UX design and

In the second in our series on designing a good user experience, we talk to Rob Durham of Housing Partners about his work on AIMLogic.

In the second in our series on designing a good user experience, we talk to Rob Durham of Housing Partners about his work on AIMLogic.

Coastal Housing Group

Rob Durham, Digital Product Manager of UI/UX

Rapid digitisation of services has become the norm for workers and consumers alike over the past five years. Regardless of whether these products are performing small miracles by bringing together multiple sources of information and functions, if they aren’t intuitive to use than the product has failed. For the next article in our series on UX Design, we spoke with Rob Durham, Digital Product Manager of UI/UX here at Housing Partners about how empathy and client consultation are at the heart of building great products.

Designed user experiences are how many services are now navigated. From paying taxes to messaging our loved ones, if the user feels laboured interacting with a product than the user experience has fallen foul. UX Design in Housing Partners embeds the belief that no stage of building or design is final, that new solutions will uncover new problems and that the designer’s role sits within a constant cycle of problem solving.

The TAIM suite of solutions, which includes AIMLogic, are case management systems for the social housing sector. They are developed in line with the needs of the sector and can be configured for each individual housing provider’s needs and delivery vision. With artistic training and a background in defence, our Digital Product Manager, Rob is able to balance pragmatism with the elusive ‘feel’ of things so important to UX design.

At Housing Partners, products start in focus groups with customers. Once the needs of the sector are established, the product begins to take shape internally, with a member of the team building a business case for the new product. From Rob’s side, They [the Product Team] will tend to say ‘here’s my general view and idea of what this product is going to do. Could you quickly mock something up for us?’. Once completed, they then take those mock-ups away and show them to the prospective customers and we go from there. So, we’ll create clickable wireframes for things, very quickly.” Wireframes are the bare bones of a product’s design; they are the deliverable most associated with UX design and give the client a walk-through model of the product.

The research about the needs and desires of our customers is undertaken by one of our Product Owners. We recently spoke with TAIM Product Owner, Oliver Florence about internal innovation here. Rob tells us, “The really good thing about working with Ollie, is he gets involved with us right at the inception, any new functionality for the product that gets floated, he will come to us and talk about it. Having this very detailed first idea, means that clients are very happy from the outset. Something that the team and I have built up over the past few years is knowing what a client is looking for. We can really feel what these people want to see.

We turn around a new product idea in a couple of days maybe. Because we’ve built an atomic design system that allows us to quickly mock-up new products, built either around the Housing Jigsaw platform or a design system for HomeSwapper, or one for TAIM.” Mock-ups are regularly used for interacting with the product, but following that, speed of turnaround is a necessity for problem solving. In this process, a housing provider may be faced with a mocked-up wireframe and realise that what they thought were the most pressing problems to solve are now entirely different. If a client has a new idea for functionality, the atomic design of products accelerates changes being mocked up. Letting clients play with these mock-ups can at times, lead to better ideas. “This allows us to be really agile in the way that we are designing things.”

Rob continues, A lot of people have the idea that they have a very distinct problem that needs to be solved. Actually, once you get to the nitty gritty, that problem is only what they need solving on the surface. Underneath, there may really be a set of three or four problems. So, our job after research and experimentation is to advocate for the customer what the real problems are.”  This was also the case in building the first iterations of TAIM and AIMLogic.  The initial product that was proposed from first consultations with Registered Providers (RPs) combined with Housing Partners’ ideas were entirely different to what the product now is.

These differences were most pronounced, “In terms of the look and feel of AIMLogic, and the functionality. We had started off showing the customers a few screens and mock-ups; from that they were really happy. But it was only by clicking around and taking a look that the customer can then say: ‘That’s all well and good but the product doesn’t do X, Y, Z’, when the original brief was to show them how to do A, B, C.” An open mindedness and resilience to change are fundamental skills for UX designers to possess, despite there being a real sense of ‘killing your darlings’.

Design is a collaborative process, which undertakes the challenge of matching client desires with design department capabilities and business imperatives. The ability to empathise with end-users is the foundation upon which Housing Partners build products, in a constant cycle of product improvement; clients and users should be embraced as product development partners.

Empathic design is the process of integrating the needs of many stakeholders into a product and is one of the core values that Housing Partners holds. Rob explains the process of ‘design thinking’; “We’ll sit and build, thinking about how people will be using our tools. For example, we are looking to build a tool to help with rough sleepers. The housing professionals who will be working on this will be out on the streets at night. So, we needed to look at the practical usability of the software. What are they looking for? What are they going to be using? They are not going to be walking around with a laptop. It’s more likely that they will be using a phone, they’ll have gloves on because it is cold, and it will also be dark. There is no point in having a really bright screen glaring at you with tiny little bubbles in it. When building something you need to have all of these details mapped and tucked away in the back of your head, having empathy for the end user.”

“I used to work in defence. Which is about understanding lots and lots of data and putting together something that makes sense. Because it is a matter of life and death. So, it’s about getting information in front of somebody’s eyes straight away. It’s about picking what is most important from a data set and giving it to the right people to take action now; it’s decision making. What I have been able to bring from that to here at Housing Partners, is the ability to think about different data sets, getting a feel for what is most important from them. Sometimes the end user may think something is more important than something else, but in reality, is it? The job is about questioning that all the time.” Rob Durham, Digital Product Manager of UI/UX at Housing Partners

It’s all about trying to work out where the pressure points are, where there might be weaker links, or finding the areas where small changes, previously overlooked, could be cheaply enacted and lead to greater efficiency. “What was the greatest challenge building TAIM and AIMLogic is trying to build something that is very functional and collates a lot of data but is also easy to use and can go straight to housing officers to help them make decisions. But it actually hasn’t been very difficult, it’s been fairly simple, we have had such a good design team to start with and a very good idea of what the RPs wanted to see.”

The process of collating data in an intuitive manner within TAIM and AIMLogic needed to be built in an empathic manner, because there is a real, human impact to the work that we do. “Housing Partners is a community and a social community. People care, and that is really important to me.  I want to work in an environment like this. It is refreshing coming from an – although very interesting – defence background, to be part of a business that is caring about people, whether a customer or a tenant. This is something that Housing Partners is good at and you can get this feeling from coming in here and listening to the customer support team; people are actually interested in helping people.”

“We try and keep our business always focused on the end-user. We don’t go to the Director of a Registered Provider and try to sell them something off the shelf.  What we’re really interested in, is getting our boots on the ground with who is actually using this piece of software.”

Rob Durham

For more information go to www.taim.co.uk or email us at contact@taim.co.uk.