How UX can help problem solving in the public sector

In this, the third of a series of UX blogs, Triad UX consultants Jenny Lardh and Lucille Harvey explain how they use UX to solve problems in the public sector.

Our UX team is lucky enough to work across our public and private sector client base on technology-based business change. Recent public sector projects include the Ministry of Justice, Department for Transport, Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial strategy.

With each project comes at least one significant problem. Let’s look at three UX problems we have recently encountered.

  1. How do you get 11,000 people to change a SIM card?

Here, our client is migrating from one mobile phone provider to another. As part of this migration, all users will need to swap their SIM card. Sounds easy? Well, this is a big organisation. They have 11,000 people. Some of them would have no problem swapping their SIM card. Others would never have done this before. Most users work from home, so they can’t walk past IT and have it done for them.

We used a method called ‘task analysis’ to work out how much detail inexperienced users would need to reach their goal. Task analysis helps us work out the steppingstones which the user needs to reach their goal. The task analysis method meant we could break the big task of changing a SIM card down into much smaller achievable steps. The output of the task analysis was communication material which guided and supported the users through the much smaller steps to reach the overall goal.

  1. How do you design for an expert and a novice?

We recently worked on a project to design a system for fuel suppliers which reported information on the sustainability of the fuel they provide into the UK road network. This problem centred around designing a user-friendly system for an expert with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry and for a novice user who is still learning the terminology and processes.

Our approach to solving this problem was taken in three-steps:

  1. Research – Interview expert and novice users to understand what we needed to create, who the user is and how they behave.
  2. Co-design – Employ the detailed knowledge of our expert users to design a solution for our novice users so that we can assess the user flow, wireframe the digital experience and create an interactive prototype that feels like the real product. Here, the experts are doing the design work with UX just facilitating. UX believes everyone is a designer. UX design isn’t about making things pretty. It is about coming up with solutions that will work. Our users know more than us, so are more likely to come up with better solutions than us. We are just there to guide and take their ideas forward.
  3. Test – Usability testing the solution (that we had co-designed with the expert users) on the novice users and analysing the data/findings to help deepen the research.

There is often a fourth step (refine and re-test by revolving around the loop until the novices could navigate the system seamlessly), though we didn’t need to employ it in this particular case.

We would never have achieved this solution without a co-design approach because the expert users had a lifetime of subject matter expertise that would be impossible for us to gain in such a short period of time. To use a cliché, the answer to the problem was in the room. We just needed to get the answers out of the expert users.

  1. How do you know that your design works?

We all have a different understanding of the world, and we all view the world differently. The UX team are not the people we are designing for. We try to simulate a real-life situation with whatever we are designing. We test our understanding against our users’ understanding to see if they match. If they don’t match, then we change our design to fit the user.

How can we be sure that our designs work? We test. In UX, testing is central to what we do, and it is how we know we solve problems:

  • Design problem? Test it.
  • Not sure which solution will work best? Test it.
  • Unsure of the layout – test it.

There is no point in doing research or design if we can’t then be sure that we have solved the problem. No testing -> this is the route to bad UX.

Good UX solves problems and makes everything easier

It is important to ensure that a good user experience happens every time. Take the UK’s user experience of receiving a covid vaccine. A lot of thought went into the UX of this process. It was easy and quick for the user, and many people could understand it. By making it easy and quick, more people got vaccinated quicker, which ultimately saved lives. Good UX is all about making things as easy as possible for people.

Good UX in the public sector helps people get things done quicker, better, and easier. Good UX saves the public sector time and money. And it keeps us busy!

We hope that you have found this blog useful. If you are interested in UX or have a question for the Triad UX team, please get in touch.