Good design makes a product useful

If innovation is about solving a problem today in a better way than yesterday, making a product useful is about establishing that there was a problem to solve and solving it in the first place. Who has the problem, and is the solution to that problem of benefit to both the citizen user and the council user? Does it create a solution for one user class but a problem for the other user class? Is the problem a universal problem or a contextual one – and therefore should the solution be applied universally or contextually? 

In modern parlance, we might call the principle of making a product useful User-Centred Design.

Taking an example of online citizen accounts, it’s a reasonable assertion that the existence of them overall can be of benefit to the citizen in being able to track progress of service requests and problem reports, but is it always useful to them? It will often be useful to a citizen to have a record of when they reported their recycling pod as having gone missing so when they subsequently complain about the replacement not having been delivered they can easily login to refer back to the reference number and date they reported it. Better still, they can easily login and from the view of the record escalate the service delivery failure right there rather than having to go to a completely different system hosted on a completely different page of the website to complain about the failure. 

But does your user research demonstrate a groundswell of citizens who find it useful to not only report potholes and flytipping online, but also to login every other day to check on the progress of that report? Of course, in a county of a million people in an infinitely expanding multiverse, there are of course citizens who will find that useful. If it’s no skin off your nose to simply plug the back end line-of-business system used to manage the progress of dealing with the pothole and the abandoned fridge into your citizen account system, then by all means do it. But if that in itself is going to be expensive, consider whether there are other items in your innovation backlog which can deliver more use to the citizen. 

Mandatory login for a citizen account is rarely useful for a citizen. It’s barely useful for the organisation. Don’t make citizens login in order to report or request services they used to be able to phone up for.