Re-engineering Hackney content weeknotes 14/01/20

Site Improve screenshot
Site Improve screenshot

This project continues to throw up a multitude of potential avenues to explore. As part of the DevOps trio of projects at the end of last year (excellently DM-d by Felix), we cleared a load of outstanding bugs that had been, well, bugging us. Plus, the proto-support process that evolved out of the DevOps experiment has empowered our infrastructure and app support teams to respond with gusto if the site has a wobble. We’ll confirm it’s working if the ticket I just dropped in the support desk ends up in the right hands! 

We weren’t able to settle all of our irks in DevOps but, in the spirit of continuous improvement, we continue to push the bar where resources allow. The commercial properties service now has a more visual approach, akin to its real estate competitors. And the road safety pages have benefited from an audience-centric restructure. We’ve run a few workshops with services to promote the concept of user-centred design and, if your service would like help with this, give us a shout. We’ll also try and come up with workshop templates so you could run a session yourselves. 

Some services require more of a marketing focus than others. One example of this is Hackney Museum. We’re working with Niti and her team to create a museum website that holds its own against other museums’ and tourist attractions’ online offer. To achieve this – with minimal additional effort – our front-end developer Emma has created a Hackney WordPress theme using the WordPress CMS as the back-end and the HTML components built for the Intranet for the front-end. This equips us with a wider suite of components from which to devise a visual, enticing design that will appeal to visitors.

We can re-use the WordPress theme over and over again, where needs require. And, in the spirit of open source, we’re seeking to submit it to the WordPress theme repository so other organisations can repurpose it at no cost.

Some of the third party sites to which we link continue to use ancient templates, which disjoints the user experience. Working through a schedule of updating them is a project in itself, however, we now have the UI toolkit to aid suppliers. Museum Collections and News are up next for reskinning. New suppliers should be given the toolkit during onboarding (with requirements included in contracts) and the design team, led by Joanne, can assist with this. 

The Comms team continues to embed Site Improve into its business-as-usual routine to great effect. Thanks to Iain and Alan’s sterling efforts, we are pleased to report that all four metrics of quality assurance, accessibility, search engine optimisation and digital certainty have surpassed the government benchmark. 

We’ve put Hotjar back on the site and the DevOps blitz has increased from 55% to 65% the percentage of users scoring the site at least 4 out of 7 stars. The 35% less than happy with the current sitch are often complaining about embedded apps not working; and we’re looking at how we can feed this back to services to fix. On that note, Behrooz Mirmolavi will be flying in shortly from GLA to talk about his role as a website data analyst, especially around Google Analytics and Hotjar. All Hackney staff are invited so get your diaries prepped for 10am on 30th January. Save your spot or miss out!*

*(You don’t actually have to save your spot, just turn up)

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknotes, w/c 8th May 2019


We started our week with sprint planning. Our goal for sprint 4 is:

“Testing our early prototype with users, pulling together initial recommendations on our tech stack, completing accessibility testing on our three experiments and taking our first look at the service assessment.”

We hit the ground running this sprint. We completed two days of testing by the end of the week. Joy put in some serious leg work to get our prototype test ready and Richard and Sam whipped up a discussion guide. We’ve learnt a lot from these first two rounds and we’ve got two more days of testing next week.

Sebastian is putting our early experiments through some accessibility testing. We want to have an idea of where we might run into accessibility issues and start thinking about how to address these as early as possible.

Liam is kicking off our tech review. He’s been gathering up background material and talking to other project teams. Last, but never least, Winston’s been doing battle (and winning) with the research findings from interviews with library staff and security officers.

From a delivery perspective, a late Easter break and two May bank holidays in close succession is putting a squeeze on our time and capacity. That said, we’ve all benefited from some extra rest and it’s prompted some good conversations about how to prioritise work.

Raising awareness of how well designed technology can help overcome barriers for people with impairments

As part of Hackney Council’s User Research Week, we set up a mini ‘empathy lab’ in the Hackney Service Centre. Our aim was to raise awareness of how certain visual and physical impairments can impact people’s lives. We also wanted to demonstrate how technology built with good accessibility standards can help break down barriers for people with impairments, whether permanent or temporary.

What we did

We had two computer stations, one focussed on simulating partially sighted and reduced manual dexterity. The other focussed on severe visual impairment. Staff members passing by were encouraged to give one or both a try. We also promoted the event to colleagues across the Council by email and with Google+ community posts.

We displayed three personas, adapted from GDS digital inclusion and accessibility user profiles, to help illustrate how the types of impairments we were simulating affect people using technology in real life situations.

Partially sighted and reduced dexterity

At the partially sighted and reduced manual dexterity station, people were able to experience what it might be like if someone finds it difficult to use a mouse and can only use a keyboard. The persona ‘Christopher’ prefers to use a keyboard as he has arthritis in his hands.

To simulate this impairment, buttons were taped tightly over the main knuckles on the back of fingers and latex gloves worn. This restricted the ability to be able to bend fingers and reduced sensation in finger tips.

At this station participants were asked to fill in a form online by using only the keyboard and also its paper equivalent. Once participants had become familiar with navigating using only the keyboard, apart from experiencing reduced dexterity in their hands, they were able to select radio buttons, check boxes, drop downs and enter text. As Google forms are coded by default to meet good accessibility standards, participants found the online form easier than writing on the paper version, where writing with a pen was difficult.

In addition, to demonstrate being partially sighted, safety glasses with a light smearing of vaseline could also be worn. Because of her glaucoma, the persona ‘Claudia’ needs to be able to increase text size to be able to read what’s on a screen. We used built-in functionality in the Chrome browser to do this.

When using the vaseline smeared safety glasses, the participants were able to experience how, for example, a website that allows for text to be resized, can assist people who are partially sighted to interact with an online service. This can benefit people with impairments, such as, cataracts or more generally a deterioration in vision associated with ageing, something likely to affect everyone.

After trying out the activities, a participant commented: “Was really interesting and gave me an appreciation of how difficult it can be for some people accessing digital services. Everyone should go and see what it’s like.”

Severe visual impairment

Our second station covered severe visual impairment. The persona ‘Ashleigh’ uses a screen reader and for this activity we used the Safari browser and VoiceOver, Apple Mac’s built-in screen reader. Participants were able to experience how people can have a web page read out to them. Again, depending on how well the web page meets accessibility standards, the better the screen reader is able to make sense of the page.

Some basic accessibility considerations can make a big difference on a simple web page. For example, having a ‘skip to content’ link enables the screen reader user to avoid having to navigate through repetitive navigation links in headers. Correctly nesting heading styles on a web page also helps screen reader users to understand the structure of a page.

What next?

We’re considering how we can take our empathy lab forward and find a location in the office where we can have a more permanent space for it. This will give the team a chance  to understand what it is like for people with accessibility needs when they use the new services they are building, helping us to become the most user centred team in the country.