Your Housing Group: Collaborative design of an ambitious user-focused online self-service portal
Your Housing Group (YHG) was formed in 2012 following the merger of Harvest Housing Group and Arena Housing Group. They are now one of the UK’s largest social and affordable housing providers, looking after more than 30,000 properties across the North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands.
YHG approached Sigma as they were about to embark on an ambitious project to deliver a new online self-service portal. Sigma won a competitive process to provide expertise in service and experience design, working closely in collaborative design and prototyping sessions with internal cross-functional teams, stakeholders and user representatives to take a holistic approach to the solution.
Online self-service systems can only deliver business and user benefits if customers are able and motivated to use them. YHG are in the process of moving several of their processes to an online portal which will support existing customer service channels by encouraging customers to access information and request services digitally, 24-7. As part of this, they are keen to ensure that the user experience in each of these processes is as usable and efficient as it can possibly be.
Ahead of planned collaborative prototyping sessions targeted at specifying the interactions required across the site, we first spent time in a design workshop with key stakeholders to establish early broad priorities on the page and real estate direction for specific components. We then worked iteratively to develop a look and feel for the home page and subsequent functional pages.
Following initial research into the work that had already been carried out by Your Housing Group, we began an iterative approach, aligned with planned agile sprints, to address each of their proposed user journeys.
The first phase of this iterative approach was the delivery of Joint Application Design (JAD) workshops for each journey. During these workshops, stakeholders, developers, designers and user representatives worked together to rapidly produce a prototype of the proposed system. Working collaboratively in this way ensures that factors influencing design, UX, functionality, strategic goals and technical feasibility can all be discussed openly and shape the system at an early stage, before costly development is undertaken.
In collaboration with YHG, we selected representative users of each module and carried out task-based usability testing on each prototype on site at YHG offices. Feedback from this testing, in particular concerning microcopy and terminology, proved invaluable in refining the solution before investing time in front and back end development. After each testing session, users were asked to complete a System Usability Scale (SUS) questionnaire providing a usability benchmark. Areas of the site that required more in-depth navigation systems were also tested using Treejack (https://www.optimalworkshop.com/treejack).
Following these usability testing sessions, we refined the rapid prototypes to be used as a living specification of the solution to be developed. To ensure consistency and a high-quality look and feel, key pages from the prototype were further designed before Sigma’s front-end developers created fully responsive code. Before delivery, this code was tested for device and browser-compatibility by our in-house test department.
Our user-centred approach resulted in a solution design genuinely focussed on the needs of actual YHG tenants. SUS scores as high as 93.1 were achieved in usability testing (a score of 85 has been described as excellent: http://uxpajournal.org/determining-what-individual-sus-scores-mean-adding-an-adjective-rating-scale/).
“We have been really impressed with Sigma’s customer-focused approach to designing a quality user experience across our products. Our vision has been to design and deliver sector-leading products to enhance our existing customer service offer. Sigma’s assistance across the project has helped see this vision become a reality and we look forward to our customers being able to enjoy the benefits of accessing Your Housing Group’s services online.”
Ben Walker, Product Owner at Your Housing Group
Throughout the project, we built a set of working Axure prototypes which were refined and validated through usability testing. We also delivered fully tested front-end code for the in-house development team to implement and a browser-based Global Experience Language (GEL) document so that current and future in-house teams understand the rules and interaction design principles of the proposed solution across devices.
At Sigma, a large part of our work includes creating highly accessible solutions for a range of users with disabilities including visual, auditory, cognitive and motor impairments. Older users often face a number of these impairments, caused by arthritis and other conditions, and are also commonly less digitally savvy.
With an ageing population, the country is facing an older person’s housing crisis and Your Housing Group is leading the way in developing retirement living accommodation for the over 55s. We’re helping Your Housing Group ensure the portal solution is highly accessible and engaging from an early stage.
- Creative and interaction design
- Collaborative design and prototyping
- Usability and accessibility testing
- Information architecture testing
- Front end code development
- Device and cross-browser testing
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