Just a year and a half ago, the French Red Cross approached us to work together on a project that required a user-centred approach. More specifically, Marie-Ange Duriez contacted us. Marie-Ange is the head of the DATA division within the ISD (Information Systems Department). Her task is to organise the division's work on data processing issues. She and her team manage data visualisation, inter-application flow and repository projects.
In this case, the need was quite considerable, as it involved setting up dashboards that would enable their 59,000 volunteers to monitor their activities. As you know, the French Red Cross are above all volunteers who put themselves at the service of others. They are based throughout France and are attached to what is known as a ‘local unit’. The challenge for Marie-Ange was both to value their actions and help those who run these local units.
However, Marie-Ange was no stranger to a challenge...She didn’t want User Studio to design it for her, but rather with her, and better still, to do it herself. So, we suggested a format that we really like at the agency: Mentoring. As part of this project, we introduced our methods to our "mentee partner/client" and helped her to implement these methods during an ongoing project. It’s known as ‘active teaching’. In other words, learning by doing.
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Why pass it on?
Because we are committed to spreading the culture of service design, the discipline that we have worked hard to develop in France. It is important to us that our customers are made aware of user-centred approaches and that they are able to use it in their daily work. And this is what set the tone for our collaboration with Marie-Ange: transfer of knowledge and practices!
DataViz in progress!
We started by inviting volunteers and local unit leaders to come and explain their needs and design the first building blocks of the tool in workshops. We got them to talk, we got them to draw, we got them to choose, we got them to test... With this initial material in our hands, we concocted a tailor-made programme for Marie-Ange and her team with wireframes, data-visualisations and graphic design awareness. They played the game and took the plunge - under our watchful eye ;). The team designed the future dashboards step-by-step and produced an excellent result that Red Cross volunteers have been actively using for the past 6 months.
In keeping with our user-centred approach, we thought that no one could tell her story better than Marie-Ange. After a year and a half, here is her feedback:
What was your initial motivation for being mentored by a designer on one of your projects?
Our aim was to provide our users with dashboards whose end design highlighted the data in a simple way so that they could make it their own. For this, what was needed was a different, innovative and more user-oriented approach to the project.
Were you able to convince your superiors of this? How did you go about it?
The decision to work with User Studio on this dashboard project was a natural extension of a previous project. User Studio had already supported another ISD team in charge of the redesign of one of our IS bricks by defining the specifications and the design of the future application. I approached the IT team, which had been supported by User Studio, to discuss the most appropriate approach to take. Having been convinced of what User Studio could do for us, we discussed it with my management, who in turn were won over.
What were your expectations at the start?
The aim of the project carried out with User Studio was to set up three dashboards to monitor our volunteers’ activities. These dashboards were intended for our volunteers and the heads of our local and departmental units. This is a heterogeneous target group, whose expectations of the end product may differ and who are not necessarily used to formally expressing their needs. On the one hand, a more educational approach to gathering needs was required, and on the other hand, the design of the dashboards had to be ergonomic and easy to understand.
What were your concerns at the start?
Initially, I understood the User Studio approach as a methodology used to manage application projects. In this case, it was necessary to apply this new approach to a different purpose, the implementation of dashboards for monitoring purposes. This was an important factor in ensuring that our future users would adhere to the project and use the dashboards on a regular basis, which is essential to ensure their success.
How did it work out?
Support was provided in two stages and in different ways:
- an initial phase to identify needs and define indicators, in which User Studio ran workshops to identify, define and prioritise indicators by means of a co-creative approach with the project team
- and a second phase in which User Studio provided its expertise in UX and UI design by coaching the decision-making team in the design of the dashboards.
How did you organise the learning time and the time spent working on the project?
This happened naturally by setting deadlines at each of our meetings. User Studio was available and we always managed to arrange the coaching time around my individual work time.
How did you find this experience?
It was the first time I’d been mentored and I immediately embraced this approach, as I felt it was the best way to build skills, get training and carry out a project with the guidance of experts. For me, this project is a great success. I’ve learned a great deal and I’m now able to offer a better service to my users.
Did your expectations change during the project?
No, because it was clear from the first meeting with User Studio that they understood our expectations.
What did you gain from it?
This is a totally new way of managing projects and modelling our dashboards. However, in addition to this expertise, it is also a new direction. We are no longer working within a classic project owner/project manager model. From the outset, we were a project team that jointly develops solutions and where each member contributes his or her expertise. From the start, a number of criteria were taken into account: the users’ needs, of course, but also the complexity of calculating the indicators, the reliability of the source data, the possibilities of the development tool, etc. The aim is to reach a common vision from the start. This creates real synergy.
How are you applying this knowledge in your daily life today?
Today, the methodology is used in all our data visualisation projects. Following the project carried out with User Studio, I suggested to the financial department that they pilot a dashboard project using this methodology. This was a real success as today we are jointly running the workshops with them. We’ve also had very good feedback from participants during these workshops.
How did you adapt the methodology to your needs?
I've adapted the methodology in the sense that in the second workshop we offer a prototype to our future users on the basis of the models they produced during the first workshop. They handle the prototype and evaluate it. This allows them to make improvements and become familiar with the future solution.
What did you like best?
The design phase... I learned a lot. It was as if my eyes had been opened to a world that was unknown to me. I became aware of what was important from a user point of view, i.e., the importance of the general appearance (font, colour, zoning, pictograms etc.). The layout is an important part of the user's ownership of the dashboard. Its appearance must be clear so that the user does not start to ask questions: everything happens in the first few seconds. Users should be able to find the information they wants intuitively by opening the dashboard.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started?
Someone who wants to engage in this type of approach must have the ability to adapt and to listen, since this is a co-creative approach, and therefore collaborative. During the dashboard design phase, you have to do it, test it, redo it, retest it, etc. It's an iterative process, you have to be open-minded!
In your opinion, what are the conditions for the success of this type of approach?
Choose the project team well, a close-knit team, participants who are willing to play the "game". And be available.
What feedback have you had about the work that has been done on the dashboard?
I got very good feedback when I presented the dashboards to my management. The visual aspect was much more developed. I remember that some people, when they first saw the dashboards, exclaimed "wow"...it was a contrast from what had previously been done.
What are the indicators that allow you to monitor the performance of the dashboard?
Our Dataviz tool (Tableau Software) allows us to monitor the use of the dashboards and feedback from the field on possible anomalies confirms the use of these dashboards.