Post It notes? Check (we do love Post Its in Agile).
Prototypes? Check.
Users? Check.
Cookies and other snacks? Double check (the staple diet for User Researchers on days like this).

All looks in order; we’re ready for another session in the usability suite at Aviation House; the home of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The set up is as follows: there is a ‘lab’ where the testing takes place. This is kitted out with several hidden cameras and microphones and eye tracking software hooked up to the PC. Across the corridor is an observation room where there are currently 4 User Researchers (UR), 1 Developer, 2 Business Analysts  (BA) and a Product Owner. All waiting for the first user to arrive and navigate the latest version of our prototypes.

charges prototype

This is the 3rd session that we’ve had here and it is being shared between the Digital Charge and Digital Register View teams.

So far during these sessions we have spoken with users of varying levels of digital capability. From those who would need a lot of help when accessing our digital services, to those who are more comfortable. We have found that users tend to be more capable than they think, lack confidence or fear they may do some damage. One user quoted “I might do something wrong and destroy the internet or something”.

It is the job of a UR to ensure that the needs of the user are communicated back to the team. This ensures that the needs remain fundamental to the development of the service. There are few ways of doing this as effectively than having the team see first hand a user using the service, and the way in which they can sometimes struggle. To hear their sighs and see the look of confusion in a person is more powerful than any research document (or blog).

The aim of the Digital Charge project is to develop a service that enables charges to be created, executed, lodged and registered electronically. But it goes much further than that, and will in time look at trying to make the whole charge registration process quicker and easier.

The project is currently in its Alpha phase meaning that as well as days in the lab like today, a lot of work is being done speaking to conveyancers and lenders. We have been showing them our prototypes, considering their concerns and building a deep understanding of what they need to service to do.

ID verification is an important part of the proposed Digital Charge journey. This is because the team has developed a prototype that includes the relevant stages of GOV.UK Verify, a project that is being undertaken by a team at GDS. This will give the necessary assurances to all parties that the person (electronically) signing the mortgage deed, is who it should be.

It is obviously a complex project, but the feedback the team has received from potential users has been overwhelmingly positive. The vision is one that genuinely seems to excite lenders and conveyancers alike. If it goes some way towards helping citizens get the money quicker too, which is usually the main concern of the users we’ve spoken to, then that can only be a good thing.

View the Charges prototype


David Ware
By David Ware,
User Researcher at HM Land Registry