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What government registers can learn from thrifting apps

Thrifting Apps

by Jessica Ferguson

We explore the parallels between thrifting apps and government registers, and how user-centric design and data quality are key for successful outcomes.

Over the past six months, we have delivered discoveries and alpha’s exploring the development of two new government registers. The multidisciplinary team on this project included Jessica Ferguson as Project Director, Rae Bradley as a User Researcher and Amy Jackson Bruce as Service Designer, who also all happen to be keen thrifters. So keen in fact that they couldn’t help but draw out the similarities between thrifting apps and the challenges they identified for users providing and accessing information on these registers.

Depop vs Vinted

Thrifting apps are a way for you to sell your unwanted second-hand clothes online.  Think of them as virtual car boot sales. For anyone who enjoys the thrill of buying and selling clothes, you will probably be familiar with the current top two apps, Depop and Vinted. They're known for their social shopping experience (following favourite sellers, curated feeds, engaging with other buyers through comments and likes etc.) and resemble a social media platform.

Jessica, Amy and Rae began their selling and buying journey on Depop, but recently transitioned over to Vinted because of some excellent user-centered design on their part.

When you strip it back, thrifting platforms need a healthy balance of buyers and sellers to be successful. Over the past year, Depop has focused its efforts on improving the experience for buyers, including in-app search and Google listings. This has led to increased competition, meaning prices get hiked up and buyers spend longer trying to find that exact thing they want and having to buy immediately for fear of someone swiping the item from under them. All this results in unhappy customers as there is an imbalance in supply and demand.

Vinted took a different approach, focusing on the seller experience and its pain points:

  • First you have to photograph and list the items
  • Then you have to negotiate with potential buyers
  • Next the faff of posting the item
  • Finally wait for the buyer to confirm receipt of the item so you gain payment

By improving this experience, Vinted now has a large volume of items on its site, making it more attractive to buyers due to the greater variety and value on offer.

But how does this relate to government registers?

A register is vaguely similar to thrifting apps as they require good quality data to be inputted for those searching the information. What is critical is ensuring that there is a great user experience and incentive for those inputting the information into the register to ensure quality data is available.

As we learned from our thrifting apps, focusing solely on improving access and search functionality for users will only increase access to the data it holds but not its volume, quality or underlying key information. 

What we learned from delivering new government registers

There were plenty of learnings from our Disco and Alpha’s from designing and implementing new government registers:

  • Break down your users across the register

    • The users who input your data won’t necessarily be the same as those who manage or search for it. For the registers we worked on, those who inputted information worked on behalf of their client and were not the end data owners. Therefore, understanding user relationships, their needs and incentives for providing information was key. 

  • Design how you collect data retrospectively and prospectively

    • For both of the registers we worked on, there was an ambition to collect data retrospectively and prospectively. We held ideation sessions with data and policy experts from across government to design the best approach and understand the most appropriate cutoff dates, testing policy guidance and journeys for the different users. It also required effort/value analysis for retrospective collection to determine the cost/benefit.

  • Focus on what data your users need and create an easy, incentivised journey for those inputting it 

    • Going back to why Vinted is top of the thrifting apps, ensuring you understand what data your end users need to complete their task after looking up information on the register, then designing an easy and well incentivised journey for those inputting it, is vital. We did this in a few ways:

  • Pull data from other registers or sources where you can

    • It’s no surprise but identifying where you can pull data sources to reduce additional manual data entry and duplication or misalignment will also ensure data quality.

  • Understand how your data will be validated and who is liable if it is incorrect

    • Different government registers approach validation differently. For example, some use internal case works and others use external providers, depending on where data is held and how it is accessed can determine liability

  • Don’t shy away from collecting data because it’s too difficult

    • Throughout our user research, there were tensions between the information end users needed to access and what those providing information were comfortable to give. There were also significant technical constraints due to complex legacy systems. But our research clearly showed that to ensure the new registers could meet their outcomes and meet user needs we had to collect and provide the relevant data.

Both government registers were focused on complex policy spaces where information either didn’t exist or data was disparate, relying on users to seek it out. To ensure we didn’t fall into the same trap as Depop by focussing on a shiny new front end, the initial Alpha and Disco (and subsequently service assessments) have focussed on creating a great user experience and robust policy design for those providing retrospective and new data. This will ensure a strong data foundation, with separate dedicated projects on developing access to the information, encompassing functionality such as geospatial, person specific and aggregated search to meet end users needs. These are part of the wider government department’s transformation roadmap.

This blog only scratches the surface of what we learned about developing complex government registers. Both were knotty problem spaces that required true systems thinking. If you want any further information on what we learned or even just tips on selling second-hand trousers, reach out to Jess, Amy or Rae. 

Jessica Ferguson's avatar

Jessica Ferguson

Senior Partner

Contact Jessica
Rae Bradley's avatar

Rae Bradley

Senior Design Researcher

Contact Rae
Amy Jackson-Bruce's avatar

Amy Jackson-Bruce

Senior Service Designer

Contact Amy

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