User Research/Testing, Consultation/Coaching & Interaction Design

September 2014 - March 2015

I spent 6 months (extended from 3 months) at NGN improving their design workflow and working on various projects.

Understanding the company

"We are looking to do quite a lot of work around having a UX focus on everything we do in our team, we'd like to see if and how we can work together on what we are trying to do here in NGN." Head of Accelerated Delivery Services at NGN

I really enjoyed my time at NGN and met some great people. It's a great company with a great desire to not be your typical corporate.

Northern Gas Networks already had a masterplan of embedding UX into everything they did, they just didn't know how it could be done or what impact it would have on the business.

I started by trying to understand the company and how it works by listening to the different workstream leaders and piecing together every piece of work they had on the horizon for design. A list of work was collated and added to the information NGN had already gathered on what internal teams wanted to better organise their daily work life.

Using this information I then conducted a quick survey to get an idea of what really bothered people at NGN, and how they could see design helping them improve their work life.

Image of survey on the wall

The big winner was the ability to book meetings rooms. Teams have to email the directors PAs who have a shared calendar, check room availability and get back to the person who requested the meeting. This often meant that a vicious circle of communication happened going back and forth to find a room and time which suits everyone, and that there is a room available.

Developing a prototype

It was decided with the directors and management that we'd introduce a better method of booking a meeting room, as a test to see how we can improve things. It was a nice quick little project with low risk. It ended up developing into a minimum viable product we could test and was embedded into the new agile workstream we were developing with an external consultancy. Through this workstream the project was broken down into stories and added to the board.

Workstream of work (agile)

I started to speak to people about the process and understand the real problems while a colleague interviewed the PAs to ascertain how we could help them.

Meeting room sketches

I sketched up some ideas and started testing them with people around the office to see what kind of feedback we'd get. Generally the designs were positive but I tweaked sections which didn't make sense.

The next stage was developing a clickable prototype. I built a HTML prototype for mobile and desktop then conducted usability testing on both. The main points were a little confusion on a screen about location and some language issues. I conducted two rounds of quick user testing and compiled this feedback into a short video which I presented to the director of innovation.

Creating guidelines and patterns

Guidelines screenshot

I'd started to build up a library of patterns/guidelines and as the single designer who was working across multiple workstreams it became clear I wasn't going to be able to continue across them all. To prepare for extra recruits and to continue my idea of transparency and openess I began designing and writing the guidelines to go into a website to share with the whole company.

Principles screenshot

I also consulted the workstreams to devise a set of design principles we'd be following on each project. This ensures we don't make mistakes across projects and that the entire team is on the same page. These were introduced and owned by the new design team (see Recruitment)

How can design/UX be embedded?

Northern Gas Networks sketching session

The best way to ensure UX is embedded at every level is to include as many people in the process as possible. It's a fine balance between “design by committee” and keeping the team informed and involved while maintaining design control.

To introduce UX&D I ran a “learning lunch” with a group of NGN employees who had influence with their teams. Off the back of this I then ran a sketching workshop based on the research I'd done on what teams would like to see improved. The workshop opened up some truths around their work life and helped to ensure we were on the right path.

Strategy

In every corporation which is heavily regulated there are various hurdles to jump. One massive problem I set about fixing was to better involve design in the tendering process. Without going in to detail, by law NGN have to ensure the work that needs completing is conducted with fairness. The problem is every single project has a different UX and a different design, and put together in a completely different way. We needed to understand how we can better organise this and it's a simple case of understanding the projects and ensuring UX has input.

Northern Gas Networks embed diagram

I devised a strategy to meet the three different types of projects NGN completes. Bespoke, which means the UX is controlled in house, Out of the box, which means we're buying a product already designed and developed and a Hybrid, which is a mix of the two.

Understanding how our design principles and guidelines fit into these is displayed in the diagram above. It meant we could have input in those elusive out of the box projects which often fly under the radar, until one day they're live before we've even seen them.

Connections online payments

A colleague of mine who was working in the connections team highlighted a project which needed help from design. He introduced me to the workstream and we decided to design a quick prototype of what could be achieved. The connections team had a desire for a long time to digitise payments and move them from a slow paper based system to an entirely online experience.

With a very technical process I set about trying to understand it better and visited the NGN Doxford office to meet the team, listen to the people taking the payments over the phone and see the applications customers were sending in.

Over the space of 2 months of design work trying to nail the process and make it as easy as possible for users we had a set of wireframes which were ready to go into design. The design covered everything from the process, to the payment gateway and even to the letters sent out to customers to make the journey as easy as possible (also taking into account technology restrictions such as with SAP).

Northern Gas Networks online payments

The huge project went live in July and has started taking payments from customers to great fanfare.

I'm hoping to receive stats and numbers soon about how the connections online payments system is shaping up. I've heard good things so far.

Recruitment and interviews

The final piece of the puzzle was a project which spanned the whole 6 months I was at NGN. Recruiting designers. I vetted every application with a colleague and advised on who to interview. There were 3 candidates for 2 positions. I'd written the job descriptions for UX Designer and Interaction Designer and we had candidates for both positions.

We followed a standard corporate interview procedure asking a set of questions to mark the candidates and on top of that we set a challenge. I first wanted to understand the candidates design thinking and set the task “How would you design an interface for a 1000 floor lift?”. It's a question Google asked in their interview questions.

We eventually hired two great designers who have now taken ownership of the design team, the principles, guidelines and all the other work over the past 6 months.

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