Re-engineering Hackney content: weeknotes 22/09/19

This week sees our last big push to the finish with the search, homepage and navigation to complete. In-site search is on the slide as users simply query in Google; however, once users are in the site, they are more likely to use it so it still needs to be effective. We’re kicking off with the out-the-box WordPress search as it’s already SEO-friendly; we can look to boost with plugins like Cludo or Elastic further down the line. 

Alan and Iain are starting to think about homepage content for launch. Although much of the Council is task-driven, we do want to encourage a teensy bit of stickiness so people are tempted to explore and discover all the amazing stuff we do beyond the admin of everyday lives. 

We spent much of this week testing the navigation with users to make sure they are able to jump in, out and around the hierarchy. The ongoing issue with recruiting participants for research is not unique to Hackney and is something organisations will farm out to a specialist agency at the earliest opportunity. Luckily, we are not looking for an obscure demographic so we were able to find sufficient volunteers for Wing and Sam to interview. One lady recruited via Hotjar was a real bonus for our accessibility testing also. 

It’s Carolina’s last day on Wednesday so we’ve been identifying any final design challenges, focussing on Commercial Property and bits and bobs like icons. Mo is with us for another month and 30 September remains Red Button day. He’s up against it with coding HTML components for the Intranet as well as working on this project but we’re hoping October will be an opportunity to get through at least some of our ‘should’ priorities. 

We’ve formulated the plan for launch and we’re not expecting any major difficulties. We’ll be adding the domain to Netlify (the cloud where we’re hosting the front-end) and Mal’s team will make the DNS switch. This will cause the temporary www3 to revert to www and, BOOM, confetti will fall out of the sky. We will, of course, all be on hand throughout in case a little shrapnel comes along with it. 

We’ve been really sociable this week with not one but two visits from other councils interested in our work. First up was Corinne Pinfold and Mirabai Galati from Croydon. It was really refreshing to compare notes on our approaches to ‘redoing the website’, and always reassuring that we face some of the same problems. If we can get our heads together and collaborate on helping user-centred design gain traction at the service level, it will definitely prove to have been a fruitful meeting. 

Next up was Westminster’s Alasdair Maclean and Colin Harral, coming from more of a tech stance. They too are revising their digital offer and we were able to share details of our Thoroughly Modern Mo approach of React and Gatsby alongside WordPress API. We did have a slight chuckle at the misconception that there is a small army of Hackney-ites completing this work. No, it’s just us. 

You never quite know who’s reading these weeknotes and if anyone would notice if I wrote ‘rhubarb’ repeatedly. So it’s nice to know they are of use and can even result in actual, real-life, face-to-face conversations. Who knew?

Re-engineering Hackney content: weeknotes 14/09/19

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, as it always is when you come back from holiday. We presented a second iteration of Carolina Gaspari’s homepage to Ben Knowles, which incorporated feedback from the wider Comms team and included four versions of the main promo area. Jennifer Riley and Hannah Saunders from the Intranet project are also in the loop as they’ll be using the same homepage components as the website.

We now have a solid steer and that should be coded up by the end of next week, upon Mohamed Mulla’s return on Monday. Carolina is only with us for another couple of weeks so we need to sign off all design asap.

30 September is the date when Goss will switch off the site and we’re all on WordPress. We’ve prioritised the backlog with a vengeance. Ultimately, it’s the front-end, consumer-facing user stories with the greatest impact that are getting the focus. It’s going to be tight but we absolutely have to get the homepage, search, image block and navigation through development by then.

We’ve also MOSCOW’d the bug backlog. It”ll be one heck of a bug that earns itself a ‘must’ in the fixing stakes with all the other competing claims on Mo’s time. The majority are ‘shoulda-couldas’ with the odd ‘won’t’.

Turns out there’s a 1 October after September. We’ve been thinking about how to support the launched site for a while; and had hoped that front-end developers would have been recruited by now. With much of our estate now coming into WordPress, it’s vital to ensure those skills are brought in with any new hires. We have a couple of interim options so we’re not left high and dry after launch but the front-end resource situation ultimately needs resolving. It shouldn’t be that hard to find them: there’s probably at least one WordPress developer we can hoik off the 242 bus at any one time.

We can at least automate some of the testing to maintain content quality. Site Improve would be an incredible boost to the site, with its gamification approach to quality assurance, SEO, accessibility and analytics. Without it, the site will degrade and consumer confidence will drop. The funding of software that’s of benefit to every service in the council with a digital presence – ie every service – is another issue that we have to address. Again, we have interim options to fund Site Improve until the wider point is decided by someone on a higher pay grade than us.

Should we need further evidence that quality is paramount, there’s plenty to read in the Hotjar responses. While we’ve taken down the main survey (it’ll go back up after launch), we’ve retained a poll on some parking pages. Analysis of all responses showed many dissatisfied customers who couldn’t pay their parking fines, largely due to intermittent errors. Upon relaying this to the service, Parking, ICT App Support and the third party supplier really rose to the challenge. Monitoring was extended and the servers beefed up and, so far, there has not been one Hotjar response citing the earlier problem. It’s only been a week and we’ll keep an eye on it but it’s a solid step forward and demonstrates how we work best when we work together.

We’ve been making more friends along the way with the services that have shown enthusiasm for developing their digital content. Our workshop with Bhupendra Bahari and Davina Rai from Recycling and Waste earlier in the week has generated some immediate and longer term solutions to answer residents’ ‘What can I and can’t I recycle?’ questions. An imminent Rough Sleepers campaign is also on the cards and we’re working with Helen Clarke and Andrew Croucher to see how we can help.

In tandem, myself and Marian Andoh will be running a workshop next week to flesh out how best we can work with services on digital evolution.

Re-engineering Hackney content: weeknotes 07/08/19

It’s all about the navigation this week. We did a round of testing, and users were finding it difficult to move between sections. So we’ve worked out a way to have all four levels on the menu, avoiding a left hand navigation and over-reliance on a big ‘menu’ icon. This also means we can go full width and save a whole load of space.

Now we’re trying to speed up the generation of the menu. I also spent the weekend ordering the many, many pages on the menu. It was like the Christmas jigsaw: didn’t want to do it; couldn’t walk past it. 

Real progress is being made on the homepage. Tomorrow, the fab four of Carolina, Gill, Alan and Emma will be setting up shop in London Fields to see if real life people understand what we’ve done with it. We need it to be useful to people but also represent the borough and what we stand for.

We had a demo from Site Improve this morning. This promises to be a handy addition, particularly for accessibility, and we’ll be putting a business case forward to embed it in all our sites.

We’re continuing to look at ways to close the loop between users and services via our Hotjar feedback. As you’d imagine given Parking is our most popular section, we’ve had most feedback on the parking pages. We’ve been in touch with our lovely friends in the service and are thinking together of the best way we can pass on this feedback and how they can best manage it. I’m thinking gleaming dashboard in walnut veneer, currently it’s cut and paste in Google Sheets. We’ll get there. 

Re-engineering Hackney content: weeknotes 29/07/19

Sometimes you need to go a bit [cover your ears, children] Waterfall. We’ve unfinished business on the project and the best way to organise it might just be an old-fashioned schedule:

  1. Navigation and redirects
  2. Security
  3. Left hand navigation
  4. Homepage
  5. Image block
  6. Search
  7. Accessibility testing
  8. End to end testing and bug-fixing

Quite a list. However, work has already started on each one and we reckon we can get it done in the next month. Six weeks allowing for holidays.

We’re continuing to populate the navigation. Early user research showed that, although alphabetical order didn’t actually help anyone find anything [roads and transport; transport and roads, anyone?] it gave comfort to know it was ordered in some way. Further down the road, we may look at Hotjar heatmaps to see which are the most popular and order accordingly. 

The left hand navigation is our next priority. This is only needed on pages that sit on the lowest, fourth level of the content hierarchy. Without it, users can’t get to the village in our country/county/city analogy so we are racing along those B roads to deliver.

Our successor to the landing page is now in code. The existing landing pages (eg /parking or /planning) are essentially navigations featuring two menus that sometimes repeat themselves [no, we’re not sure either]. Our new mechanism is for, eg, /#planning to ping out the expanded Planning navigation so users can select what they want. We’ll test, of course. 

An impromptu brainstorm about the homepage saw us discussing the weighting that should be given to each component. We don’t want to create any more work for content editors but we can at least rank editorial content above the fold, while still providing access to all the services. We also realised we can design image components on the homepage for reuse elsewhere on the site. This negates the need for bespoke templates for pages that warrant a more visual treatment, saving time.

Earlier conversations with Customer Services paid off when we populated the contact page. We’re not in a position to implement chat bots yet but we have been able to encourage self-service with a simple content redesign. That, in conjunction with direct links on the homepage to key tasks, will hopefully encourage users to seek out what they need 24/7 instead of having to wait for the doors to open downstairs. 

Generally, our users want to be in and out of the Hackney website with minimal fuss. As a heads-up, we’ve added reading times to pages that will take more than a minute to read. Don’t say you weren’t warned, people. 

Lest we lose all of this lovely content, we’ve implemented daily backups using the All In One WordPress Migration plugin, at the princely sum of $99. This means we can restore a clean installation in a matter of minutes. The whole content management system is only 121MB so we’re not breaking the Internet here. The frontend of the website is backed up in GitHub.

Now we’ve done all this designing and coding, we could potentially launch the templates as a theme on WordPress. This would mean other organisations can borrow it and populate with their own content. Our own Intranet site may be the first to try it out.