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Let’s talk user experience: Moving away from pixels, to people

Pixel evolving into a person — There are five shapes, starting with a square (pixel) on the left-hand side, eventually morphing into a full human figure on the right-hand side.

Many organizations and departments recognize the need to include user experience in their process. But in what capacity? And how? This can often manifest itself as simply hiring someone who acts as the team’s dedicated user experience designer. While this may be a good start, it misses the mark.

Design has evolved, from strictly thinking about the visuals of products or services, to crafting great experiences for people. The role of design is expanding, and it’s now easier than ever to add new features to products and redesign services from a technological perspective. But, doing so without proper research could mean making false assumptions about what people really care about.

Today, design relies on having a deep understanding of the user’s context, needs, motivations, and goals. Designers are increasingly tasked with navigating uncertainty in their work and in various environments. The design process is being applied outside its conventional context, from using design as a medium of intellectual inquiry to tackling systemic service-oriented problems.

This is precisely the case in our work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) — our goal is to deliver an end-to-end service that meets users’ varying needs. Here, users range from citizenship applicants to IRCC staff in local offices and call centres.

Service design provides the framework that enables users to submit a request to reschedule citizenship test appointments online, moving away from a paper-based transactions.

User experience is the job of everyone on the team, not one singular person

Different aspects of a user’s experience with a product or service are affected by all the varying roles of people on product teams. Product teams at CDS are interdisciplinary, led by product managers and made up of designers, researchers, developers, and policy experts. There will inevitably be overlap, but each of these roles considers the user’s experience from their perspective depending on their core area of expertise. This empowers the entire team to go through the process of understanding emotions, attitudes, and the end-to-end journey users go through when using a product or service.

You may wonder what we actually put in front of users. We start by creating wireframes, which act as rough blueprints for what the product will look like. Wireframes are usually monochromatic, using a singular standard typeface with no text-styling, and do not include any design or stylized visual elements. They enable designers and developers to focus on planning the content and the user flow from start to finish, as well as the overall functionality of the product or service. We test these rough ideas with end users for quick feedback to make further improvements. Wireframes can take many forms including printed out on paper, digital but static, or clickable. We used all these types of wireframes in our work with IRCC.

Rapid prototyping, always iterating

In the service design context, we go through multiple rounds of iteration. This means revising content, hierarchy, and visual design to gradually improve the product or service. To iterate is the act of making the revision. In our work with IRCC, iterations have largely been driven by the insights gathered from staff users and citizenship applicants, with whom we had the chance to conduct testing. After each round of iteration, we do more testing.

Once we aggregate all of the insights gained from multiple rounds of testing, we can start building a working prototype. This prototype starts off by mirroring the visuals and content of the static wireframes put in front of users, and undergoes several rounds of iteration on content, design and code development. These iterations are informed by putting each new prototype in front of users to conduct usability testing.

Testing with users

With an extensive understanding of our users and their needs, we are equipped to design, build, and test possible solutions. Testing provides a structured mechanism to ground all aspects of the design and development in research findings.

At CDS, our product teams work in short sprints. This allows us to frequently set new goals and measure outcomes accordingly. The kind of testing we conduct is dependent on what we hope to achieve in each sprint. In this case, it was important to test different iterations of the product with citizenship applicants, frontline staff at IRCC, and representative users with unique accessibility needs.

Testing activities examined semantics, readability, flow and comprehension of content, validated design direction, technical functionalities, investigated usability, and prioritized overall user experience. We used comprehension tests, structured interviews, intercept interviews, concurrent think-alouds, and specified and retrospective cognitive walkthroughs to improve the end product.

Where do we go from here?

At the heart of our work with IRCC, we are aiming to create a clear, simple, and fast service that allows future citizens to reschedule their test at a time that works for them. We also want to facilitate communication between the call centre and local office staff and build the foundation for further service transformation.

We just wrapped up our eight-week alpha phase, and are forging ahead in a twelve-week beta phase. Leading up to the launch of the IRCC “Reschedule a citizenship test” service, we’re conducting further accessibility and usability testing. After the launch, we’ll continue to iterate based on our metrics for success. Stay tuned!