The pains of Brexit feel like a lifetime ago now we’re dealing with a global pandemic. I returned to work in Government in February this year when I joined NHSX, it wasn’t long before I joined COVID-19 work when I started working on the Emergency Volunteering Scheme within the Coronavirus Bill.

Spinning up a new digital service from scratch, remotely AND with a new team was a steep learning curve which was intensified by pressures to turn something around, and to do it fast. There was no time for “what if?” or “let’s do a discovery!”,  we knew we had to deliver a minimal viable product (MVP) in less than three weeks, leaving no time for panic, politics, silo working or unnecessary meetings.

I wanted to share my experiences of what worked well and how we managed to deliver something during the constraints of the country being in lockdown.

Caveat: my day job is content design but as some of you may know about me, I can’t help but get involved within the complex challenges of designing a whole product or service so I’ve shared lessons learnt from a more holistic viewpoint, rather than content-specific challenges – that’ll be a separate blog post!

Avoiding reinventing yet another wheel

Despite the increased pressures of needing to deliver something fast, I feel proud that we always kept the user in mind in everything we did.

We took the core needs of our users and appropriately matched design and technical solutions in a way that we believe best meets this need. User research adapted around the rhythm of the project, so we never felt too far away from the users we were designing for. If we weren’t testing prototypes, we were discussing their usual process for doing things so we never lost sight of the problems we were trying to fix and the goals we were working towards.

We reflected on best practice, using the Service Standard, content guidelines from Government Digital Services and made good use of the cross-Government Slack channel to link in with folks at the Home Office and Business, Energy and Infrastructure Service (BEIS).

We were also keen not to reinvent the wheel, we used the technical backbone of an existing service to fast-track the build process and looked at tried and tested service models or design patterns to inform service design and content design. 

Collaboration through video calls with no fixed end time

Every day the content designer (me), service designer, interaction designer and user researcher dialled onto a Hangouts call after stand up and just leave it running as we discussed user journeys and interface design for the HTML prototype. 

Through ongoing video calls we could:

  • move between quiet individual work and team discussion seamlessly
  • share our screen to show some draft content or steps in the user journey
  • go on mute and stop video for lunch breaks meaning there was a sense of working together

This way of working helped us to discuss ideas, share visuals and work together just like we would if we were all in the office together – only without all the hassle of interruptions or trying to find an available meeting room.

Daily show and tells, even on the quieter days

There were mornings where I’d think a show and tell in the afternoon was unnecessary – never again. I’ve learnt that there’s no such thing as an unnecessary show and tell.

It’s not just about communicating progress outwards but also ensuring that as a team we’re all still on the same page, with so much happening so fast, I can’t explain how important this is.

We nailed down the perfect format for a show and tell:

  • delivery manager to host
  • UX/design approach goes first to talk about potential journeys at a conceptual level and/or HTML prototype
  • tech team talk through latest development update
  • reflection on what needs to be joined up
  • questions allowed throughout call

Tip for the humbled team member:

It can be easy to dismiss the work you did that day as not enough (not finished enough, not refined enough) to constitute a demo in a nice and complete way. It’s safe to say that any progress you’ve made can be shared – you can communicate caveats and if it’s in draft format you can at least share your screen and talk about rationale and what’s next. It’s about creating opportunities for others to help or provide input if it improves the outcome of the task – so share, always share.

Capturing complexity and communicating it clearly to others

We used the following tools to communicate ideas:

  • Miro to map out key user journeys
  • HTML prototype for the actual service using the GOV.UK Prototype kit
  • Google docs for guidance content
  • HTML copy of the guidance 

Through screen shares on video calls we could walk through our latest set of ideas. This process was accessible for policy colleagues to understand the design problems we’re trying to solve and to challenge us based on rules in the legislation.

It also allowed us to work in real-time, capturing comments and discussion points as we go. I try to avoid meetings with a backlog of notes to write up after so using a screen share, which everyone could see, was transparent and no doubt saved us repeat conversations.  

Let’s prototype content more within end to end journeys

We’re not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to do this, but prototyping content by editing HTML copies of existing GOV.UK pages was a successful (but hacky) way of achieving end to end testing. The HTML pages have alot of unecessary code which make it harder to modify but it’s not impossible.  I’ve revived a feature request for Government Digital Services to incorporate HTML guidance into the GOV.UK prototype kit so full end to end journeys can easily be tested in future without the hacks.

About the author : Olivia

Leave A Comment

Join our mailing list today

Insider offers & flash sales in your inbox every week.

Curabitur non nulla sit amet nisl tempus convallis quis ac lectus dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit sed porttitor lectus.