It’s really easy to focus on the ‘shiney’ and ‘clever’ but we have to remember to ask ourselves – Why are we doing this and what does the customer need?
Being ‘user focused’ is easy to say but how easy is it to achieve? This year I have been questioning this whilst focused on the delivery of a brand new website for Staffordshire Police. It’s very tempting to spend time doing the ‘clever’ and ‘wizzy’ things that make a website look really good.
Right at the start in January we looked at dozens of websites from police forces, local authorities and the wider private sector. There were some amazing looking sites, which on first view looked really exciting and clever. But then we went back to our favorites and looked at them based on ‘our’ users expectations.
On first view we did the typical office (desktop) based approach of using a laptop with a projector looking at the full width experience. But from the outset the strategy was to serve our user and the majority of users on our current sites used phones and tablets to access us. So that’s exactly how we started to view our favourite features and layouts and far too often the experience was a ‘let down’. They often still looked great but navigation became an issue and actually finding what we wanted sometimes became a challenge.
There were some truly great experiences but you could see the level of investment in those was significant. Working on a relatively tight budget and certainly a tight timescale we focused on the outcomes in our strategy.
Before designing a single page we ran focus groups and surveys with both internal and external users. We deliberately focused on the less technically or digitality aware as that represents the majority of the communities we serve. Also those with higher digital skills can often use poorly designed sites to achieve their goals.
A mobile first approach, simple to navigate, written for the user not the organisation. We certainly could have had a more attractive website but there was a significant risk of falling into ‘form over function’.
But this is really only the start of the journey, it’s fast approaching six months since we switched on the new website and now we need to review every element, article and navigation experience from the point of view of the user. It’s going to take some time but this regular review is a vital part of our approach to constant improvement. That’s not to say we haven’t already being doing this.
Recently my team spent time reviewing all the engagement contact via one of the ‘smart forms’ on the website. We have removed almost all email addresses from the external site and replaced them with structured or ‘smart’ forms. By reviewing the content of each form submitted they redesigned the form, the associated links and content to help the user resolve their issue quicker. The result was a 60% reduction in forms submitted the following week.
The outcome was more satisfied users, because they got the answers or information without having to wait for a response from a person and a reduction in demand on the colleagues in force.
The redesign also reduced the time taken to respond to the user because instead of using a generic form going into a colleague for assignment to the relevant department (building in delay). Those who still needed a personal response used a form specific to their issue which went direct to someone able to help.