Undertaking meaningful Customer Centred Design (CCD) amidst the pandemic

In March 2020, this is a question we had to think fast about answering. New social distancing restrictions imposed by COVID-19 had thrown a fairly large spanner in our plans to undertake face-to-face customer testing for a major rail infrastructure project in 2 weeks’ time. In the space of 24-hours, suddenly our tried and tested CCD methodology required a radical rethink and change of tactics. Amongst all the replanning we had to ask ourselves the critical question: Was it even possible to undertake meaningful Customer Centred Design (CCD) amidst a global pandemic?

With the world around us swiftly transitioning to digital forms of communication, it was clear that the use of online tools was going to be key to the solution. However, if we were to go ahead with using an online platform, we needed to ensure that the CCD testing process was not diluted in any shape or form by going digital. Testing for testing sakes was simply not an option. Our promise was to create a meaningful engagement process that was capable of delivering a true representation of the customers’ experience of the station environment.

Together we worked with the client to develop an innovative methodology that enabled us to run the testing sessions remotely, using a variety of online tools. In working within the constraints of COVID-19, we were able to turn what was a potential problem into an opportunity to further enrich our CCD testing process. For example, the desire to create an ‘immersive’ experience for participants was a key challenge. With virtual reality (VR) off the cards, we had to contemplate how we could provide a sense of immersion in the station without the expectation that all participants would be tech-savvy gaming experts. To combat this issue, we ran a series of pilot tests with team members from our Melbourne, Auckland and London studios to ensure that the testing sessions were engaging, easy to follow, and as user-friendly and seamless as possible.

Online CCD testing sessions
Online CCD testing sessions enabled participants to take part from the comfort of their own homes.

The result was a highly engaging, time efficient and cost-effective method of CCD testing that equated to the collection of meaningful insights and recommendations to improve the customer experience of the station. This novel CCD testing process was the first of its kind for our client, who had previously regarded face-to-face customer testing as a fundamental requirement.

What we didn’t anticipate was the hidden benefits that emerged after the remote testing was complete. A survey completed by the test subjects uncovered that most participants felt that the online sessions were less intimidating than face-to-face testing sessions. Having undertaken the testing from the comfort of their own homes, and without the watchful eyes of a team of consultants, participants felt more at ease. The one-on-one dialogue between the participant and the facilitator built up a level of trust that gave participants the confidence to open up and more freely express their thoughts and opinions.

Another key benefit of the remote testing was the ability to reach a broader range of test subjects. Participants who may have been unable to attend face-to-face sessions in the past, due to accessibility concerns for example, were now able to take part without the need to leave their homes. This was a real advantage for the client, who had grappled in the past with how to ensure the testing process was inclusive to all user groups.

Whilst online engagement should not be seen as a direct replacement for face-to-face interaction, it provides the opportunity for our clients to expand their customer testing outreach. With COVID-19 restrictions lifted in July 2020, we undertook the next phase of CCD testing for the project using a combination of both online testing and VR testing. Providing both remote and face-to-face options enabled a large cross-section of the community to participate, ensuring that the process did not bias one customer segment over another.

 face-to-face testing methods
After COVID-19 restrictions lifted in July, we used a combination of both online and face-to-face testing methods.

As we continue to adapt to new challenges under the ever-changing circumstances of COVID-19, we are steadfast in making sure that our design processes and methodologies remain agile, engaging, user-friendly and always people-first. As we slowly move into a post-pandemic world, we must not forget the positive lessons learned from the crisis – particularly those that result in tangible benefits to the end-user.


Words by Kate Pleban and Jack Fahy