business vic v02r01

Running a business is challenging at the best of times. If you’re not low on time, you’re low on cash flow, staff, sleep——the list goes on.

Business Victoria is an online resource for Victorian businesses that helps business owners with trusted information, guides and resources.

Whether you’re launching a new startup or managing a decades-old firm with hundreds of employees, the site contains comprehensive and valuable information for you.

It’s one of the Victorian Government’s most popular websites, serving over four million visitors annually.

Time to adapt

In just a few months, Business Victoria had experienced a 400% spike in mobile traffic. Although the desire for mobile content was strong, the experience was less than adequate.

Such a drastic shift in user behaviour presented an opportunity to step back and rethink the experience across all devices, not just desktop, and consider the variety of business owners, their contexts and what they needed to perform at their best.

The project involved our entire studio, which is something we relish. It included service design, brand and identity design, content strategy, information architecture, interface design, website development and communications strategy.

Design Research

Business Victoria supplied us with a rich collection of existing research covering heuristics, mobile usage and analytics.

The research highlighted potential areas of improvement, but we knew that we’d get richer insights by talking directly to the website’s users.

We facilitated a series of workshops and interviews with Victorian business owners, the customer facing staff and service delivery teams within Business Victoria.

The insights we collected informed a series of frameworks, which mapped user needs across factors such as their business life cycle, current size and working environment. We identified the various user goals categorised by a user’s physical, emotional and cognitive context.

Co-designing with Business Victoria

The Business Victoria Online team was sizeable, passionate about their work and invested in the outcome of the project.

We knew their active participation through the process was critical. They brought a depth of knowledge of their audience, current content, past performance and the needs of stakeholders.

Our research quickly lead us to the conclusion that success wouldn’t be about making the site prettier; it would be about making it more useful.

We presented an initial vision to the wider team, which opened with a clear statement of intent—“Design doesn’t make things beautiful, it makes them work”. We proceeded to outline our open design approach and the values we would uphold during the project.

It was important that the team understood we wanted input from everybody, at any time, of any sort. This was their project; the best outcome is one we create together.

Project Room

We set up a dedicated project room, within the Business Victoria offices, where our team based themselves for the duration of the project. Our research, work and thinking were permanently on show, posted on the surrounding walls. The door was always open, and the room always had a collective energy.

For the next three months, we’d work as a single, integrated team in which great ideas came from all directions. 

Out of my many years of working with firms of all types across all types of projects, this has been the most productive... and fun! You have maintained a relaxed but professional ‘can do' approach and have done a great job of balancing our needs with your (brilliant!) ideas to help us progress further than I thought we would or could.

BV quote sally
Sally Martin
Executive Director, Department of State Development, Business and Innovation

Design research

Business Victoria supplied us with a rich collection of existing research covering heuristics, mobile usage and analytics.

The research highlighted potential areas of improvement, but we knew that we’d get richer insights by talking directly to service users.

We facilitated a series of workshops and interviews with Victorian business owners, the customer facing staff and service delivery team within Business Victoria.

Research in the project room

The insights we collected informed a few key matrices, which mapped user needs across factors such as their business life cycle, current size and working environment. We identified the various user goals categorised by a user’s physical, emotional and cognitive context.

These matrices formed the design landscape for the project; our task was to address these needs and contexts.

Design principles

The website contained thousands of pages—we knew that users were having real difficulty finding the information they needed.

Before we could rationalise the information architecture, we needed to agree on some operating principles.

Our research had demonstrated that our users were typically time-poor. They trusted the government would have the right information; they just wanted to get things done quickly.

We established ‘actionable content’ as the guiding principle. Our goal was to help people comply with regulations, improve skills to enable growth or help them to solve problems.

We co-created a set of design principles with the Business Victoria team, which provided a framework to assess whether content should be kept, deleted, amended or restructured.

Content architecture

The site contained valuable content, but it was being obscured by a bloated structure, inconsistent layout and poor visual design.

Like a rose bush that had overgrown; it was time for a hard prune and reshape so that the flowers could bloom again.

We picked up our shears and began a comprehensive rework of content architecture that took months and saw thousands of pages dropped to around 600 by launch. We removed layers of landing and summary pages to allow users to get directly to the content they needed.

Page architecture

A major issue with the previous website was the inconsistency of pages layouts. An initial focus was to establish a single page layout, which was flexible but had some strict guidelines governing how content should be laid out.

The experience was designed to support quickly orienting the user, helping them understand what the page could offer and clearly highlighting next steps or alternative actions.

Since they added download time and offered no real value to users, we dropped elements such as illustrative photography.

We designed the experience for ‘mobile first’ since our research indicated so many users were looking for information while on the move.

After studying best practice public service examples from around the world, we began sketching the experience. We worked with the team to review and iterate sketches to ensure we covered all use cases.

We went directly from sketches to a non-disposable HTML prototype. It’s increasingly hard to validate a design within Photoshop, we prefer to get an initial, functioning prototype into devices straight away, so we can design for the real world.

Brand design

With so many conversations around a sharper purpose and direction for Business Victoria, it became clear their brand mark could have used a refresh.

We wanted to create a strong brand experience without being heavy handed. The previous mark was very simple but emphasised Victoria over business.

The brand mark needed to stay simple, but we wanted to give it some more structure so it would work better online.

Our solution was to put more emphasis on ‘business’ and introduce a simple frame, which was reminiscent of the flat button-style online. It’s a stronger, more contemporary mark.

Designing the online experience

The page design employed a strong, simple palette and primarily used negative space and typography to create structure.

It was important to establish a consistent grid system which meant the site could have a responsive layout that adapted to different screen sizes, but still deliver a consistent, unified feel.

We commissioned a local artist, Oslo Davis, to create a series of illustrations of iconic Victorian business owners. This created a strong sense of place, culture and connection without having to resort to heavy photography. Oslo has a distinctive style and is a regular feature in The Age (preeminent masthead) so the illustrations feel familiar and very Victorian.

The result is a minimal, modern interface that brings the content to the fore.

User testing

We conducted three rounds of user testing with small business owners, collaborating with Usability One.

We used some scaffolding code to rapidly build out the entire site structure—including the new sitemap and page architecture. We wanted to go into testing with a high-fidelity prototype so we could get maximum value from the insights.

This approach proved invaluable. We found that users picked up on language they didn’t understand and elements of content taxonomy they found confusing. In-between each round of testing we had a day in which we could quickly iterate the site architecture and page layout based on user feedback.

Having a real, HTML prototype also allowed us to accurately test screen interaction. We weren’t testing mock-ups; we could show users the real thing across devices.

Build

The project’s purpose and design principles formed a clear technical brief. We wanted to create a best-practice, digital public service. It needed to be accessible to everyone regardless of ability, device or browser choice.

Our approach was based on ‘progressive enhancement’, creating a great baseline experience that worked across browsers and devices, while offering a richer experience where the user’s set-up allowed. An example is the site navigation, which works without JavaScript being enabled, allowing users with a disability and those with antiquated web browsers to have a great experience.

It was important for our team to be able to write modern HTML and CSS code, so we made use of shims and fallbacks to support users with older browsers—without compromising everyone else's experience.

The website used the Squiz Matrix content management platform. A key issue for authors was the length of time it took to publish content. We designed the page code in a way to enable the simplest authoring experience we could—trying to reduce the steps and fields they needed to contend with.

A key principle was that the design shouldn’t draw attention to itself, it should allow people to accomplish their tasks with a minimum of fuss and in the most efficient manner possible. At its best, it will be invisible.

BV quote adam
Adam Morris
Creative Director

Communication

As the launch of the website drew closer, we began to discuss the impact of the changes on users.

Business Victoria wanted to create a simple communications piece that explained that the redesign was a product of citizen engagement and that they were open to more citizen engagement to keep improving the site.

We created a web presentation to tell the story of the team’s thinking and the journey to redesign. The site became a handy tool for external and internal stakeholders to understand the motivations and goals of the project.

Quality Assurance

The project involved a complete rebuild, hundreds of pages of new content and needed to perform well under load. We needed a suitably thorough quality assurance process.

We embedded the QA team from Business Victoria within our studio to enable open, clear and rapid communication. We set up an extensive device testing lab and used automated tools to test various aspects of the platform. We collaborated beforehand to build detailed test plans and started testing early.

Having the test team sitting next to our developers meant that issues could be identified, discussed and resolved on the spot—avoiding the inefficiency and drawn-out sagas that logging bugs remotely can create.

Our combined efforts paid off. The site was launched without a hitch, on time, on budget and on spec.

The only concern on the day was ensuring the champagne was adequately chilled.

Reflection

The relaunch was only the beginning of improving the digital service experience. We’ve been lucky enough to keep working with the Business Victoria team to continually update the site and create more enhancements.

Throughout the project, we always admired the commitment and passion of the team to deliver real value to citizens. It was rewarding to give them a platform that helped them better serve that purpose.

A good government must stay relevant to the needs of society. They must deliver accessible and useful digital services, where the public service experience is a mandatory. When services are easy to understand and reflect the diversity of its users, it shows a level of respect for citizens.

Business Victoria is a world-class result and demonstrates that getting services right is much deeper than aligning pixels; it’s about creating an experience that supports the intent of the organisation and the needs of their users.




Have a challenge for us? Have a coffee with Dave

Call +61 (0)3 9416 0300
Email david@studiothick.com

Dave

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