Luddites Won’t Let Me Skype In: HS2 IT User Research Project


Yesterday at the cross-government user research meetup, Jeremy Foot (HS2) and I gave a talk about the project we did at the beginning of the year.

Tom Brown and I came in to HS2 as consultants from Rainmaker; we led a user research project about how HS2 staff use technology. We found out about the nature of their work, and who they have to communicate with and how.

The project was commissioned by Jeremy and Jan Ford, who Tom and I affectionately nicknamed ‘J2’. They were great clients to work with: comfortable with uncertainty; hungry for new ideas and fresh approaches; happy to help out with unblocking barriers.


The talk goes into what we ‘got away with’ and justifications for using certain techniques.

I now realise that I forgot to mention ‘A Day In the Life’. This was part of the ‘A Week In Your Life’ cultural probes; it was the Wednesday exercise. We asked people to take one photo every hour during the course of one day to visually communicate what they do. This brought to life the differences between the kinds of work people do at HS2. We used these photos to bring narratives to the personas we created: there is ‘A Day In The Life’ photo set for each persona. This helps people that use the personas to empathise who they are designing for.


In this toolkit, there’s a great deal of detail on what worked and didn’t work for us at HS2. It’s bespoke for HS2 but I imagine it will be helpful to other user researchers and design researchers. There’s lots of one-pagers about techniques, with detail of when and how to use them. You can also see the personas and the paper tools we used at the end.

It made me very happy to present a project together with someone that had commissioned it, who only had good things to say about it. Jeremy says that HS2 got more than they expected from the research.

Core to my work is the exploration of applying design to non-design contexts. With this project, I found that design thinking brought a holistic perspective about the state of the working environments in HS2 that nobody quite had had sight of. This is helping them make informed decisions about what they can now focus on working to address.


I very much enjoy discussing techniques with other practitioners in detail so that we can share ideas about what might work better, and so push ourselves to do the best we possibly can. I would really love to hear pointers about how I could do things better, and whether anything I’ve shared helps other people. A couple of people at the talk said they liked the visual paper sampling technique that Tom Brown came up with: please do let me know if you use it in a future project.

We’ve got a post on the GDS user research blog, too.

I do feel that much of the success of this project was down to the work of other people on the Rainmaker team at HS2: where we found problems, they impressively cleared our path speedily. I’m now on my second project with Rainmaker and I’m happy to be an associate.

1 Comment

Filed under My current work, Rainmaker

One response to “Luddites Won’t Let Me Skype In: HS2 IT User Research Project

  1. Pingback: Lior’s 2016 | Lior Smith

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