Service Design case study: a new way to pay for council services.
The vision for Medway Council was to make digital services and information in the Medway Council website simpler, clearer and faster. At the centre of this strategy, and in line with the Digital by Default government initiative, we worked with Medway to put users' needs at the forefront while introducing a service design approach by considering how Medway could take advantage of available technology to deliver a better service.
Understanding needs through Discovery
Before we started designing the payment services we needed to build up a picture of what the context for that service was. Our team of Service Designers embarked in a discovery phase to provide the service team with a high-level understanding of user needs. At the same time, the designers also engaged with Medway stakeholders through interviews and workshops to determine the specific business needs which established the criteria for success of the service.
In those workshops we worked collaboratively with Service Managers and Service Area Experts to formulate ideas, set direction and propose an initial user journey that could simplify how Medway residents pay their Council Tax. We thoroughly reviewed the existing payment experience which consisted of extra, unneeded steps as well as totally separate user journeys depending whether users needed to pay or review their balance.
With an understanding of the shortcomings of the existing experience and an agreed user journey, our Service Design team then moved into sketching the key UI components at every step. And they simply did it on paper.
We find paper sketches really useful and practical – you can quickly put down your ideas on paper to help you visualise how things might work and so you have something to show and discuss with team members and stakeholders.
Council based services in 6 steps
After a couple of very quick iterations, stakeholder reviews and guerilla user testing, we simplified the payment experience and brought all the functionality required under six steps:
- Start page – in line with gov.uk, providing Medway residents with just enough background information before they start the payment process
- Validation – where Medway residents would enter their council tax reference and postcode
- Options – residents had to be able to choose whether they way to pay the full balance or other amount
- Review – a review page listing their choice while offering the resident to change that before entering their payment details
- Payment – a secure payment stage to pay by credit or debit card
- Confirmation – once the payment is made, a receipt of it could be either print or emailed
Setting a blueprint for future payment-oriented services
Due to their simplicity and flexibility, the six steps designed for Council Tax payments at Medway Council were easily ported to other payment services such as business rates and visitor car permits.
In User Experience we always emphasise the importance of a consistent experience for improved usability, but we are aware that sometimes this consistency might be forced for the detriment of the experience itself – see GDS design principle on this. In this case, we wanted to make sure that if we were going to propose a similar 6-step approach for other services then this needed to be prototyped and tested with both the service stakeholders and users.
Effectively, the approach become an internal user interface (UI) ‘pattern’ for Medway. A simple and consistent flow helped solving a common residents’ need across services which started rolling this UI pattern into their own service build. It succeeded because it is clear, simple and cohesive.