Weeknotes – series 02 episode 03

Colourful stained glass windows at Coventry cathedral.
We got a chance to walk around Coventry cathedral on Thursday lunch time

This week I travelled to Newport, Titchfield and Coventry and I realised while writing these that I'd been on 10 different trains!

Logos, letters and campaign websites

On Monday I got the train down to Titchfield (Office for National Statistics' other office based near Portsmouth). Much of the communications team are based down there and I had a meeting booked in to chat about the recent updates to the Census brand identity.

I saw the nearly finished logo and heard about some the campaigns they are planning over the next few years. I also learnt a bit more about the letters that will be posted out to ask people to fill the Census in, and the plans for a website that will address people's needs around getting help filling in the survey.

Despite the great work being done, it struck us that we (the 'digital and technology' and the 'communications' departments) need to work more closely together in order to make sure that end users encounter a seamless service when they use the Census, no matter which team are responsible for the individual bits.

The value of observing user research

On Wednesday I travelled up to Coventry (changing at Bristol and Birmingham if you're wondering) to get ready for observing user research on Thursday.

For the whole day on Thursday I watched people complete the Census by going through a process that roughly followed this timeline…

  1. User becomes aware of the Census via social media
  2. A letter is sent to the household
  3. The user goes online to complete the Census

The key thing that jumped out for me is that even people who are happy to complete the Census won't just immediately open the letter and start filling things out. In reality we have to consider things like this…

  1. Post arrives in different ways and at different times
  2. People have different systems in place for assessing whether a particular letter is important or not
  3. A period of time will pass between receiving the letter and opening it – in this time people may seek more information about the Census or they may just forget
  4. Some people will take a photo of the letter so they can fill out the survey on their phone on the bus
  5. Some users will plan a time sit with their partner in the study and use a desktop PC

Observing user research (and in particular usability testing) never fails to be an amazingly useful use of my time. No matter how many times I do it, I always come away with a more rounded idea of the service in my head. And it never fails to re-focus you onto the most important problems and the things real people are trying to do.