Building a virtual First World War village
Within the archives there are many stories of events on the Home Front during the First World War. In considering the best way to tell these stories, and to showcase related documents, the idea of ‘Great Wharton’ emerged.
Great Wharton is an online, graphic representation of a fictionalised village. People can explore it, and read little known stories uncovered in our documents by our Modern Domestic Records team.
We’ve not created anything like Great Wharton before, so we were keen to find out how what people thought of a prototype we had developed – this is called user testing.
User testing is important in all the work we do: finding out people’s thoughts and seeing their reactions ensures that we develop designs in ways that are user-focused. Throughout the design process, we get feedback on different aspects of a design (such as functionality, look and feel) as well as the way in which information is structured and understood. The method of user testing will depend on the stage of the design and what the user research goals are.
Testing Great Wharton
As the purpose of Great Wharton is to engage people who are not so familiar with the documents held by The National Archives, we decided to test the concepts with people outside of our buildings. We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to conduct some ‘guerrilla’ user testing at the National Maritime Museum, a method that allows us to gain quick feedback on an initial design. The feedback on this initial design then informs the decisions made later on in the design process, ensuring that the needs of the user are at the heart of the process.
When planning the user testing it was important that we identify our key goals. We were particularly interested to find out more about:
- the perception of the look and feel of Great Wharton
- if people found it interesting
- if it was clear how to interact with Great Wharton
- if the stories communicated in a clear and engaging way
- the extent to which Great Wharton would encourage non-archive users to engage with our digital documents, or even visit The National Archives?
On the whole, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for Great Wharton as a way of exploring the home front experience during the First World War. People of all ages were fascinated by the graphics and enjoyed exploring Great Wharton to discover the stories and related documents. The focus on personal stories also provided a unique insight that people were keen to explore further by clicking through to further information about the documents.
The prototype we used for user testing had a limited number of images. People commented that they would like to see more images, as they liked associating the stories with documents held by The National Archives. Through identifying a demand to be able to access digital copies of documents, a decision was made to digitise more documents.
Early stage user testing has been valuable in focusing the team on user needs, as well as spurring on the development of Great Wharton. The positive feedback has encouraged further delving into the archive to seek out more stories exploring a range of themes. The village of Great Wharton will also be getting additional buildings and characters to allow for more opportunities to explore the Home Front experience.
Great Wharton is due for release in early September 2016. By then, we hope to have conducted further user testing and iterations of the design. We are very thankful to the National Maritime Museum for hosting us and for their visitors taking the time to speak to us.