Evaluative research

Testing an updated public facing service pre-launch

This case study explores an updated online child support arrangement service through usability testing.


Research facilitator, data analysis, report writing, stakeholder communication



Senior Service Designer (oversight), two Experience Design Co-ops (me)


10 weeks

Project overview

The problem space

There is an upcoming update to an online application offered for amicably separated parents or caregivers to set up or update child support arrangements outside the court system. Our role at the Ontario Digital Service was to learn about the new version of the online experience for people using the service through usability testing of a prototype provided by the partners.

Research limitations

The partners had a tight timeline of 10 weeks, where this research usually takes 12 weeks. Due to security requirements, we could not give direct prototype access to the participants for the usability testing sessions.


Alternatively, we shared our screens in the usability sessions and then gave participants control access. Although this workaround isn't ideal, we were able to discover opportunities for improvement and craft recommendations for the partners to move forward with their product.

User research and recruitment plan

Leveraging work from the previous phase

Since this research project builds off of previous work, we were able to transfer much of the user research and recruitment plan. We needed to update a few things to match the new objectives of this research phase and develop the facilitation guide. I was responsible for making edits and proofreading the user research plan.

Remote usability testing setup

Remote usability testing has become the norm since the pandemic outbreak. This approach offers many benefits, such as seamless recording of tests with users' consent and enabling researchers to revisit the sessions during analysis. Additionally, the setup fosters a comfortable and confidential one-on-one environment for participants and moderators, which can positively influence results.

Planning out usability testing

Building a flowchart to inform facilitation guides and note-taking templates

We had the partnering team demo the prototype virtually over teams to better understand how the prototype works. Fortunately, we were also given access to the prototype. We took screenshots of each screen and mapped out a flowchart to ensure we covered everything in our facilitation guides and note-taking templates.

The importance of dry-runs, especially for usability testing

From the flowchart, we created the facilitation guide and note-taking template. We ran dry runs to test our setup and ensure everything will run as smoothly as possible for the usability tests. I was responsible for running some dry runs and making any revisions.

Facilitating usability tests

We can't always have the perfect setup, and that's okay.

Due to constraints outside our control, we could not share the prototype directly with participants during the usability testing sessions. We had to open the prototype on our end, share our screens, and then give participants control of our screens. Messy, I know, but we still managed to pull many insights! As a team, we shared roles between facilitating and note-taking.

The balance of research and building rapport

This project's subject matter is more sensitive, so I pushed past the bumpy usability testing setup to ensure the participants felt heard and comfortable during the sessions. Sometimes, we have to navigate through the grey area of being a researcher and just being there as a human for someone.

Synthesis and analysis

Using facilitation guide templates to our advantage

With my fellow Experience Design Co-op, we conducted a thematic analysis to identify significant themes and create recommendations. We used the interview notetaking templates to organize our work, and each took one user group to analyze. After reviewing each other's findings, we identified commonalities and developed global findings. Based on our findings, we discussed and created recommendations together.

Breaking down and delegating tasks to ensure timely delivery

During the time crunch of this project analysis, the other co-op and I also had other projects on the go. To ensure a timely delivery, we mapped out all the remaining tasks until presentation day. We successfully delivered on time!

Report writing considerations

Seeking a second opionion on recommendations

From our usability testing sessions, we uncovered a findings that mostly revolved around the prototypes content and it’s component. To ensure our recommendations were good, we seeked guidance from a senior content designer and Design systems lead from the Ontario Digital Service.

Prioritizing the most significant issues

Our research identified seven main themes with 15 sub-themes and over 60 insights and recommendations. However, due to time constraints, we selected the most crucial issues to present during the final meeting, which lasted an hour. We added the remaining findings to an appendix at the end of the report. Additionally, we considered the significant findings from the interviews where the partners were present to build rapport.

Presenting to stakeholders

The opportunity to collaborate

During our usability sessions, our partners fortunately had the time to sit in and even debrief with us afterwards. We chatted about the compelling points during the sessions. When it came to the final presentation, it was a fantastic opportunity to discuss our findings and how to move forward.

What I learned

Usability tests take many forms

From school, we are taught the most ideal way for usability testing. In reality, we don’t always have the best equipment or conditions to do so but that’s okay. It is completely fine so long as we mention limitations in our research and we can still uncover opportunity.

Time crunches are inevitable

Although not always the case, there will be a tight deadline in work and that’s completely normal. To deal with tight deadlines is a matter or breaking down tasks into actionable steps and maintaining transparent communication with teammates.

Facilitation self-trust

Facilitating user research interviews and usability sessions can be daunting especially if the setup is less than ideal. I’ve been pushing myself to look past these thoughts of doubt and focus on what we can do to make the session better. At the end of the day, we are people having conversations with other people and building rapport goes a long way.