Waste not… content needs on a hazardous disposals service

A Natural Resources Wales discovery revealed problems an environmentally sensitive industry had with digital services: alpha is about trying solutions, says content designer Sam Evans

16 March 2022

Content was a big reason the NRW website was not meeting its users’ needs © John Cameron/Unsplash

“Why can’t you just tell me what I need to know?” said an exasperated user in a research session.

They weren’t alone. As we listened to people talk about using the Natural Resources Wales (NRW) website, we heard this message often.

There are lots of reasons why we’re not meeting people’s needs. But it’s emerged from the CDPS hazardous waste discovery that content is a dominant theme.

That’s positive: we can see there are many opportunities to improve things for people who need to use our service.

And, as a content designer in the discovery team, I see a chance to think differently about content.

What all users want

We all share the same intentions online. Whether we’re shopping, booking tickets, applying for something or looking for an answer to a question, we want to find it easily, understand it quickly, be confident in what we’ve found and be able to move on.

Researched, planned, designed and considered content achieves these goals because, as content designers, we:

What content designers do not want is content that comes to us fixed and agreed – that’s not right. Our role is not about editing and publishing as HTML. We need to be involved from the start.

Discovery: waste-ful journeys

In discovery, the team have gained empathy with users of NRW digital services – understanding more about their needs and motivations © Merch Hüsey/Unsplash

Before we started discovery, we had evidence that people struggled to access the hazardous waste service. Website feedback, call data and analytics indicated that users had problems finding, understanding and using our services.

We’ve moved through discovery, researching with users, journey mapping and analysing. We now know much more about the people who use the service: who they are, their contexts, needs, motivations and behaviour.

We’ve challenged our assumptions about what we think people should know and understand. We’ve looked at things from different angles. We’ve gained empathy along the way.

And what we’ve discovered has resonated with some assumptions we’ve had for some time:

  1. Sometimes we don’t use the language of our users but the language of NRW. People then call the customer hub so they can be told what we mean – in plain language.
  2. Larger businesses can employ people to help them find out what they need to do to operate legally, but smaller ones might not. As one user said, “It’s the small ones that need help… it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t know the industry [to understand] what’s required.’’
  3. Our information and guidance can be abstract, unconnected to users’ day to day activities.
  4. Information and guidance are not always relevant and get in the way of users’ need to complete a task.
  5. Users think about the outcome of doing a thing on our website, rather than the process. We will say “register as a hazardous waste producer”, but our users will think “I need to get a premises code”.
  6. Standalone pages or documents are published in isolation from other relevant content. That makes it difficult for users to find everything they need.
  7. Users cannot find things on our site as they are not where they expect them to be or do not appear in search results.

Alpha: attempting solutions

In alpha, we’ll try out different solutions to the problems we learned about in discovery.

One of the options is a prototype guided user journey for a user group we have some confidence in – like the car breakers business we spoke about in our recent show and tell.

We’ll test what we’ve done with users – many of them who we’ve interviewed in the discovery phase. This will help us learn more about their behaviour and evaluate our approach.

By the end of alpha, we’ll be able to decide which of the ideas we’ve tested are worth taking forward to beta.

Tell us in the comments below how discovery shone a light on content problems – or how alpha helped shape solutions

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