Like everyone over the last few months, the user research team at Companies House has had to adapt its way of working.
An essential part of a user researcher's role is to plan and design a wide range of research activities with users. Sharing the feedback as a result of these activities informs the development of our brilliant services and iteration and helps us to understand the needs of the people who use them.
We use a variety of different methods to interact with our users. Before lockdown, we would often be out of the office, carrying out contextual inquiry visits with companies, where we learned about their procedures and tried to understand why they do things in a particular way.
We would also conduct usability sessions at both our own usability lab in Companies House and at recruitment agencies across the UK. Sometimes, we’d even be invited to visit people at their homes, particularly if we were carrying out usability sessions with people who used assistive technology.
This gave us valuable insights into their technical set up and how they interacted with our services.
But this all came to a halt in March. We faced the challenge of maintaining our existing volume of interaction…but from a distance.
How we've been working differently
We had to adapt quickly, but whilst testing remotely was nothing new for us, how would this affect our participants?
We already had experience of using remote software to carry out interviews. This method is typically carried out via a PC or a phone with the aid of video conferencing software.
Having this facility already set up was a huge advantage for us. We were able to hit the ground running and switch all our user research to this method quickly, while we started to think outside the box about other things we could do, over the course of the next few months.
Our user panel
We’ve been reaching out far and wide via a variety of channels and networks to ask for volunteers to help us with our research during lockdown. And we’re so grateful to everyone who has helped us!
In my previous blog post, I discussed our user panel.
The user panel is a community of customers (approximately 4,000 members) who help us to inform how we develop our online services. It provides an opportunity for these members to have their say about how these services look and feel.
We invite them to the activities that they have specified that they would like to be involved in.
We've been so impressed with how active our user panel has been. We've loved hearing all about how they have been using new communication tools to interact with friends, colleagues and loved ones.
We’ve also seen a shift in our conversations about digital confidence levels which now include the use of a variety of conferencing software as the ‘new normal’.
We’ve seen a rise in the number of users coming into our remote sessions with webcams on – another shift in behaviour over the last few months. It’s not mandatory for participants to have their cameras on, it’s totally optional. We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible.
What has also been quickly established, is the share of mutual respect and understanding between the participant and the researcher – an appreciation of the difficulties that we're all encountering and a willingness to help.
We understand that you're inviting us into your home and likewise, we invite you into ours. It’s ok if you need to answer the door, take a phone call and check on the kids. We’re all human.
We want to say a big thank you to you all. Since the start of March, we've completed over 300 sessions and interviews via telephone and remote software.
Without user research, we do not know what the problem is that we're trying to solve, what we need to build or if the service that we're creating will work for you.
And there’s more to come....
As you can understand, this increase in our user testing means that we're quickly exhausting our user panel. So, we need your help to expand this.
We encourage users from a wide variety of demographics, roles, geographical locations and backgrounds to get involved. You do not need to have used our services to sign up. We welcome people who have used our services in the past, those that intend to use our services in the future and people who have never used our services.
Help us to grow our user panel so that we can continue to make sure that we take a user centred design approach. We cannot do it without you.
One of the many projects that has just recently started is for confirmation statements.
A confirmation statement is a document that confirms the information we hold about your company is up to date, and we’re keen to speak to people who file these, particularly where there have been no changes to this information.
If you would like to help us with this research, sign up to our user panel.
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