probably each for a 12 month period as an interim and I’ve also worked for Kelway and Kier in the private sector. I’ve run the social care team at Central Bedfordshire Council. I went in to build the organisation for adult social care when they were taking the council and three district councils and creating a Unitary Authority. They had lots of challenges with their IT and they asked me to reshape the function. That was the first time I ran an IT department – that was probably seven years ago or maybe a bit longer. I’ve also worked in central government as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Department for Education and I’ve held a CTO role at The National Archives and now The Nursing & Midwifery Council.

What are some of the challenges you face as an Interim Chief Technology Officer?
Pretty much wherever I have been it has been organisations where they need to drive a stabilisation and improvement piece then move on to business transformation. That is the bulk of the work I have done.

As is so often with IT you don’t necessarily know what is in your estate and that is the biggest challenge. The first thing I do when I go into a new position is to understand what the infrastructure is and the applications which sit on top of it. It’s not because I am desperate to know the technology but unless you know and understand the picture, you won’t know where you are likely to get caught up and have issues. Equally important is understanding the User Journeys and understanding how the business processes knit together.

Often businesses do not want to use a permanent head to make some of the changes I have to make as an interim. I think it’s because if you are permanent you have got to hang around. There’s often a fair bit of dirty work and heavy lifting that needs to happen.

Is transformation always about the technology?
In a previous CTO role I managed four digital teams and an IT team. Over a six month period we ran a tech reboot programme right across the functions. We joined up three of the digital teams and implemented a joint development approach. The technology transformation was more centered around the cultural change really. It was about the joining up of people. When I joined, the five teams had never sat in a room together so digital and technology were worlds apart and so were the different digital teams – they didn’t talk, they didn’t share resources and they didn’t have a flexible resource model. They were all developing in different ways.

It’s not IT that interests me it is absolutely people that interest me and it always has been. I really like developing teams, developing people and seeing that change. That cultural change is what floats my boat really – how to motivate the troops.

How do technology teams engage with the business?
At The National Archives we took IT on the road – we did a Technology Bar which literally moved around the business functions. We showed up with the kit and shared some of the mobile devices we were trialling and made it real for the business. We also did a full Tech Week where we had the value chain maps for the organisation up and the business users could scribble on them and challenge the IT thinking. We opened up our ‘scrums’ from an agile perspective and people from the business came into those and the stand-ups and experienced that.

They (the business and IT) shouldn’t be separate. IT and digital are so integral to what you do nowadays as a business it needs to be a very close working relationship. IT and the business need to understand each other’s worlds.

Are there any particular tools which you use?
I have previously mapped the key user journeys and used the Wardley value chain maps to document the current IT estate. We then overlayed our contract base to identify savings and created IT roadmaps.

Wardley Value Chain Map
Image kindly supplied by Rachel Murphy-Cooper, Wardley Value Chain Map

This makes it valuable for the business because they now understand what the IT team is banging on about. When you are taken through a value chain map people can see it and it feels real for the first time ever.

What role does understanding the user need play in IT projects?
Knowing what the user demand is at the start is critical. What are they actually after and making sure you are very clear on what the requirements are is key.

When I worked for Kier we actually put people working in the technology team out at the coalface to understand what it’s like working on a rubbish collection. They had to collect rubbish and take a photo, with a Motorola MC75, which had to be sent through to the office. Then suddenly they find they don’t have a signal to send the photo. They experienced the frustration of that. Make it real. Make the IT real.

You have got to make it real. It’s so easy to pretend. Why are users getting so frustrated? Well they are actually trying to do a job and they can’t use the service. At the heart of everything I do is service management.

Is there an experience which demonstrates how technology has been humanised?
I use the example of Uber – it’s brilliant, there’s no other way to describe it. You can feel the whole process, you can see it happening in front of you. You call it, it rocks up two minutes later, you can physically see it on the map: where it is and you know what it is going to cost you. All of it is fabulous. I love all of that. It is making things incredibly accessible; you can almost reach out and touch it. You own that experience.

The more you can make technology accessible, faster and easier and change what has been a business that way for ever and a day absolutely fascinates me. To create something that is so fundamentally different to what we have been doing for such a long period of time. That is cool, very cool.

Where are some of the future opportunities?
I think the opportunities with technology are massive. I saw an article recently about an airline 3D-printing parts of their planes to speed up the process – instead of having to go through the whole build cycle. Wow, how good is that?

Technology in the workplace is behind the individual experience most people walk around with an iPhone – apps have been around in your private life for a long time. They are not prevalent in business.

We are very lucky I think to be around in this time for technology but also for the opportunities it presents. Businesses can now stand up in half an hour and start creating something.

Future area for opportunities?: it’s going to focus around data. Why do we need a million systems? The currency of business is data. There is also something around collaboration and getting shot of email.

You can find out more about Rachel Murphy-Cooper on LinkedIn.

User research digital media habits and digital literacy among teenagers

User research into digital media habits and digital literacy among teenagers – informing future policies and development strategies

Often we hear stories about how teenagers are engaging with the online world through apps, social media platforms and online channels both in social and education environments. But what is the reality?

User research digital media

Working for WISE KIDS along with partners the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Logicalis and S4C we provided expert research advice and carried out modules of user research working with children in schools across Wales. We also carried out a number of in-depth contextual interviews with children in their home environment to build up a detailed picture of how teenagers use digital devices and engage with digital services. The second phase of research focused on a large-scale quantitative survey of more than 2,000 children across Wales.  Themes which emerged from the research included:

  • There is a disconnect between pupils’ digital habits at home and in the school environment.
  • The important role that social media platforms can play in managing social interactions.  Social messaging apps such as Kik and Snapchat are important communication channels, but parental knowledge of these messaging apps is limited.
  • Parents may think of Facebook as the main social network service, and may choose not to allow their children to access it. But they may not realise that their children are still engaging with the online world through the use of apps like Snapchat, Kik, BBM, Whatsapp, or communities such as Twitter, Instagram and online gaming.
  • Children are creative and confident in dealing with the negative aspects of the Internet, developing a range of active coping strategies.

The research is being used to inform education providers, policy makers, digital media services and technology companies about the challenges and opportunities which digital media offers to teenagers both in and out of the school environment.

You can find out more about the user research into digital media habits and digital literacy among teenagers, here and also about the brilliant work WISE KIDS are doing around positive and safe Internet use here.

If you would like to discuss how we could potentially help you please don’t hesitate to phone 07866 742628 or email Richard.

Ethnography of a Chronic Condition

Ethnography of a chronic condition – sparking new ways of looking at the key issue of living with a chronic medical condition

Chronic medical conditions can have a significant impact on people’s everyday lives. How can the impacts be reduced to help improve the lives of people?

The Context Based Research Group is a research and innovation consultancy based in the USA. As part of an international project, ethnographic research was carried out into the everyday experiences of people living with a specific chronic condition in the UK. We used a range of research tools including home tours, storybooks and observation during a number of research visits. The multiple research visits enabled the researcher to build up a relationship with the participants.

Ethnography of a chronic condition

The ethnographic research helped to reveal ‘coping strategies,’ people’s perception of the condition and the impact of the condition on participants’ home, social and working lives. The ethnographic research was also used to develop a framework and identify new opportunities for innovation.

If you would like to discuss how we could potentially help you please don’t hesitate to phone 07866 742628 or email Richard.

User Research Government Digital Service

User Research Government Digital Service creating innovative learning experiences for technologists

Technology departments in government are changing with technologists across government working with a wider range of suppliers, open standards, within an agile framework and developing technology solutions based on the needs of users. A new learning and development programme is being developed to support this change.

Working with the Government Digital Service team in the Cabinet Office we carried out a module of initial discovery user research. The discovery phase of user research focused on working with technologists including chief technology officers through to chief operating officers, technical architects, developers, technology leads, data scientists, user researchers and service managers. We also explored the learning and development landscape in the private sector to benchmark examples of best practice.

User Research GDS
Image kindly supplied by Government Digital Service

A key element of the project was integrating user research into the project and embedding the voice of the user.

The user research and benchmarking is being used to create a vision for learning and development for technologists working in government. The key outcomes will also include a technology curriculum, new pathways of learning including formal, informal and social learning along with a technology skills matrix to enhance learning experiences for technologists. Find out more about the project and to find out more about the work of the Government Digital Service team please visit their blog or you can follow GDS on Twitter .

If you would like to discuss how we could potentially help you please don’t hesitate to phone 07866 742628 or email Richard.

User Research for a STEM Discovery Centre

User research for a STEM Discovery Centre – designing an inspiring and innovative hub for learning

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects within schools continue to play a very important role in the wider economy. STEM subjects help ensure that high value sectors of the economy can continue to grow and deliver good employment opportunities for young people.

Working alongside Rubicon Regeneration and Saville Jones Architects we provided specialist user research services to engage with teenagers via a Youth Parliament to identify their aspirations and needs along with a module of consultation with teachers.   We helped to assess the opportunity to develop a STEM Hub discovery science centre which will deliver opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering and maths.

The user research was used to inform the feasibility study and initial concept designs which have been submitted to the local authority and are forming the basis of a funding application to secure capital investment to deliver the project.

If you would like to discuss how we could potentially help you please don’t hesitate to phone 07866 742628 or email Richard.

Digital transformation in a local authority: A conversation with Paul Brewer, Director for Digital & Resources at Adur and Worthing Councils.

Paul BrewerPaul, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and role at Adur and Worthing Councils?
I’ve had a mixed career of working in the private sector at Ericsson and public sector. I’ve worked in local authorities for some years. I was at Brighton and Hove City Council working in Children’s Services, including latterly looking at technology and supporting the most vulnerable people.

I am Director for Digital and Resources at Adur & Worthing Councils. That is a new way of saying and doing IT alongside the resources part which are the back office functions of the Council. That’s finance, HR and legal. It’s a new role created as part of the new Chief Executive’s vision. He came in about 18 months ago and created a strategy – Catching the Wave – which is very much about the Council starting to see their role in the locality a bit differently.

Fixing IT systems which will support digital projects is critical
There was a fundamental question – what is digital for a local authority? What does that look it like?

We could create some lightweight agile digital projects that would start to show the ideas around user-centred design and agile. We could do that. But my experience previously is that those projects have some success but they skirt around the edges of a more fundamental problem which relates to the big line of business IT applications that local authorities have which have grown up over years. Typically these keep customer information fragmented and keep individual services isolated from each other.

What we decided to do was to engage some expert help from outside, to do a more complete diagnosis of the problem which actually keeps innovation at the edges rather than allow it to be mainstream.

The risk was you could do some exemplar projects but unless you adjust some of the key issues like the organisational approach to security, information and governance, the actual big line of business IT systems, you excite people but you still get this experience of yeah but nothing much has really changed. So I didn’t want people to have that experience and we are now actively addressing the underlying IT problems.

We did what we called a Discovery Phase and a Blueprinting Phase that was very much about understanding the overall architecture and then developing a strategy to tackle that. It was important to acknowledge that our line of business IT systems are legacy systems. We are quite trapped in long-term, relatively expensive on the premises contracts with some of the bigger suppliers. So we developed a strategy saying we don’t want to keep doing that, we want to move away.

Finding solutions – Government as a Platform
We started to develop the model of Government as a Platform – so a horizontal based selection of technology. We had a blueprint of what the future would look like around how we would handle and manage data, how we would develop Open Standards, have new procurement rules around Open Standards, open APIs and a migration to the cloud.

We don’t have to build solutions from scratch
Fundamentally we had to recognise that as a small district council we cannot build from scratch. We don’t have that kind of funding.

We are very attracted to the idea that actually there are some requirements which are bespoke, we recognise some are commodities and some are utilities. We are very much interested in that kind of technology selection principle if there’s a payment capability used by Amazon or Tesco why wouldn’t we use that? Why would we buy a payment system engine from a local government supplier? If there’s a CRM system out there in the cloud which has an enormous capability like Salesforce, why wouldn’t we use that?

So we’ve moving our email and collaboration suite to Google for Work. We are creating a citizen interaction platform which is a tightly structured combination of Salesforce and MatsSoft, which is a business process platform. It’s a low code platform which fits district councils quite well because essentially we can train Business Analysts and they can build digital products on it through drag and drop. These are platforms where we can build our own products quite rapidly.

Some of the technologies we have selected are new to local government. The MatsSoft product is new to local government but is well established in other sectors, particularly financial services. We have taken tried and tested and secure solutions and just applied it to a local government context. It’s been a technology heavy period over the last six months.

Bringing people with you – stimulating a new culture
What I am particularly keen on with Google for Work is that it will be a big signal and culture carrier. What’s really exciting about the Google platform is that everybody is going to get a feel for it.

We are creating Digital Champions, so we have got about 80 people being trained to become Champions across the business to start to help staff with the transition. They will go out and seed and stimulate change across the business using the Google platform. We will need the 80 Digital Champions to let people know this isn’t just about your email.

A digital exemplar: Green bins
We are going to drive out a lot of inefficiencies and make green bins a self-service offer to customers. The really important thing to say is that lots of councils do self-service. The difficultly is that the self-service tends to be quite skin deep. The traditional model is to get a good web front end and get forms for customers to fill in and the ability to make payments and if they are lucky an amount of integration with the back office system. But the problem is that to get a better proper self-service system like Amazon you need to be able to go from start to finish all of the way through and have a satisfying, unifying, complete experience.

The green bins have been selected because it’s a revenue generator for us. It’s relatively straightforward and it allows us to implement a number of different capabilities on the platform. So those capabilities are the ability to make a payment, the ability to book a slot and so on. Those capabilities can be used for other products. So the next product will be bulky waste. So we will be able to do that quite a bit quicker. Then we will do clinical waste which will be even quicker.

Then down the line it might be to think about what is actually happening there. It’s green waste in the garden. Should we be throwing it away in the first place? What are the bigger questions? There is something about quite deep attitudinal change and how that happens.

The digital team
We are at the beginning in terms of our internal resources to create a digital service, which uses service design principles to help rethink services and digitalise where appropriate. Currently the team is made up of the web team, application support team, people in procurement and a number of Champion roles. We also have our IT service which is bought in from a neighbouring council.

A Head of Design will be appointed shortly and that person will then create the new team. We would like a review of skills, we have got some roles in mind that we want to create. People may want to slot into them, there might be some external recruitment, there may be some provision for bringing people in on a freelance basis. We will start to look at our digital service being made up of Service Designers, Product Managers and Project Managers.

We will develop our offer to the business which says we have got the tools and we have got some approaches here around user centred design and we can help you rethink how your service could be.

Digital leadership and capability
We are very much focussed on digital leadership and capability. That capability stuff will be ensuring all of the leaders in the organisation know what digital means and what its potential is.

User research and understanding user needs
What does the user actually need from us? How do we get out of the way of imposing solutions and seeing solutions emerge in a different way? What’s the role of digital in allowing us to provide new services in a different kind of way?

We need to get users involved early. We are learning a bit about speaking with end users. So in terms of user research there is the observational side to make sure our Alpha and Beta products are thoroughly tested with users.

As the team is created, the probability is that we will have a Service Designer who will start to develop those skills around ethnography and user research. We have put a bid in for a user research lab with the GLA that’s modelled on the GDS user research lab to do observation of people using our digital products.

At the rethinking of the service level stage we will develop an offer where we start there (user research).

You can follow Paul Brewer @pdbrewer and Adur and Worthing Councils @adurandworthing and read Paul’s blog About the digital future of public services