Danny Hearn

User goals at the heart of everything with Cooperatives UK

This is the story of how I uncovered vital insights for the Co-operatives UK (Co-ops UK) website redesign project and supported the team to look at their business in a completely different way.  I did this by understanding their users’ goals to create a shared language and generate conversations for change.   My role as a user researcher was to give the team confidence for the right shape and direction of the web redesign project. This work was completed on behalf of DOT PROJECT.

Co-ops UK support services were split across 5 different websites.  Due to the funding behind each initiative and how the organisation had grown organically.  However, as my research indicated, this created a confusing journey for users as they don’t browse based on the funder’s perspective.  This way of designing services is widespread and stems from what I call ‘Inside out thinking‘.  Designing solutions for users by being heavily influenced by your organisations perspective rather than from the users. 

THE IMPACT

New navigational model based on user goals

The findings from my research gave the project confidence and the direction on how to structure and plan the website redesign project. All 5 websites and services now have a single clear portal that signposts users based on their high-level goals and desired outcomes – see uk.coops

Organisational alignment around user goals

Initially, the project was just seen as a ‘website redesign’.  However, the teams soon saw the opportunity for the organisation as an opportunity to align not just the website but the services and teams around the user goals. The insights I uncovered created powerful conversations and laid the ground for further internal development.

THE FULL STORY

Initially, the Co-ops UK team had started to create a new navigational structure.  They mapped all the existing web pages onto a spreadsheet and then applied some logical grouping.  While that can feel like a sensible approach, it is ‘inside out thinking‘.  There’s no feedback loop or influence from real users or understanding of what journeys they will be trying to complete.

I wanted to show co-op’s UK an alternative way of creating a navigational structure. A user outcome-based navigation that can only come from user research and outside-in thinking.

From which perspective are you thinking about your users?

Uncovering the user goals

I planned a variety of user research activities to understand what the user journeys and goals were.

Workshopping with SMEs 
This supported the mapping of the key audience’s goals or outcomes rather than by demographics.  As an activity for the Co-ops UK team, this took a bit of adjusting.  I was asking the stakeholders to let go of departments, teams and funding initiatives and just talk about their customers’ needs.

White board collobrative working with stakeholders

Interviewing SMEs

While the workshops gave me a broad view of the users, I needed to dig deeper to uncover their motivations and journeys in more detail.  I was particularly interested in team members that had regular contact with users.

Talking to the contact team

Contact teams was (and usually is) where the gold always lies.  These are the people that speak to the customer every day.  I started by asking what the common contact calls were.  Initially, there were a lot of enquiries. However, we were able to give group them into themes.  This was vital in distilling down all the noise into a shortlist of rough user goals.  It also showed me where the website was letting users down.  Why were they calling up for support and not using the website?

Surveying users

We created a survey to further probe and understand user needs and motivations drawn from the workshops.  Helping us validate our initial assumptions.

The initial research findings:

Creating a mental model for new co-ops
Users struggled to create a mental model of the steps and sequencing needed when starting a co-op.

Low understanding of what a co-op is
29% of survey respondents indicated that they are somewhat or not very confident in understanding what a co-op is.

Interest in supporting the movement
Lots of users indicated they felt supporting the cooperative movement was important.

Overlapping and duplicated content
Users get confused as they transverse across different and overlapping journeys of support from CUK.  This was also due to services that overlapped support.

Website navigation
The website navigation and finding relevant content consistently came up as the no.1 issue. This was due to users trying to achieve various tasks but not recognising which micro-website or service would support them.  However, users weren’t looking for services. They were looking for support with their problems.

Grouping audiences by goals, not demographics

As the research indicated, users struggled to find the support they needed as they had to start by guessing which service was relevant for them. It was a navigation that reflected the internal business structure outwardly to the users or inside out navigation. We needed to look at this from the outside in. After reviewing all the various sources of information, and data points, there was a clear theme of user need emerging. While Co-ops UK served 1000s of different co-operative businesses, who had a variety of needs, it was possible to group them with a commonality : 

  • New to co-ops
  • Existing co-ops
  • Public
  • And funders, investors, partners


Now I wanted to apply a user goal-orientated mindset to each group, which looked more like this:

New to co-ops 

I want to understand about cooperatives.”

“I want to start a co-op.”

Existing co-ops

“I want to get support for a co-op.”

Public, funders, investors, and partners

“I want to engage with the wider cooperative movement and community.”

Designing for audiences based on their goals  (rather than services available) was now a critical assumption I needed to validate. This could unlock the challenge of converging multiple websites into one.  

I started by creating a map (below) of existing services and content against audiences.  It helped to visualise how customers were moving across the different sites, based on the goals I had identified. By viewing the websites in this way, it was clear why users were struggling to find the right content.

Old website hierarchy
A high level map of the old website navigation

Forming a hypothesis

Pulling the assumptions, insights and user goals together, I was now ready to create a working hypothesis and a prototype to validate it.

We believe..

a navigational model based on user needs will make it easy for people to find what they are looking for

the quickest way to prove this is..

Create a prototype of the website navigation and test it with users for common scenarios

and we’ll measure..

if users are able to complete their journeys needed to get support with their goals

Designing the first prorotype

Using the customer need groupings, I had identified it was pretty easy to slot the services and content around a natural home.

New nav layout
First prototype

The next step was to iterate my prototype into something interactive that I could test with real users. I only needed to validate the customer journeys, so images and ‘look and feel’ weren’t important at this stage.  I set up a free account with notion.so, a wiki platform that allows you to spin up simple no-code web pages quickly.  Using the customer goals as the starting point, I designed a no-frills homepage and navigational links.  I added links and landing pages to some of the subsections.  Which helped provide a quick link if users needed it, further clarifying the meaning and give context.   I could now test user journeys.

I.e. if you wanted to learn more about co-ops, where would you go?  If you needed to launch a new co-op, where would you go?

2nd Prototype home

Now I had a physical artefact. Instead of telling Co-ops UK, I could show them.  I could now engage with the stakeholders differently and connect our work to create an outside-in view.

User testing

While aligning and getting feedback from stakeholders is valuable, learning how real users interacted with the prototype was valuable.

To do this, I set up a series of zoom calls with people from the core groups; New to co-ops, In an existing co-op, a funder wanting to learn more about Co-ops UK.  I asked them what their core goals were relating to their business and how they try to meet them.  I asked them to see if they could find support with these goals via this ‘new website’.  I wanted to establish if users could immediately sense where to navigate based on their needs.

In every instance, users were immediately able to navigate correctly within seconds.  They all reported that it seemed very easy and logical. It appeared my hypothesis was correct, and the prototype was working well.  While I was only able to test on around 10 participants with qualitative research, it’s about indicators and degrees of confidence.  As every test proved positive, I now had more confidence in my overall approach to redesigning the website.

Creating new conversations within Co-op UK

The research I had taken strongly indicated that focusing the new website navigation around user goals created a positive and simple user experience.  This was critical to the projects success and enabled the design and development teams to move forward with a solid foundation.  The stakeholders also found it easier to understand their own business.  This approach opened the door for teams to think wider than the website.  They were able to explore the possibility of aligning team org structure and KPI’s all around these 4 user goals.

Live uk.coop website