Data Road Trip

The following blog post is written by Alison Davies, user researcher.

User testing is featuring heavily as part of the Data Discovery project– just as it should be. A 5.20am start saw myself and Crispin (one of our developers) catch the crack of dawn train down to London on 17 November to undertake the first public testing of our prototype – it was a simplistic one, but good enough to test a theory. We had what can be termed “a cosy meeting room”, but I was probably more focused on the tub of sweets than the room size. We had a mixture of users, which made for a great and varied day.

Our prototype was based on census data, with some tasks asking users to navigate through the data to extract specific information through our data selector. We also undertook some discussion on geography – which was one of our next areas of focus – how are we going to surface this – and how do the users expect this to be offered? Even though we took a simplistic dataset, we came away with 19 action points – everything from the introduction page wording, button highlighting and download options. These have been changed and re-tested again – many of which have now been resolved and haven’t caused issue in further testing, and some still in existence on the backlog.

We’ve had some really useful leads given to us as part of this testing so it was a “double win” for us. This was probably the best day of testing I’ve had since I started doing this job; it’s the first time I’ve ever taken anything completely new out for testing so it was great getting a first-time reaction to something.

Testing with external users of the site, while great, is time-consuming to arrange; trying to find the right, central location takes time, especially when trying to balance this with known clusters of users. With this in mind, we’ve done some testing with our own staff. This was particularly useful as we’ve ironed out some flaws and when everybody is saying the same thing it gives you some confidence that the outside world would likely say the same. The prototype hasn’t been seen by those within the ONS walls, so our staff are seeing this through fresh eyes. While we appreciate they aren’t using the tool in the same way our users may, with specific or enquiring needs, they can still tell us if the tool works, if the ordering of menus don’t make sense etc.

Since then, we’ve done some face-to-face testing at some of the local authorities and media organisations in our area. We’ve got more internal testing this week and are currently planning another road trip for the middle of January.

I’m always really appreciative of the people who take time to come and help us. I really can’t say thank you enough to the people up and down the country who have helped us in the past, whether face-to-face or online. This goes for our own staff as well, every little ounce of feedback and help we get is vital.

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