Wow. What a week. So for most of the week the ‘alpha’ team relocated to London to a mix of luxurious Premier Inns, Travelodges, basement meeting rooms and user research labs (as well as being guests in some very nice offices). We undertook an intense week of user research that included three days in ‘labs’ (thanks to the GDS team on Friday for the loan) seeing 15 people representing a mix of our ‘forager’ and ‘expert’ personas. An additional two days of more guerrilla testing and interviews either one-in-one or small groups with people/organisations we refer to as ‘critical friends’ who have been invaluable in getting this far – this accounted for another ten or so people. This included people from Full Fact, Bloomberg, the Royal Statistical Society, the House of Commons Library, Ammp3d, charities and other government departments.
Phil, Jonathan and Rob took care of this work and really put the hours and the effort in and I really am thankful for their efforts.
My task was to visit a few people and places to demo the Alpha and just elicit some opinions. This included meeting people from the Guardian, BBC, Financial Times, MySociety and demographers from across local and central government. As well as a couple of visits to GDS HQ at Aviation House.
I can’t over emphasise just how useful this week has been and how thankful I am to everybody that gave up their time to speak to us. We learned an enormous amount – much of it reassuring, some of it unexpected and a small amount that is a bit worrying. Probably about the right mix I think after six weeks of development.
Some major themes that have emerged this week are;
The homepage is really still not working although I think we are closer than I thought we might have been at one point. At the moment though it is confusing and distracting to many of our users.
There is a general theme of needing to simplify some pages – particular those that were really being used as browse/navigation pages. These were used slightly differently than we had envisaged but as their role to users became clear it was an obvious opportunity to strip them down and make them much more task focused and useful to people.
The copy around the site really isn’t working. Some of this is to be expected as much of it is far from polished but the ‘copy as interface’ / ‘micro-copy’ elements massively need improving to help people fulfil their goals. In general we are still too guilty of using ONS jargon as well (this is difficult due to the nature of some of what we do but it should be better.)
While the exposing of numbers throughout the site has been really appreciated it is clear that single numbers without some kind of context don’t work. This has been useful feedback as it harks back to an earlier version of our wireframes which we can revisit and seems like an opportunity to really make a user experience improvement that will be useful for a large amount of users.
The big one that we knew would be an issue but perhaps not as much as it has been shown to be is the requirement of users to drill down in to local statistical data and their lack of understanding of what we offer, what the difference is between sites and really why they need to leave the ONS site at all for ONS data. There is a big piece of work here that needs considering – one we knew we had to do and had already planned but this week has added an element of urgency I think.
Alongside all of this there is a long shopping list of front-end improvements identified that will massively help smooth some of the rough edges of the user experience. Some of these are simple,straight forward improvements with obvious solutions but others are going to need some design thinking. Again though I think it was about the right amount of improvements identified for this stage – although some of them could have been avoided with a bit more precision in the implementation of some things.
Oh and ‘equality of access’/’09.30 publishing’ came up a few times. This is fast seeming like a parallel project with a separate set of user stories that need tackling.
So an exhausting, interesting, useful and inspiring week. That isn’t quite finished.
Today I am at the National Audit Office taking part in the ‘Accountability Hack’ event which we are running jointly with Parliament and NAO. About 50 developers and a few hardy policy people have come together to build web tools based on a combination of the three organisations open data.
There has been considerable interest in the ONS offerings with a number of teams building quite ambitious projects with underlying ONS elements and Sam, our former API Manager who is back in the saddle for the weekend, Rich and Darren have been busy chatting to developers and introducing them to the intricacies of the ONS APIs.
Thanks to Nick from NAO and Tracy from Parliament who did all the heavy lifting for this event (with assistance from the new team at Rewired State) it really is a great success and I look forward to seeing the prizewinners Sunday evening!
**update Sunday 9th November 17.33**
The team from DXW won the ONS category prize and ‘Best in Show’ at #AccHack14 with the amazing ‘Right to Buy-Bye‘ which combined data from our Census API with social housing information from various other sources – brilliant stuff.