weeknote ι

I like this letter – iota – as in I don’t have an iota of doubt that it has been a busy couple of weeks!

The user research we undertook back in week theta led to a stack of user stories that the team attacked with gusto. In only nine working days the site has radically transformed with each and every change being directly attributable to user feedback.

I’ve been working professionally with the web since 1998 and have always talked about the importance of a user first approach but I’ve never worked on a project where it has been so prevalent and influential. To be honest it has been exhilarating. Exhausting but exhilarating.

On the one hand we have significantly simplified the user interface while at the same time we have used ‘spark lines’ throughout the site to add context without overwhelming the user experience. I like the Edward Tufte definition of spark lines as “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics” particularly as I like to think of the whole ‘alpha’ as “data-intense, design simple.

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We continue to work on the copy throughout the site. The tendency towards jargon is difficult to shake but it is distracting to our users and we need to get a better handle on user friendly language while retaining the kind of precision that is required for something as specific as statistics.

Oh and we have a homepage! It might have taken 49 attempts but we have settled on something that we all agree on and personally I think it is just exactly the right balance between task driven and fulfilling the wider needs of a homepage. Funnily enough it harks back to a much (much) earlier wireframe we tried out but sometimes you have to work through all the options before realising you were (nearly) correct at the beginning.

The improvements to the performance of the site over these two weeks has been remarkable. Bren has performed minor miracles with our AngularJS setup and there is no doubt that boosting our Heroku environment has also helped. The site is now a pleasure to use even using my phone as a tethered hotspot and is lightning quick on a decent wifi signal.

In the (rare) quieter moments thoughts are turning to planning for any potential Beta site and to support this we had an extremely useful workshop with a security expert recommended by our friends at GDS where we spent a day identifying the real security risks and sketching some potential mitigations and creating some ‘anti-user stories’. It was an incredibly helpful day and really changed my thought process in this area.

I ended the week giving a demo of the site to the National Statistician and the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury. Not exactly my usual audience. I was pleased to be able to show Mr Pullinger just how much things had changed since he last saw it (only 2 weeks ago) and Mr Macpherson seemed pleased with what he saw and was supportive of our aims. Not a bad way to wrap up the week.

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