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The National Archives Labs

User-centered design

My topic for discussion this week is The National Archives’ commitment to involving our users in the design process for our Rediscovering the Record project.

Here at The National Archives, we understand the importance of involving you, our users, in the development of new services to make sure that they are as usable and useful as possible. At every stage of the design process we take account of the needs, wants and concerns of the people who will be using the new services. We have colleagues at The National Archives dedicated to improving customer experience, who gather feedback from our users via various channels – online and in person. This helps us to make sure we are delivering the right services to our users.

The idea behind Labs is to allow you to see prototypes and early designs and leave your feedback. We take your feedback – both good and bad – and use it to shape the design and development of the projects that we are working on. For instance, based on what you told us, we are developing a postcode finder for our geo-referencing tools, such as the UK history photo finder.

It doesn’t just end at Labs though. We also conduct user testing sessions at various stages of the design process. Here, we invite a small number of people who represent typical users of our services to test out our designs and ideas. These sessions are run with individuals rather than in groups, and usually last around an hour. We ask the users to carry out a number of tasks and realistic scenarios, and to tell us what works, what doesn’t work, what they liked and what they didn’t like. This then allows us to refine our designs and ideas. This could be anything from how we’ve labelled a button to the position of a feature on a screen.

We will also be holding focus groups at various stages of the Rediscovering the Record project for you to give us further valuable feedback on what we are doing and where we need to go. Focus groups allow our users to discuss with each other, as well as with us, their thoughts on project developments. Our next focus group will be held at on Tuesday 12 October at The National Archives in Kew. If you’d like to take part to share your views, please email with ‘Focus group’ in the subject line.

Finally, we conduct creative workshops with front-line staff to get their feedback on how these developments will affect the visitors to our reading rooms, who they deal with on a daily basis. By involving those who deal regularly with The National Archives’ visitors, we feel we can provide the best possible customer service.

All of this ensures that the final product is shaped on your needs and requirements, so we can provide access to our services in the most user friendly way.

Director of Technology and Chief Information Officer – David Thomas

As a senior archivist and records specialist at The National Archives, David’s career has focused on developing access to archives and information in both government and the archive sector.

David is responsible for information technology services at The National Archives, and is leading on the major cross-government project to develop a shared service for preserving digital records.

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