The prototype services and content pages we build for the NHS alpha are all based on user needs.
Why user needs?
A user need is the reason why someone comes to the site or a particular page. Because there’s always a reason… No one wakes up in the morning thinking ‘I’m going to have a bit of a browse around the NHS site’. They think ‘My stomach hurts, should I see a doctor?’.
People come to do something. This can be a small action like ‘I understand I’m fine, I just need some rest’ or something bigger like ‘I need to see my GP to get these symptoms checked out’.
Every page should reflect the user actions attached to it. Every page has to have to have a purpose.
User needs help us define that purpose. They also help us to think about solutions: how we can make it as easy as possible for the user to do what they want to do.
For example by directly linking information with the action:
How we identified the alpha user needs
Our user needs for the alpha come from:
- 12 hours of user research about diabetes and mild depression
- user research to test our ideas and prototypes
- desk research
- speaking to people with diabetes, for example at days organised by the charity Diabetes UK
All our needs are reviewed by a GP in the team to make sure they’re medically correct and to check for any gaps.
From life stories to user needs
In the research sessions we spoke to people with diabetes and mild depression about their experiences with the condition – from being diagnosed to getting treatment to living with it.
From these interviews we extracted lots of quotes which we used to build a wall that is basically a journey though the condition in the users’ own words.
For each stage of the journey we grouped the quotes into information clusters, for example feelings of shock after diagnosis, dealing with side effects of medication etc.
We then translated the quotes into user needs for each cluster.
For example, people were very confused when they left their GP after a diabetes diagnosis.
We translated this into a need:
As someone who has just been diagnosed with diabetes
I need to understand what the GP told me during the appointment
so that I know what to do next and who to ask or where to look when I have questions
People with mild depression were very worried about medication.
The need that came out of those conversations is:
As someone who has been prescribed medication for depression and anxiety
I need to know how the meds can help with my condition
so that I can take them without being worried about addiction etc
All our needs follow the standard format of format of:
As an X – I need X – so that I can X
Each user need has a set of ‘acceptance criteria’ that define when it has been covered.
How we use the needs
Before we start writing any content we create paper templates of our pages. We group the needs under a theme and then pair them up with the actual information that could go on the page:
This works very well because it’s simple and visual. We can use the needs like building blocks to structure the pages. It also makes it easy to move needs from one page to another.
Once we start writing, we used the ‘acceptance criteria’ we wrote for each need to check if it was actually covered on the page.
The need is covered when the user:
- knows they can ask their GP questions and what they could ask
- understands that GP might not have much time with them in the diagnosis appointment
We use the same way of working to write the content for pages in our services.