At the time, it was early days for our system and we had received around 1100 applications. Since then, the number has grown considerably. To date, 6300 applications have been made online. It’s covered the two major application rounds of the year – reception year for primary and year 7 for secondary – and the form has proven to be completely reliable.
Reception year applications closed on 15th January at midnight. In the lead up to the deadline, a few customers experienced problems either setting up their account or resetting their password. In total, 23 customers were affected. After some help from me and my team, 20 customers successfully completed their online application. The remaining 3 customers submitted paper applications by post. The 23 customers who needed help represented less than 1% of all the customers who applied for Reception year; 0.77% to be exact. This is a tiny percentage of the total number of applications.
Along with this, the form has been used frequently throughout the day. I analysed the usage of it between 15th December and 15th January. During this period, the form was being used at least three times an hour between 6 am and midnight, every day.
It is fair to say that the form has been a success and there are a number of reasons for why this the case. First and foremost, our Agile approach to development meant we could identify bugs and fix them quickly. It also enabled us to identify enhancements and changes that could be introduced quickly, user tested and released to enhance the user experience.
Secondly, testing. You must test, test, test and test again. If you don’t, you are setting yourself up for failure. Even though we were developing fast, this doesn’t mean testing can be skipped. It is an essential part of the Agile, iterative process. Miss it at your peril!
And last but not least, the customers themselves. We have received tons of feedback since the release of the form, including some really useful feature suggestions that we’ve developed and released in new iterations.
Whilst I’m chuffed with the success of the form so far, there is always room for improvement. Our team will be addressing this in forthcoming updates to the form that will make user experience even better and bring more benefits to the service too. Watch this space!
Hi, I’m David Hampton, the User Experience Designer at Digital First. You can call me ‘Design Dave’, as the team do for short.
I joined the team about a year ago. My brief was to build on and improve the online identity of Brighton & Hove City Council, with a focus on designing and documenting standards for re-usable design. We call these ‘web patterns’.
Our overall goal is to provide Brighton & Hove residents with a consistent, friendly and familiar website, whether they need to find and read about a service, report a problem, or browse news.
What we’ve achieved in 2018
Over the past year I’ve been working closely with Product Managers, Content Designers and web developers at Digital First, re-designing and launching website sections.
Improving website accessibility has played a key part. We’re making sure our new design and code is in compliance with accessibility guidelines. This will help improve usability for residents who may access the website in non traditional ways, for example using screen readers.
If you’re a Brighton & Hove resident you may have noticed some of these new designs coming into effect, with some highlights in 2018 being:
At first the pattern library was used internally to communicate new design standards and patterns amongst the team. Today we’re opening it to everyone. We hope this will be a useful resource across departments and teams for referencing new design, and offering solutions to reoccurring design challenges. It may even be useful for other councils and public sector organisations – we’ve built on the experience of others and are delighted to contribute for the greater good.
Our plan is to continually improve the library through ongoing testing and research with actual users. We’ll be including version releases so we can track design progression.
Over the coming weeks I will be blogging in more detail about some of the new designs and pattern library features. If you have any questions, please post below or get in touch.
Hi, my name is Lorna. In June 2018, I was asked to lead on the redesign of the newsroom for Brighton & Hove City Council’s new website. The redesign would form part of the work the Communications team is doing to update our style for a more modern approach to news, such as writing for the web and social media.
The new website
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know that our new website has been live for a while. We’re rolling it out slowly, as we redesign the content with each council team and move sections over from the old site.
As such, we already had an information architecture and pattern library for most of the website content. However, news content works differently to static or transaction-focused content as it entails different goals (for both residents and the council). News content needs to engage and entertain rather than just inform people, and can have a shorter shelf-life. So, we needed to do some thorough user research to uncover the users’ needs and behaviours before attempting to redesign the newsroom.
Planning the research
We decided that our primary target users were local residents and the communications officers who write our news articles and post them online.
I put together a research plan that included:
a pop-up survey of readers of council news stories
interviews with local residents
comparative analysis of other council websites and news sites
analysis of visitor traffic to the existing newsroom
analysis of social media engagement
analysis of heatmaps of visitor behaviour on the existing newsroom
interviews with news authors
Addressing limitations and avoiding bias in research
As with all research, it was important to be aware of the limitations and the potential biases that were difficult to avoid using these methods. For example, the interviews were held with people I approached in libraries and customer service centres, so there were some groups of people that I was more likely to speak to than others. Also, because the survey was aimed at people visiting the news pages, the responses were from people already engaged with the news pages.
However, the findings of the survey and interviews were interesting and seemed to be supported by the available online data.
As with all projects, this one had its challenges! For example, we had initially included businesses as another target audience. However, I found it was very time consuming to engage with businesses and we want to make sure we have the time to properly work with them. So, we put a hold on that angle of the project for the time-being, but we will definitely talk to businesses again in the future.
While we did end up with a reasonable number of responses to the online survey on our news stories, this also took quite some time before there were sufficient responses for us to draw conclusions from it. We also had to be careful that we weren’t receiving multiple responses from the same user. Although the survey software seemed designed to prevent multiple responses, I certainly found some responses that seemed suspiciously similar!
One other challenge was that respondents were using the survey as a way to communicate with the council, instead of using our customer services contact forms. As we didn’t insist on respondents leaving an email address, we often had no way of getting back to them about an issue they had raised. We also had to be judicious about whether/how the data was used to inform the newsroom design.
Key findings and their implications for the design
Some of the findings that influenced the strategic decisions we made included:
Finding: People don’t tend to visit the council website to “browse” for general news. They are very often visiting to find information about a specific story they have heard about elsewhere.
Solution: Prioritise search functionality and categorise news stories to help visitors find the information they have come for.
Finding: Stories about major building developments and related consultations are far more popular than any other topic.
Solution: Clearly link to the Major Developments section of the website, and review how that content is presented when it is moved to the new website.
Finding: Word-of-mouth is a very important source of local news (including social media). However, people often repeated misinformation or had misinterpreted information.
Solution: Use callouts or pull quotes to flag the most important pieces of information so that people get the correct facts if they don’t read the whole story and remember the things that are most important.
Finding: Although many residents are on social media and they are not surprised that the council has social media accounts, it hadn’t occurred to them to follow the council. The same was true for our email newsletters. Some respondents said they would follow us or subscribe (if it looked interesting) but that they hadn’t thought about it.
Solution: Make links to subscribe to our email newsletter and follow our social media accounts more prominent.
Launching the Newsroom and plans for the future
The new Newsroom was launched on 10 December 2018, as a “minimum viable product”. This means that some of the features described above are not included yet, but we are continuing development behind the scenes. I am also carrying out evaluation of this first version (including research with users of course!). We plan to launch the next version in the spring.