Redesigning Scotland’s careers service website

This was a 3 year long project. Yes, that is a long time to spend on one project, especially for a flighty designer.

The project started at a time when we were hearing a lot of negative feedback about the existing site, ‘I find a really interesting article one day, then can’t find my way back to it the next’. We also wanted to do more sophisticated personalisation on the site but were unable to improve it in this way due to its structure and lack of scalability.

So we were tasked to come up with a new conceptual model for the site. But given only 2 weeks. This challenge was the start of our journey into agile. As a design graduate and a perfectionist I struggled initially, questioning how we could possibly do this without going through the full design process, but we did it. Then we continually iterated, developing 4 new versions as we started to meet and test with customers.

But interestingly, it never strayed too far from that initial concept. Partly, I think, because we had a strange but robust process at the outset for sifting through a huge amount of existing research and information in that very short period of time. We created a framework of key questions and categories and got a small team together to use this to review customer insight from previous projects, current site analytics, governmental papers and international trend reports. This was collated in a standardised format in a shared document before going back offline: printing it all out, chopping it up and theming the insight. The strange sight of these strips of paper pinned up in any spare space in the office led to someone coining a technical term for our new technique: Fringing! This process led us to our overarching IA or ‘3 customer intents’.

This kicked off the first phase of the project, in which we got to know our customers better with ethnographic techniques, refined the service model and data structures, tested paper and digital prototypes and got business buy in to continue with the project.

Whilst we worked on the tricky things, like getting agreement to take an agile, in-house development approach, figuring out what platform to choose and estimating and procuring the work, our newly formed design team learned how to wireframe. And what we learned was that we had jumped into wireframing a bit too soon. We were struggling to gain consensus on design and layout now that we were moving into the detail of the pages. So we took a step back and created purpose statements for each page on the site. By defining the purpose we were able to prioritise the elements within a page and this gave our designers a much clearer brief for the page layout.

Through these stages of the project I had gone from service designer in a small team, to project lead in a bigger team, and at this point I became product owner in a large programme of work. I learned so much in this role: how to prioritise tasks, how to speak developer language and how to surpass my levels of pedantry with the implementation of the style guide! Our ambition for the development of the site was to build it inhouse but we discovered that Drupal developers were thin on the ground in Scotland. So we went with a hybrid model of an internal/external team. Inviqa were our development partners and worked with us to kick the project off while we built our internal team — gradually transitioning roles inhouse as we built our capacity. The team grew into front end developers, agile business analysts, QAs and Drupal developers.

As the website started to come to life, our design team moved into a continual loop of testing and refining after each 2 week sprint. Overall, across the whole duration of the project, we spoke to around 250 customers. We used a wide variety of techniques to do this, trying new things and refining our methodologies as we went. We dabbled with kano questioning, word association, unmoderated testing and used Lookback to record the sessions and share them with the rest of the team.

The website went live in January — with only a couple of minor hiccups! We now have our internal development team who are continually improving the site. The team is also growing, as other SDS digital products have seen the benefit of having developers inhouse and and are recruiting their own developers.

The main thing I will hold onto from this project is the team and the relationships we built in building the site. There were many challenges and stressful moments but we were all working together towards the same goal. A quick shout out (to those I can find!): Conor McKenna, Ian Todd, Sophia Grant, Steve Payne, Louise Mushet, Nicola Dunlop, Brian Ward, Bhalin Ramabhadran, Paul Linney, Jamie Adams-Hylands, Blonde Digital, everzet, Elaine O'Connor, Lucy Janes, Luke Woollett, Derek Hawthorne, Bryan Gullan, Alice Herbison, Ashlie Webb.