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Stockport Local

A marketplace comprising local community groups, services and charities.
Over the past few decades, the way people live their lives has dramatically changed.
We are increasingly living in an insular bubble, with fewer and fewer interactions with neighbours and people in the local community.

For some this is a perfectly fine and even preferred method of existence, but for other members of society this is having devastating consequences.

Sections of society, particularly the elderly, are becoming increasingly isolated and rarely have the opportunity to interact with people.

I was tasked with designing a product that could help to promote communities and enable local groups, charities and organisations in and around Stockport to promote their activities and services.

I led the design of the project and collaborated with two other designers on different elements of the directory.
In addition, I worked alongside business analysts and technical leads to ensure a unified product was meeting expectations from all perspectives.
A vital part of the future product was its ability to appeal and cater for; members of the public, social care professionals and organisations.
This wide array of users, with a significant variety of needs, meant that this was a challenging problem that also had the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Stockport.
Before undertaking this piece of work, my team and I facilitated numerous workshops with key stakeholders in order to unveil key requirements and initial assumptions.
We did this in conjunction with Business Analysts, Product Owners and Delivery Managers, who helped to facilitate the inception process.

By doing the likes of audience identification, empathy mapping, user journey mapping and sketching, we were able to gain an understanding of some of the problems we needed to solve and initial thoughts on how to go about providing the best possible experience for users.

I understood that we needed to understand the needs of both users of the directory and the local community groups and services who would be publicised on it.
Due to the high number of groups and services within the local area, it was difficult to speak to each individually. This meant that I produced a survey, which sought to canvass opinions and unveil user needs. It also provided an opportunity to improve the existing data set in my possession, which had been unloved and left to go out of date for some time. I also visited numerous locations across Stockport, interviewing relevant people and potential users.
Groups need volunteers:
Early feedback on my initial wireframes brought to light the fact that groups needed a way of telling users that they were looking for volunteers. I needed to find a way of opening up conversation between users and groups.
Who is this for?
It soon became apparent that users wanted to know who each group was appropriate for. Feedback showed that users wanted to know if a particular group was suitable for the elderly, disabled or visually impaired.
Users want control of their content
We soon understood that people wanted to have control of their own content and needed to be able to easily make changes to it. This led to the idea of creating an administration area, which allows users to sign in and make changes to their group or service.
The initial forays into design ultimately began with a bit of intimacy between a whiteboard and I.
I often find that having the ability to write, sketch and design interactions on a whiteboard allows me to dump lots of information in one clear space and easily delete and move ideas around.

The initial thoughts stemmed around the information architecture and how to appropriately structure the vast sums of content that the product would contain.

There was strong pressure from numerous stakeholders to incorporate a keyword search specifically for the directory.

This was an issue that I pushed back against, due to the fact that I believed incorporating two search facilities on one page would increase cognitive load and distract users from their achieving their goal.

There would also be a significant reliance on my team to maintain the extensive list of search terms within a third party search engine that was very much in its developmental infancy.

In order to prove out the difficulty of enabling keyword search, I completed a swot analysis in order to showcase to stakeholders the concerns I held.

It soon became clear that filtering would be a key navigation component, which needed to be extensively considered to ensure that it provided a robust method of allowing users to find the content they need.

With such a wide array of ideas, wireframing proved to be an important step in ensuring that I was able to stay on the straight and narrow.
By completing quick and simple wireframes in Balsamiq, I was able to focus on information hierarchy and user journeys rather than getting hung up on high fidelity design decisions.

My wireframes also allowed me to showcase and discuss my initial findings in a presentable format, that could be easily interpreted and understood.

This meant that I was able to gain early thoughts from users on my progress. This feedback helped to feed into the high fidelity mockups that I would soon produce.

Some of the feedback I received showed that:

  • using a natural language navigation increased cognitive load and slowed users down
  • users wanted more information about organisations and charities
  • there was much confusion about the different between community groups and local services
With a clear direction, based on my findings and validated assumptions, I was able to delve into producing high fidelity mockups and creating something that users could truly connect with.
It’s always tempting to delve into high fidelity mockups as soon as possible. This is a dangerous mistake to make and can causes hours of lost hours following long winded mistakes.

At this stage of the process, I understood that I need to ensure that users were met with a product that enticed them to interact with it.

Community groups and services wanted the ability to visually promote themselves and it was clear from my initial user research that users wanted something more than simply words on a page.

The introduction of a card based interface, providing space for imagery and snippets of key information.

For many local community groups, this platform is their sole web presence and a means of online promotion that they would otherwise not have enjoyed.

The use of cards provided a clear interface pattern that could be utilised and replicated in many different situations. The degree of re-usability of this pattern would prove important when considering the design of other aspects of the wider website.

Few things reduce confidence in government services than out of date and incorrect information.
It was therefore vital to introduce a way of ensuring that content was not left to go stale and untouched for a considerable period of time.

The implementation of an administrative platform, where users could edit their own information, meant that I was able to consider opening up conversation with the owners of groups and services.

After discussions with local groups, it became clear that they didn’t have time to always ensure that their content was completely up to date. This proved that a notification system needed to be implemented, ensuring that groups knew that they needed to reassess their content.

Social workers visiting people’s homes proved to be an inspiring user case, which provided a strong incentive to get things right.
It was vital to be able to allow social workers to find information in different communities around Stockport.

This meant that gps location search, filtering by the nearest results, was a hugely important capability that was a necessary feature.

Consequently, this meant that it was important for social workers to be able to share a selection of suitable results to their clients.

I proposed being able to ‘favourite’ results, which can then be collated and exported via various different means of sharing.

Here’s an early prototype of Stockport Local. It’s quite rudimentary in parts but it should provide context to my ramblings.

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