Bracknell Forest Digital Services


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How the beta came to life

We began this blog not quite 2 years ago – in April 2015, to be exact – though the project had been going prior to this. We took a look at some of the work we did in 2015 in our end of year roundup post.

We’ve come a long way in 2016. Here’s a quick look at the 4 main areas:

Content

In 2016 we carried out a further 25 discovery workshops with service teams. These tended to be smaller sections, having already tackled the giants.

Re-writing content continued in earnest, reaching fever pitch in the last half of the year. Our content review process is extremely thorough – each piece of content goes through several stages of review before final sign off. This included over 30 formal content review meetings.

Design

Visually, the website came to life in 2016. The homepage was designed, and with it an array of icons that were tweaked multiple times.

One example where the icon changed is the ‘planning and building control’ icon.

floorplan-iconThe original design was based on a floorplan. User testing showed that customers were unsure what this was supposed to represent.

person-with-hard-hat-imageThe new design was based on an image of a person in the building industry (wearing a hard hat) but there was concern in the team that it should be more gender neutral.

gender-neutral-person-with-hard-hat-imageWith a slight narrowing of the shoulders, and removal of the tie, we felt the final design was more inclusive. 

Within the site, 2 main designs were chosen:

  • a standard, information-based design
  • a promotional design for sections such as leisure

The promotional design includes a wide range of pieces (almost like LEGO) which are available to build in sections. Using these, we can tailor parts of the website so that they have their own unique identity, whilst remaining consistent with the rest of the site.

Technical

Alongside all this activity, the kicking and breathing part of the website was created too. This involved the development, in Drupal, of every functioning part. Of course, this links in very closely with the design, which ties in very closely with the content, so lining all 3 up together is the real trick.

User testing

We did plenty of user testing, using in-person testing as well as Treejack surveys. We tested the homepage navigation and wireframes with different groups of people. We also tested different design options, from overall page designs and colours to icon details.

Our next round of testing is the beta. There’s no better way of testing the website than actually putting it out there for people to use – and we’re really pleased to announce it is coming soon – so watch this space!

 

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My way or the highway; creating new content for roads

Roads icon

My first experience of creating structure and content for the new website was for the roads section.

We had two workshops about this section. One was with Highway Network Management (which has several teams within it) and the other was with Highway Asset Management.

For customers, these teams do one overall thing: look after roads. So it’s not relevant to them that there are different teams, and teams within teams, some of which deal with traffic flow, others which deal with potholes. Instead, the customer journey needs to include the services offered by both these teams without breaking that journey into two parts.

Secondly, both these service areas are pretty keen on the word highway. It’s important to them – and it’s what they are all about. But, from a user perspective, we’re really talking about roads. Okay, so it’s actually roads, pavements and even some verges, but that’s getting complicated which is the opposite of where we want to be.

Keeping our content crystal clear is a priority – our current website was highly rated by the Plain English Campaign just this week. What I’ve noticed, is that you can always review content for the better. So let’s use the word roads, where roads makes more sense in the context.

 

Guide pages

We sourced the idea of guide pages from GOV.UK; the format is an overview or introduction page with related (numbered) pages that you can clearly see at the top. If it’s a process, you can go through them in numerical order, or you can click straight to the content that’s relevant to you. Here’s a snippet taken from GOV.UK:

Snippet taken from GOV.UK of an example guide page

There were two instances where I re-structured content into a guide page. One was a PDF about gritting and one was a page about abandoned vehicles that was so long I’m not sure anyone but me has reached the end of it. For both of these, I changed the content into the new guide page structure so they had a short intro and simple, associated pages.

In terms of making sure the content was in Plain English, turning the bottomless page into more manageable pieces of information was pretty straightforward as it was already written for a web audience.

Much more editing was required with the PDF, which raises yet another problem with PDFs – not only are they generally not very accessible – they tend to be created without that keen focus on a web audience. If they are serving no purpose and no-one is looking at them (over half of our PDFs currently get no views at all) – get rid of them. If they are important – consider changing them into web pages instead.

 

Make things better

If our content team had a tag-line, this could be it. T-shirts anyone?

Image of a tee shirt with the words: Make things better


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How to make an enormous website seem simple

Coming from a private sector marketing background, I’ve been involved in the launch of two new websites, one for a shopping centre and one for a niche B2B company in the airline industry. I thought these were decent sized projects, until recently…

Redeveloping the council website is a bit like having to do 10 shopping centre websites all at once, because the breadth of services that we offer is so huge. The challenge is to make your journey through our site, as clear and simple as possible, so that you won’t even notice how large the rest of the site is.

On 16 Feb, we spent a day focusing on the Information Architecture of the new website, and a simple user journey was our top priority. This part of the process is not linked to the design of the site (which will equally need to pay good attention to the user journey), so the picture below is not design – rather it’s a way of capturing steps in the user journey.

Homepage IA

Once these wireframes are refined, we can then test them and improve them. One of our goals with the new website is to strip everything down to be as simple as possible, whilst continuing to follow the approach that the GDS (Government Digital Service) have developed for GOV.UK.

We also want to extend the range of accessibility options and discussed ideas around creating an easy read landing page which is easier to read (as well as creating more of this content in the first place). We challenged our current approach to accessibility – and agreed that if something isn’t helping we will remove it and use something that is.

Flexibility is key in other areas as well, which is why using new open source software is such a big advantage for us. How can we promote important things at certain times of the year – such as school admissions or elections – whilst retaining the bread and butter parts of our site?

Although the day opened up new questions for us to investigate, we now have a very clear direction for the back-end build of the website, which has been informed by the service area workshops (read about a particularly fun one at The Look Out). The new site will be responsive so it doesn’t matter how you access it (over 50% of our website visitors aren’t using a PC), and I am certain it will be really quick and easy to use. Next stop, design workshop!


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Re-developing council tax

It’s been about 6 weeks since our first workshop. We’ve been running a whole bunch of other workshops in that time, and there is a lot of work coming out of each one but we are now getting things together to hand over to our designer to start some basic wireframes. With this progress in mind, I thought it would be interesting to talk through what is happening after a workshop from a content perspective, by looking at the progress with the council tax section.

With service teams we are talking through where customers might have come from, what kind of content they would expect to see and how they would work through the task. In this, we are mapping out one of the main user journeys. For council tax this was ‘set up a direct debit for council tax’.

Direct debit user journey

After mapping out this journey in the workshop, we are then looking at what else the team have said, as well as at usage statistics and all the other information we have gathered, to work out what pages we are going to need for the section. For each section we are producing a discovery report to scope out what we will or won’t do, and what needs there are to meet.

After pulling all this together, I have been scribbling down what kind of pages I think we will need in the section, and how they might link together. Excuse the badly drawn boxes! This was an exercise in thinking about the content as a whole, rather than a drawing challenge!

Draft of council tax pages

This is helpful because it gives us a better view of the content we are going to need and the format it might take. This is then being put into an online program called ‘Gather Content‘ which is used to write and review content. I took the above structure and added each page to our gather content site, along with the first draft of the re-written content.

council-tax-gather-content

All of this content will now be reviewed by several members of the team to check that it meets our standards, as well as to help us develop our new content standards for the new site.

With content well underway for this section, I’ve handed all of this off to our designer Leyla, who is working hard to put together the wireframes (she’ll be blogging soon to explain that process!). Once we have our wireframes, we will give them to our technical guys to make an alpha in Drupal.

Our second Treejack survey for the council tax section is now live. Thanks to everyone who left their feedback on the first one! It was really helpful! You will find this second survey very similar to the first, but the tree structure has been tweaked a little bit to improve (hopefully) the section’s overall structure.

Don’t forget that you can also sign up to be notified for any future user testing.