I’m currently working on the Digital Mortgage project, a service that will allow conveyancers to create a digital mortgage deed, which can then be signed by the borrower(s) using a digital signature and submitted to Land Registry so we can update the register. This sounds simple – but there are a whole lot of ifs and buts, and the user research sessions with stakeholders from lender and conveyancer organisations have been essential in the development of the project.

Understanding the user journey

When the project began, we thought we knew a lot about what goes into a mortgage application – after all, they send it to Land Registry at the end! To test this assumption, we took a diagram of the journey to every single research meeting, and asked varying levels of conveyancing and lender staff to help us fill in the gaps. What started off as an A3 document now spans half the length of our office wall!

An early iteration of the remortgage user journey

What was great about building up the journey this way was that we not only learned all the steps involved, but we also found out a great deal about what was good – and, more often – bad about the current process. We were able to add in quotations from real users explaining how the Land Registry was making tasks difficult for them, and the opportunities where we could improve. It makes our lives so much easier when people are saying, “I just wish it would do X!”.

This information was instrumental in deciding what we needed to do for private beta in our ‘minimum viable product’, and will continue to be used as we decide what we’ll develop moving forward, and in what order.

So, what’s the difference between research sessions with external stakeholders and lab sessions with members of the public?

 Lab sessions with the public

  • You’re there to research the task for which they’ve been recruited
  • You’re sometimes paying them to attend and answer your questions
  • Your participants usually come to your lab, where you’ve set up filming, screen monitoring, eye-tracking, and so on
  • You ask the users to complete the tasks you need to test

Sessions with external stakeholders

  • You’re there to research the task, but you’re also selling the project to ensure continued involvement, and they may have their own agenda to discuss, too
  • They are taking time out of their working day to attend, and so need to see the benefit in what you’re doing
  • You visit their office, which may or may not have a computer, or Wi-Fi, or a plug socket… (One office we went to required anything that could record to be locked away. Going back to pen and paper was a shock to the system!)
  • You may need to demonstrate the tasks and gather feedback, potentially to several more users than you originally expected – but this is why you sow the seeds and then come back with a request for one on one user testing sessions!

It’s clear from the above that user testing with stakeholders can be very different to testing with ‘normal’ users, but don’t let this put you off. We’ve learnt so much, and by taking on board this feedback and constantly improving our proposition, these same stakeholders are keen to stay on board and be a part of our private beta launch. Now, we just keep on testing and refining, as there’s no such thing as a ‘finished design’!

Our User Research wall at present

Claire Durrant
By Claire Durrant,
User Researcher at HM Land Registry