In this introduction to user experience design, Hamilton Jones, Digital Editor at Macmillan, explains what UX is, why it’s important and how it works.
Digital Editor Hamilton Jones unravels the mystery of what user testing involves, and how Macmillan uses it to improve experiences of our products and services.
If you follow any of our social media channels at Macmillan, you may have noticed that we’re often looking for people to come and take part in user testing. We think of user testing as a great way to help us to improve the experience of our products and services, but what does it really mean? This piece aims to unravel the mystery of what user testing involves, what it can and can’t test and why we do it.
What does user testing involve?
User testing (often referred to as usability testing) refers to evaluating the effectiveness of a product or service through observation. In order for us to carry out user testing, we must engage with participants that represent our user base, plan tasks that will effectively test our products, and analyse our findings.
In practice, this involves participants trying to complete specific tasks, under controlled conditions, while we watch, listen and record qualitative and quantitative data about their experience. During the session, users are encouraged to think aloud by talking through their thought processes and decisions. This enables us to make notes on and discuss the user’s journey more clearly, helping to identify any usability issues raised.
After user testing is carried out, we are able to collate the data and work out what changes we need to make to improve future users’ experiences.
What can and can’t it test?
User testing can test how well people are able use our products or services for their intended purpose. This could include websites, micro-sites and apps, and can test interface and content. User testing is just one of the ways that helps us to understand our user’s needs and create holistic user-focused products and services. At Macmillan we also carry out surveys, monitor analytics, gather feedback, visit users in their environments and much more.
User testing does not focus on the user’s opinion, instead it tests their ability to complete a set task and whether this journey is good. Importantly this does not reflect the user’s abilities with digital platforms, but whether or not our products and services are user friendly enough for them to be able to complete the tasks.
Why do we do it?
User testing offers us direct input on how real people use our digital platforms, the issues they face and the changes we can make to ensure they have the best possible journey. It is vital in helping us to understand how people use and interact with our digital products and services. This is predominantly interactions with our website, but user testing can help us understand users’ interactions with any of our digital touchpoints.
We rely on all of these approaches to try to constantly improve our services for people affected by cancer. We often ask for people affected by cancer to get involved, to tell us what’s important to them, what challenges they might have and how we can improve their experience. Ultimately, it’s to make our digital products and services as helpful and supportive as possible for everyone who needs them.
Digital Project Manager, Ellie Donithorn, gives me the low down on Macmillan’s ongoing aim to give our users a more personalised website experience.
We have created an exciting new feature allowing users to find their nearest information and support centre. Here’s a quick how-to:
- Step 1: Enter your postcode into the search box on the right-hand side of the page, or hit the ‘locate me’ arrow to let us find you.
- Step 2: View your nearest information and support centre, information about opening times, and other suggested centres within a 30-mile radius.
- Step 3: Click on your preferred centre to view its location on a map, opening times, and centre-specific contact details.
And there’s more! If you have a My Macmillan account, you’re logged in and you’ve saved your postcode, our new function will remember this information and pull up that support centre automatically.
What was the problem before?
Our research showed us that a third of people are using their smartphone to access healthcare information. This means it’s more important than ever for us to provide users with an online experience that gives quick and comprehensive results on the go.
We identified that the process of finding your nearest support centre on the Macmillan website was unnecessarily lengthy. It was taking around five clicks for our users to find the information most relevant to them, so we decided this was something that needed to be addressed.
How will we track its success?
We won’t know whether or not this feature is useful to our users straight away. We’ll be tracking the number of people that click on the name of the centre as well as on the link that takes you to any of the suggested support centres. This will give us an indication of engagement with the new feature, so that we can decide whether or not this is the kind of functionality that enhances user experience.
Can we learn from any obstacles that occurred?
Every project has its obstacles. This new feature needed to be low risk in terms of minimum disruption to our existing web templates. Currently this feature sits on very few pages and it would be great if it was visible across a larger number. However, this is very likely once we get a feel for how helpful our users find it.
What inspired this project?
Personalisation is such a hot topic in the wider digital world, so we want to make sure we’re doing as much as possible to address it at Macmillan. We drew inspiration from websites like Amazon and Netflix, for which personalisation is key. Even the ability to log in and revisit your last interactions, or have your last order (of information booklets perhaps) automatically compiled, would be a great future venture. Just Eat is a website that people may be familiar with that does this very well!
We’re working on further enhancements of this feature, which will mean that we can make the information users want from the Macmillan site even more relevant to their needs. For example, displaying support centres that are ‘cancer-type specific’ and thus, most relevant to the user. And in our volunteering section of the website, we plan to show our users the volunteering opportunities that are most local to them.
It’s about creating a bespoke experience that prioritises information according to the user’s needs and interests. And this is step one of greater things to come from Macmillan.
Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!
I read this interesting article from Dan Sutch at Nominet Trust this morning and thought it was really relevant to the ways that we try to use digital technology here at Macmillan. I thought it might be useful to talk about one of our projects Team Up, and what we’ve learnt in relation to some of the points in the article.
First a quick intro to Team Up if you haven’t heard of it (check out the website). It’s an online platform to connect local people with spare time to people with cancer who’d like help with housework. We’ve been piloting it in Brighton and Hove since September 2013 and we went live with our responsively designed website in February 2014.
I think that on the face of it, Team Up doesn’t seem like a new idea. You’d probably think that something almost exactly like it already exists in your community, but we’re pretty sure that it’s unique to the charity sector. The ‘localised innovation’ that Dan refers to in his article is exactly what we’re trying to do, putting ourselves right in the middle of the community and working with them to create a digital product that they want to use, one that’s ‘tailored, relevant and innovative.’
Team Up was conceived in the model of the disruptive ‘sharing economy’ based on the idea that as a community we can share resources to make sure that every member of the community has what they need. People were already taking their neighbours’ bins out or picking up a pint of milk for them, but by producing ‘creative and well designed interventions’ that additionally are secure and simple, Team Up hopes to create the ‘radical change’ that Dan talks about in his article. By ‘designing around consistent, regular practices and linking to people’s existing activities, new ideas can more quickly be adopted.’ In many ways, the fact that Team Up seems like something you’re already doing is the key to its success. Because it’s quick, effortless and you can do it from your mobile, even people who wouldn’t normally offer to help a neighbour will get involved.
Dan says: ‘It’s quick to create and test an MVP…[but] we need to be mindful of how long most social tech ventures take to grow and scale’ and we completely agree. We launched our MVP in record time and though we got the site up and running speedily, the number of registrations has been a slow-burn rather than a landslide. Piloting Team Up in one city rather than rolling it out nationally has allowed us to test, improve and perfect the model before promoting it more widely. Scalability has never been far from our thoughts though and we’ve worked to ensure the model is scalable. We think that starting small and proving the concept is a sensible approach, but future-proofing your product for natural growth is essential.
Using digital technology to ‘organise and mobilise resources (people, time, money) in ways that can ensure the effect is greater than the sum of its parts’ is exactly what we aim to do with our digital (and non-digital) work at Macmillan. Our aim is to reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer, and to inspire millions of others to do the same. Digital is an obvious way of reaching millions of people and, if used in the right way, of inspiring them to mobilise for your cause. Team Up’s simple online platform seeks to eventually mobilise huge numbers of people to give small amounts of their time. Individually it’s arguably not much, but en masse it means that nobody has to face cancer alone.
Nominet Trust is committed to realising the potential of technology for social good. They know that it offers us new ways of addressing some of the UK’s biggest social challenges. Visit their website to find out more. You can read Dan’s article in full here.