A once in a decade survey that gives us a better future
- Office for National Statistics
I was appointed by the Office for National Statistics to work on Census 2021. Census 2021 was the first digital-first census and is a survey that happens every ten years. My role was to join the team as an Interaction Designer, to focus on the engagement and response phase of the census website.
The engagement phase was for local authorities, community groups, media and campaigns, to help raise awareness and encourage people to fill in their census questionnaire.
The response phase was to inform everyone that the census was happening and that everybody could fill in their census questionnaire. Each stage offered a completely different user experience which involved a lot of research, design and user-testing.
User testing and research
We had a defined set of user needs. We then met each of those needs with design. From design, we built prototypes that we tested with local authorities from around the country.
We would gather our findings, make changes where necessary, and take our prototypes out for further rounds of testing. This process was rigorous but ensured we were delivering a usable service to our users and not just the business.
Designing the look and feel
A lot of care and attention was applied when designing new components and patterns to enhance the overall brand for Census 2021. Each item needed to be flexible and scalable for use on a desktop or mobile device. We also needed to take into account the Welsh language, which on some occasions meant adjusting patterns to cater for this change.
Assisted digital support centres
During Census 2021 operation, assisted digital centres were available in locations such as public libraries. These centres would provide face to face assistance and equipment on which to complete the census survey online. We needed a system to allow users to locate centres nearby.
A user would add their postcode and perform a search. They would then get an ordered list of centres starting with the nearest first. Functionally this worked by tapping into an API provided by Good Things Foundation.
We designed a simple, uncluttered service that worked well on both large and small devices. We tested our prototype with a selection of users with varying digital skills.
Web chat contact centre online support
One of our user needs was for respondents to communicate in real time with census contact centre advisers, so that they could receive an instant solution to a query or issue.
We had performed our own discovery as well as having access to web chat research and findings from GOV.UK. Combining all of these findings we were able to design a solution that greatly improved the quality of service and helped users with certain access needs, such as deaf and hard of hearing.
Making our service fully accessible and inclusive
We created a service usable by everyone, learning from as many people as possible, with a diverse range of perspectives. We tested our service with users of all abilities ensuring what we delivered met their needs and expectations. We offered a range of accessible formats and other support to help users find out about census and complete the survey.
One of these formats was British Sign Language (BSL). British Sign Language is for users who suffer from hearing problems and rely on a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression and body language.
BSL users needed to fully understand what was being asked of them to be confident in answering questions. Our idea was to add BSL videos throughout the census to explain the questions and answering options. A great deal of user testing and iteration happened to deliver a solution that worked for these users.
Contributing to a design system
I also contribute heavily to the ONS design system, adding newly designed components, patterns, accessibility enhancements as well as fixing bugs to provide a reliable, flexible framework for powering many of the Office for National Statistics services including Census 2021.
A lot of components and patterns started based on user requirements from Census 2021. They would then be added into the design system, tested and made available for other services that may benefit from tried and tested patterns. It would take a few people to agree on the quality of coding and usefulness of patterns before being approved and merged.
In some cases, a pattern would be tagged as experimental to allow for user testing to confirm its usefulness before being introduced for use across services.
Each component would be flexible in its usage and would include detailed documentation and guidance on how to use and apply it.