Evolving prototype digital design standards
We conducted user research with past and current customers of the User Experience Service to understand their perceptions of human-centred design, and help us improve our Digital Experience Design Standards.
The University's Digital Transformation Initiative, and ultimately, the User Experience Service itself.
In 2017, at the direction of the University's Chief Information Officer Gavin MacLachlan, the (then) newly established User Experience Service investigated how other organisations implemented standards to ensure more consistent and user-friendly design, and considered how something similar might be implemented at the University of Edinburgh. Given the resource available to the organisation, a self-service model was felt to be the only viable approach. As such an initial prototype of a set of 'Digital Experience Standards' was produced, with a focus on applying them to projects which were likely to have greatest impact on the student experience.
These prototype standards were adopted by all User Experience and Design professionals working through the User Experience Service, as far as was pragmatic within the context of the projects the Service engaged on.
The User Experience Service needed to review and evolve these prototype Digital Experience Standards because, while they were build on the sound foundations of other organisations like the Government Digital Service, they were not particularly accessible to colleagues who were not User Experience specialists.
The goal of this project was to learn how colleagues who had collaborated with the User Experience Service perceived the Human Centred Design process (having experienced it first hand), and to establish how feasible it is for non-specialists to adopt human-centred practices with minimal specialist involvement.
What we did
We engaged with every project and/or service team who had worked with the User Experience Service over the preceding 18 months, and those for whom a project using the Digital Experience Standards was 'in-flight'.
Through a range of user engagement techniques - interviews, usability tests and co-design workshops - we iteratively evolved the Digital Experience Standards proposition. This involved developing new material to frame and introduce the Standards, copy-editing and rewording the Standards themselves, considering the medium through which the Standards are presented and the nature of the additional reading and support resources.
As part of the continuous review and evolution process, a user group was established, consisting of service managers and other stakeholders with the budget and remit to adopt Digital Experience Standards and/or employ the User Experience Service to support their work. This group convened regularly through the project to receive updates on development and our learning, and to provide feedback and ask questions. This served to both further raise awareness of human-centred design among an influential group of IT professionals, and provide the User Experience Service with direction on the evolving service proposition.
Outcomes and benefits
An evolved and improved Digital Experience Design Standards
The self service material evolved rapidly over the course of this project, and enabled the User Experience Service to present something they felt confident was as demonstrably good as it could be within the constraints of the organisation and the scope set. These materials are available for use by any project or service seeking to deliver digital systems that meet user needs and are easy to use.
We also concluded that it was important to include the word 'design', as the perception of what design is and its role in a development process varied widely throughout our engagements.
Design and Standards need active leadership and curation
The project also delivered a set of completed appraisals using the Standards, and a report which summarised our findings.
The report concluded that self service was not a viable approach given the University's current level of maturity in human-centred design. It highlighted the need for adoption of human-centred design thinking at a range of levels of the organisation if digital services of consistently high quality and value to the user are to be delivered going forward. This presents challenges on a number of levels ranging from funding for continuous improvement and staff continuity, to the continued growth of community and toolkits (in particular a design system) at a more operational level.
UX techniques used
Interviews and contextual inquiry