Yesterday, I mentioned that we’ve recently completed a project to re-invent the look, feel and general user experience of our toolkits. In this post I’d like to share how we approached the first two stages of that process: the planning phase and the requirements phase.

Phase 1 – Planning

The planning phase of the project involved gathering as much information as we could about our toolkits and how they are used at the moment, as well as setting some high level goals for what we wanted to achieve.

Gathering the information

There is a range of quantitative data sources that we use to keep track of usage across all our clients’ sites. Pulling this all together allowed us to get a picture of how the site is generally used and find the answers to the following questions:

  • How long do people spend on our sites?
  • How many pages do they look at?
  • How often do they visit the site?
  • How many people use the search function?
  • What are the most searched for terms?
  • What’s their screen resolution?
  • What content is most important to them?

To supplement this data, we also looked at specific pieces of content to see what our users did before getting to what they were looking for. We wanted to know how well the way we structure our content helped users to find what they were looking for and whether there was any way we could improve it.

One of our most important sources of information is our clients and the users themselves. Even before getting people involved in the process directly, we had a wide range of feedback about our toolkits: what people love, what they thought could be better, as well as requests for new features.

Armed with all this information, we were then able to get a clear picture of how our toolkits were being used by the managers and leaders that rely upon them. The next step was to identify what we wanted to achieve with our new design and features.

Setting the objectives

For any big project, you want to have a set of criteria against which success can be measured. For us, while there will be some technical measures we will use, the reason we’re re-invigorating our toolkits is that we want our users to find the site useful and help them do their jobs more effectively. The question is, how would we know that?

To answer that question, we looked to a model that we’ve used in the past to help identify key points of our users’ journeys. Our toolkits are designed to support managers and leaders in the workplace, providing them with relevant, on-demand content when they need it. Once a manager or leader has visited our toolkit, a successful experience will involve them:

  • finding what they are looking for (or something else useful)
  • using what they find
  • having a positive experience using what they find
  • returning to the site the next time they need help

Some of the features we’re introducing will allow us to gauge even better than we can already how valuable our users find the content, and I’ll explore these in more detail in a later post. However, the ultimate test of how successful our toolkits are is how many people keep coming back to the site.

Phase 2 – Requirements

At the requirements stage of the project we knuckled down with our information and our objectives and defined exactly what new features and functions we needed to improve the user experience. However, it’s important during projects like this that those involved in delivering it remain objective and keep the end users in mind. In order to do that, we used a number of tools that are regularly adopted in web development projects.

Developing our personas

Personas are used in a range of design and marketing projects. Essentially, they are a fictional representation of real life customers (or users), and help designers to keep themselves from imposing their own prejudices on what they like onto the product (the BBC has rather a nice blog post highlighting their four personas for mobile users).

The personas we developed needed to represent, in the broadest sense, the range of users that we cater for. Our user base is mostly leaders and managers of some description and there’s a lot of demographic information out there about this group. We decided on two key personas, Algie and Harry: Algie is a more senior manager in both organisational level and age, while Harry is nearer the start of his management career.

To complement these users, we needed a persona to represent the person who buys our products, who we named Bertha.

For all our personas we developed back-stories that painted a picture of their background, education, technology and information needs, their motivation for using our toolkits and their goals once they’ve accessed the sites. In addition to this basic information, we developed specific scenarios that we could test against when evaluating the various options we had for improving the toolkits.

Algie Bertha Harry

Features, features everywhere

We were looking for a significant overhaul of our existing toolkits, aiming to make them more useful, engaging and relevant to our users. As well as a radical redesign of the sites’ user interface (which will be covered in the next post), we also wanted to include some new features to enhance the overall usefulness of the toolkits. To decide what to include in this particular development, we gathered all our clients’ and users’ suggestions and brainstormed what else we could do to meet our high level goals and satisfy the needs of Algie, Bertha and Harry.

We ended up with a very long list, which was then whittled down using various criteria, including using our user personas and their scenarios as reference points. In addition to the new design of the site, we decided upon the following new, or significantly improved, features:

  • an enhanced search functionality, including faceted navigation, suggestions and corrections
  • the ability for clients to add audio and video content
  • a new topical content section, enabling ‘hot topics’ to be highlighted on the home page
  • content recommendations from users, using a simple rating system
  • enabling users to add comments to content
  • reminder for users of their previous visit, what they looked for and what else they might find useful
  • social media integration, allowing users to share content via social networking and bookmarking sites
  • featured content section, highlighting useful and interesting content from the toolkit

Those are the main ones, and there are a number of smaller tweaks that we’ve made to enhance the whole performance of the toolkits. And whilst it’s great to have an idea of what you want to do, we then had to go through the design phase to work out how it was all going look and feel for our users.

Other posts in this series

This is the second in a series of posts describing how we approached the redesign of our online toolkits for managers and leaders. The other posts in the series are:

1: Re-inventing the GoodPractice User Experience

3: User Experience: Design

4: User Experience: Implementation, Testing and Measurement