Deliver better digital products, faster

This is the story of how Clearleft used design thinking and collaboration techniques to create an imaginative long-term vision for a new Open University (OU) website, whilst still enabling the delivery of a minimum viable product (MVP) to a tight deadline. Read the full story at ---- The challenge for The Open University Alongside its graduate and postgraduate courses, the OU has a mission, and an enviable track record, in providing encouragement and access to lifelong informal learning for all. The aim of this project was to create a website to grow an online community – a community that will get people learning about science through participation in user generated experiments and in conducting their own user initiated investigations. We could immediately see we faced three key challenges: How to strike the balance between the ambition of the team and the exacting standards of the OU with the resources and time available. How to grab and grow an audience from initial launch with a compelling proposition. We knew there was (and is) a lot of competition for the attention of the audience. Not only with other similar science and participation websites, but also with all the other choices, enticements and distractions people have in their precious leisure time. How to meet the expectations of the audience with a minimum viable product (MVP). There was no shortage of comparisons to features found on established websites and services: The best bits of community participation and engagement found on Stack Exchange, Quora and Zooniverse; The ease of setting up and publishing a project online found in Kickstarter and Typeform; The tools for data analysis and visualisation found in Survey Monkey and Tableau. We knew that, in the time we had, success would come from delivering fewer high quality features and aligning these to a compelling, consistent and unique concept. It was time to take a step back and set a long-term vision to give us a short term focus. ---- The Results A launchable MVP with direction This four week project has provided the space to shape a long term vision for the website and define a launchable MVP. Rooting the initial requirements in a wider vision enabled a strong concept and proposition to be baked into the website from the start. It also provided a roadmap for enhancements that build on these solid foundations. One team with a shared vision Close collaboration and co-locating throughout has led to a sense of shared understanding and ownership of the website. Embedding the thinking behind the designs and creating guiding principles to inform and evaluate the outputs has enabled the team to make decisions faster and with more confidence. Accelerated problem solving Adopting more effective design practice is often best encouraged and achieved through doing it and having a positive experience. The impact of group sketching, showing work as it emerges and inviting the wider team into the process led to a desire from the OU team to work in this way more often.