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Moving stories: using video to explain user research

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Accessibility, Design, User research

Recruiting real users to be research participants is critical to the way we build accessible and usable services for all.

Sometimes it’s easy to recruit research participants. There may be a large and easily accessible pool of what we call the ‘target population’. But sometimes it’s tricky – to identify users and to reach out to them.

Even when we do find participants, a call from the Home Office can be unnerving and may put participants off. We need to quickly reassure them by explaining what we do and why we need their help.

Finding a text alternative

Which is why we decided we needed another product in our toolkit – in addition to our experience, recruitment scripts and incentives – to explain what we mean by ‘user research’. We wanted something we could promote, post to online forums and even send out in recruitment emails. We wanted a text alternative.

So we made a video – an accessible video with subtitles and sign language.

The concept of participating in market research may not be in the culture of many of our users, especially sharing thoughts and opinions with ‘the government’.

Indeed, I’ve always thought that the notion of user research is a bit peculiar. ‘Can you spare us an hour?’ ‘Can we ask you to recall your experiences?’ ‘Can we show you this thing we call a service?’ ‘Can we come into your home?’

Our video helps to explain the notion.

How we made the video

We wanted the video to show research done during home visits and research in the studio, so our first step was to create a storyboard of ideas and a script. I then wrote a business case for filming and production.

We got in touch with the Government Communication Service’s Design102. We’d worked with them before and the Home Office has an account with them, which speeds up procurement.

The Design102 director helped us finalise the content and in turn who we’d need to cast. We then set about re-creating a recent home research visit and refined the script with colleagues taking part.

With that done, we reserved 2 days for initial filming and a day to produce an overlay with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter.

What we learned

  • It’s a big job to create a video that lasts 1 minute 35 seconds – the coordination, commissioning and production took 4 months.
  • We used a native signer for the video, but didn’t consider that we’d also need an interpreter to liaise with the film crew. We needed a month’s notice to book 2 BSL users.
  • We could have sped up production if we’d recorded and edited the film ourselves, but the quality would have suffered.
  • The videos were posted on the Home Office YouTube channel by colleagues in a team that hadn’t loaded subtitles before. We provided the .srt subtitle file with the MP4s, but unfortunately auto-captions were initially selected. This created several embarrassing typos in the subtitles – the opposite of what we were trying to demonstrate in terms of accessibility.

The end result

The video is now up on YouTube. You can watch the standard version or the BSL version.

We’re happy for other government departments to use or edit them. Get in touch and we’ll share the raw video files, with instructions on how to change the contact details.

Email me at

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