Covid-19: Digital design rules help Co-op bring communities together

The Co-op has launched an initiative to bring communities together online during the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis – just one of many ways the retail industry has adapted itself in this health emergency.

In an update on the Co-op Digital blog, the group revealed how its modern digital design techniques have enabled the organisation to help people get or offer support in their local area through its 'Co-operate' platform.

What is Co-operate?

Co-operate was launched in May 2019 to bring communities together, with the idea of making it easier for people to make positive changes in their local area. The website allows people to find or add local events and activities that benefit a community, or procure volunteers to support these endeavours.

Currently live in Leeds, Bollington, Trafford, and soon to be in Camden, the service was being rolled out across the UK, but the coronavirus has stopped communities coming together. Clean-up initiatives, walking groups, and other gatherings promoted on the platform have halted, so Co-op pivoted to help move community activities online.

Digital communities

The platform’s priority is now to find a way of allowing people across the UK to ‘get or offer support’ in their community. As a result, it has reshaped the service to try and centralise UK events and activities on one platform, as well as provide vulnerable people with useful information in this health emergency.

As of 7 April, a week after launch, Co-operate reported 343 people asking for support, and 3,217 people offering support.

The digital team is working with organisers in communities and its own member pioneers, as well as the Co-op marketing, legal, risk, membership and customer relationship management teams to bring the service to life.

Because the digital team is not tied into “pre-internet-era ‘big IT’-style technology”, it said it has the ability to move quickly and make change happen. This project apparently took nine days from inception to launch.

Importance of digital guidelines

The Co-op digital team said its established design patterns, components and content style guide within the Co-op’s design system has been a catalyst for the changes.

It said the system has allowed people with little or no experience of working with the Co-op brand to write and design pages in a consistent tone, which it explained was particularly useful because the team includes people who are new to Co-op, freelance designers working for Co-op, and UsTwo, a design agency.

Having these guidelines in place has apparently enabled pages to be created quicker than they otherwise would have been, and standardised the build for the software engineers. The project falls withing the remit of Adam Warburton, head of digital products at Co-op, and the former head of mobile at currency exchange company Travelex.

The Co-operate service during the pandemic is being developed at the same time as Co-op is working out the operations and processes that will hold it all together, which has inevitably meant various changes in direction as the project has unfolded.

Advocating the test and learn approach many in the retail world recommend, the Co-op digital team said: “The ever-changing nature of what we’re doing means it’s impossible to create a perfect service.

“We have to create, build and release quickly if this is going to be useful for people. There’s no time to obsess. Instead we’ve learnt that ‘good enough’ is more useful than ‘perfect’.”

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