The path of user needs, avoiding beautiful nonsense, and the shelves of wisdom

At work we like a good metaphor, even more so if we can tweet about it in an abstract fashion without revealing too much of the inner workings of our professional lives.

So this post is going to freely use a couple of metaphors to put in context the brilliant work we’ve been doing on a frontend library and prototyping kit we hope will be used heavily across the health system.

Our passion

We have a passion for our frontend library and prototyping kit, but we have even more passion for user centred design, working in an agile iterative fashion, and building the best ‘mobile first’ and accessible services we can. We want everyone else to get this (not just the trendies in jeans sipping lattes who sit on beanbags — to borrow from a recent Tweet thread…). Because if we don’t, and we’ve released the tools that makes it easier for people to build stuff, well, how do we know they won’t just build beautiful nonsense? Or worse, build services that on the surface look good but don’t meet user needs

Beautiful nonsense

An image of ‘beautiful nonsense’

So what might we mean by beautiful nonsense? Well, we mean things that look good on the surface — that tick the boxes for ‘on brand’, that are accessible, and that use the correct grid and type.

But what if the service isn’t informed by user needs in the context of their health journey, hasn’t considered the fragmented nature of that journey, hasn’t been tested using a variety of methods, and it isn’t understood how success will be measured? And what if it meets organisational needs rather than the people using it?

That’s what we mean by beautiful nonsense. Looks beautiful, but is nonsense.

The shelves of wisdom (and the path of user need)

An image showing the path to discover user needs, before you should engage with the frontend library

So as well as releasing the means to build beautiful nonsense, we want to wrap around it a care package that helps people understand how to avoid making beautiful nonsense that is both expensive and not fit for purpose.

Elsewhere I’ve talked about a health service standard that acts as a guiding north light (see that would show what ‘good looks like’. A standard that would act as a ‘pyramid of content’ that lets people find relevant health examples and case studies.

This is where the ‘shelves of wisdom’ metaphor comes in and the supermarket analogy — namely that before you can get to all the cool stuff at the back of the store, you have to go through the ‘aisles of advice and guidance’ — so we can show you how to put the cool stuff to best use!

If you’re a commissioner or a product owner working in health you might think you don’t need to know about frontend libraries and prototyping kits, never mind GitHub — but we think you might want to understand the tools your teams or suppliers should use — and how they should be used. This means being as accessible as you can be, and knowing how to measure success based on user needs.

This isn’t just about helping developers and content designers to build better stuff, it’s also about ‘changing the weather’ (read a summary of Tom Loosemore’s recent talk at MTP Engage). By this we mean helping commissioners of services in health, and suppliers who build those services, understand and follow the ‘path of user needs’, and as they do so freely take from the ‘shelves of wisdom’ such that we can change the climate in the health system…

So, about our frontend library and prototyping kit…

Others will explain far better than me — but yes, we’ve developed a frontend library and a prototyping kit for designers and developers to produce pages and services quickly and consistently. Our reusable components allow teams to focus on unique problems, not starting from scratch each time.

Everything we do is in the open, all the code is open source and so are the tools we use. We’ve not reinvented the wheel — we’ve built on tried and tested GDS stuff such as grid and forms, and we will be contributing any findings or changes back. Search in GitHub and you’ll find it.

The ‘shelves of the future’

This is why I think understanding this metaphor and analogy is important, because as the technology changes, and as peoples behaviour (and expectations) change, we have to be thinking what will be the cool stuff of the future, and what we will need to stock in the shelves of the future.

For example — what are the UXD norms for voice technology? What are the logic flows for AI and the next gen interoperability models? When will we update the hallowed ISO standard: ISO 9241–210:2010 Human-centred design for interactive systems?

Fortunately I don’t have to worry about that yet, I’m too busy stacking the shelves of today to try and make an impact…

Ps — soon there will be an official blogpost out there about our frontend library and prototyping kit, and when it is I’ll tweet the heck out of it. Until then thanks David, Adam, Ben, Michael, Mike, Sab, Brad, Dean, Ross for all the hard work on the excellent ver 1.0 frontend and prototype kit …
Ps — thanks Matt Edgar for the ‘beautiful nonsense’ phrase and the supermarket analogy!