BCGDV Social Venture Program Part 2: Design
Here’s how DV and Plan A are using a smart, user-centric design approach to build a product that provides companies with relevant and actionable environmental impact insights.
Now that our new combined Plan A and DV has had a chance to get to know one another and set some goals for their collaboration, it’s down to the details.
But first, a quick recap. After an intense period of analysis of Plan A’s initial offering, the team identified a goal and a roadmap to get there. Plan A has, until now, operated with a consulting model, providing individually-tailored sustainability plans for companies. These plans require many touch points and a lot of human effort. In order to increase efficiency and scale, the joint Plan A and DV team is developing an end-to-end software platform that will enable companies looking to lower their environmental impact to enter their data and receive an actionable, data-backed plan.
Building this platform requires bringing together multiple disciplines, from data science to engineering to product management. In this instalment of our series following Plan A and DV’s progress, we’re focusing on how the team is approaching design in order to make the user experience as seamless as possible.
Plan A’s product, and indeed climate tracking in general, is data-intensive. For a company to reduce its carbon emissions, it first needs to know what they are. This involves as many data collection points as possible, from travel and commuting to electricity consumption and source to waste disposal and recycling. Only once this data has been collected can recommendations for reduction be made.
Until now, a dedicated Plan A consultant would be responsible for working with the company to gather this data, but an automated and scalable process requires companies to input data themselves. Then, when they receive insights and pointers as to what changes to make to become more sustainable, these need to be easy to digest and act upon.
This is where design plays a key part. Encouraging companies to input data requires a painless and easy process that avoids confusion and guides the user seamlessly through the process. “We had an issue with data collection. Our product currently requires inputting so much data so we can get a firm idea of what to do in terms of offsetting,” said Scarlett O’Toole, Plan A’s Head of Design. “We’re doing a complete UX overhaul of the entire platform.”
The cornerstone of this is a central dashboard, where users can login and input data themselves. This dashboard has two sides to it: The data input process and the results and recommendations users receive based on this data input.
Accurate results and recommendations rely on having as much data as possible. But the design team needed to come up with the most efficient way of gathering this data so as not to overwhelm the user. This involved working closely with the data team to come up with ways to minimize the work required on behalf of the user. Rather than provide data for each section, such as how many energy class-B lightbulbs they have in their office, for example, higher-level details such as office size and number of employees are used to inform multiple data points.
“We worked closely with Plan A’s data team to make sure we were getting the full picture, while making the input experience as quick and easy as possible,” said Taichi Kozaki, Experience Designer at DV.
The data input flow was streamlined into four sections, using a mix of data capture formats and deploying simple, multiple choice sections where possible. Some questions are quantitative, but there are also more qualitative sections that are also important.
Once the data has been collected, it needs to be communicated to the user. This could happen in many different ways: Technically, it would be possible to provide the user with a full spreadsheet of complex statistics, or even combine every metric into one simplified figure.
But the design team wanted to present the data in a way that gave users easy to understand insights that would enable them to take action. Data was therefore condensed into higher-level suggestions and insights; what they’re doing well, what could be better, and how to improve. The team is still experimenting with the best visual form for these insights, but will use a mixture of data, text, and graphics, presenting the user with the most relevant takeaways rather than leaving them to make sense of the results themselves.
The design team are also thinking about how to present the material in the most engaging and empowering way, helping users to tell a story about their sustainability program, which they can communicate internally to encourage more positive behavior. The data on the dashboard is great, but it’s important for Plan A to use it to help companies narrate their behavior beyond the level of individual metrics.
One key consideration is ensuring that the link between the data users input and its implications. The team is undertaking user testing to make sure the design of the platform makes these links as explicit and easy to understand as possible, and the design and data teams’ close relationship is helping to link their data with the action plan provided by the platform.
“When people try to understand how their company is doing in terms of sustainability, they often don’t know where to start,” said Taichi. “Our design helps companies understand the main issues. Data collection points are linked to tangible actions they can take.”
The team isn’t yet done with the platform’s design, but hope to have a fully operational, well-design MVP (minimum viable product) version by the end of the collaboration. Taichi anticipates that Plan A will implement a rolling process that checks in with users and asks them to provide additional data after their initial process to keep their sustainability efforts as up-to-date as possible.
Check back in another couple of weeks, when we’ll be catching up with the joint DV and Plan A tech team and talking to them about how they’re collaborating on the new Plan A platform.