User experience begins long before someone reaches your website

Reading Time: 4 minutes

COVID-19. Collective sigh. If you’re not jaded by it all yet then your reserves of positivity surely know no bounds.

The winds of change that have blown across our world as a result of this surreal event are quite incredible. And many things will never be the same again.

Small town centres, previously peppered with empty shops, are bustling. Employers are embracing remote working like never before. Deserted city centre scenes, previously only featured in apocalyptic movies, have graced the evening news.

But some things haven’t changed.

Many organisations continue to create policy, advice, products and services in complete ignorance of how user behaviour in the modern age will define their effectiveness.

There’s been no more perfect example of this than the four corners of the UK all having different and, in many cases, contradictory rules and advice for citizens to follow during this pandemic.

So why is this a problem?

  • There are an incredible number of rules
  • They are seemingly changing all the time
  • People don’t have them written down
  • Not everyone watches the news
  • Even people who watch the news will see guidance from the UK Government covered first, which only applies to one of the four countries of the UK. Then they’ll see regional coverage of the guidance from their own national government or assembly
  • It’s all so similar that getting muddled is inevitable
  • Steps on the scale explaining which restrictions are currently in place are different nation to nation and are not easy to understand – ‘Alert level 0’ doesn’t mean there’s zero rules in place or zero reason to be alert

But one of the biggest problems comes when people get lost in this maze. Most people will ask Google a question, just like I did recently.

My son came home from school last Friday with a cough. For him to be able to go back to school on Monday we would need to have a negative test result. The question we had however, was whether my wife and I had to self-isolate until my son got a negative result. Those rules have changed recently, but we weren’t quite sure what to:

“Do you have to isolate if someone in your house is waiting for test results” being typed into Google.
I searched: “Do you have to isolate if someone in your house is waiting for test results,” to find an answer.

What did Dr. Google think?

The top two results returned by Google were from gov.uk and nhs.uk.
These were the top 2 results I got back from Google.

On Google, the vast majority of clicks go to the first two results that are returned. I chose the second option because the page header seemed directly relevant to my question. On that page, I found this guidance:

The NHS page states that, if someone in your house has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive, you don’t need to self-isolate if you’re fully vaccinated and 14 days have passed since your final dose.
Advice on the nhs.uk site said my wife and I didn’t have to self-isolate.

My wife and I are fully vaccinated and more than 14 days have passed since our final dose. “Hurrah! We don’t need to self-isolate.”

But….no. At the very foot of that page are a series of links:

Links at the very bottom of the NHS page to different guidance for people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Links to different guidance hidden at the very bottom of the page.

As it turns out, the advice in Scotland is completely different. If someone in your household has symptoms you’re expected to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.

Fundamentally flawed approach

There’s an issue with the page layout in itself. If you’ve ever seen a heat map for a webpage you’ll know that the bottom is generally icy cold. Barely anyone ventures that far, so these links will be missed by more or less everyone.

But there’s a much more fundamental issue. Those first two results on Google – gov.uk and nhs.uk – will both carry a huge amount of authority with search engines, being official sites of major public bodies. More than their regional counterparts. And, by definition, their domains are directed at the whole of the UK.

As a result, they will be ranking at the top for queries similar to mine coming from all across the UK. And barely anyone from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be scrolling the full length of the page to discover links to guidance for their own nation.

How to prevent this from happening

This, played out in reality, is the very reason why the varied skillset of service design professionals should be involved from the outset when policy, advice, products or services are being created.

Mapping a customer journey early on with people whose job it is to understand user behaviour will massively increase the effectiveness of whatever it is that you’re designing. And it might even help fight a pandemic.

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