When it comes to improving the FixMyStreet user experience, we’ve recently been giving a lot of (well-deserved) attention to the mobile experience of our website, through which around 40% of website reports were made in the last three months.
You might have seen us talking in December about how we’re exploring the use of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to help the FixMyStreet site look, work and feel like an app without actually being one.
Well, following on from that, here’s a rundown of some of the new improvements we have been, and will soon be working on to make using the website on a mobile device an even smoother experience.
Continuing to ensure that the process of submitting a report on FixMyStreet is as smart and uncomplicated as possible, we’ve been designing a simpler reporting form for mobile users.
Taking inspiration from some user groups we carried out over the course of the last year, we’ve been building on some of the best bits of our existing mobile app and applying them to the web version of the site so that more users can benefit from them – including users of the various council versions of FixMyStreet Pro.
One of these ‘best bits’ takes the form of a ‘one detail at a time’ question and answer format, delivered in a logical order. This approach helps to avoid overwhelming the user – they don’t have to think of everything at once and are less likely to exclude key information, or indeed include irrelevant information.
Plus, if a citizen wants to make a report on-the-go from their mobile, this simplifies the process for them by making it much more digestible and permitting much easier map asset selection without needing to interrupt the report flow.
In a bid to make FixMyStreet’s interface more forgiving for mobile users, we’re working on applying an even more touch-friendly design to the site, which will further help to make it feel and respond like it’s an app.
To make this happen, we’ve introduced a more responsive category picker, better map controls and a more obvious ‘use my location’ feature to facilitate selecting location data that’s as accurate as possible.
With these changes in place, FixMyStreet will be faster and easier to use on a mobile device, dramatically improving the citizen user experience.
When a citizen cares enough about their local neighbourhood to make the effort to report a problem to the council, the last thing you want to do is to make them feel like the process of doing so is too difficult or long-winded to be worth it.
Councils using FixMyStreet Pro will know that the service already provides a report summary at the final stage of the process to help increase report accuracy and reduce the risk of users abandoning their report before inputting their contact details.
Wanting to take that one step further with our new ‘one thing at a time’ format, our eventual aim is to have the report summary show up at the top of each stage of the form filling process, so that citizens can see their progress and receive a constant reminder of why they’re here and why it would be a shame to quit without completing the report.
Following some research we carried out recently into how photos make FixMyStreet reports 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed, we wanted to dedicate some time to thinking about how we can encourage users to begin a report with a photo, instead of it being an optional extra.
While it’s a long way off being something we can implement, our thinking is that, aside from increasing the likelihood of reports being marked as fixed, one of the key advantages of enabling this feature would be that, under the right circumstances, it could give us the capability to use the photo to autofill other details, such as recognising the category the report belongs to, the GPS location and other useful data that is embedded into photos taken on mobile devices. This means reports which start with a photo would be much quicker and easier to complete for citizens, and much more accurate and actionable for council staff.
Last but by no means least, another new feature we’re still in the exploration stage of working on is one that we hope will make reports easier to read and browse for citizens and council staff alike. Although this one isn’t specifically a mobile feature, it would likely benefit mobile users of the website the most, if and when we’re able to implement it.
Knowing that FixMyStreet users sometimes get confused between the summary field and the details field, which can lead to one or both of them containing repeated or irrelevant information, we’re exploring how we can remove the burden of inputting this information from the user by automating the process and reducing the amount of user-generated information we need to ask for.
We’re still exploring how best we can do this, but the end result should be a better standard of information available for council staff to browse, with clearer email subject lines, easier case prioritisation and no time wasted by users writing what ends up being unhelpful information.
And that’s it for now! As we’ve mentioned, some of these improvements are still in the exploration or developmental stage, so while we can’t say exactly when they will be rolled out just yet, there’s certainly lots to look forward to!
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about any of the work we’re doing on FixMyStreet, or you want to chat to us about any of our other services, do get in touch with us.
As you may have noticed, at mySociety we’ve never been big on apps — we tend to encourage access to our websites via your phone’s mobile browser instead.
We design all our sites as ‘mobile first’, meaning that they work well on any size of device and automatically resize to fit any screen dimension. That’s good practice anyway, but as a small organisation it also saves us a lot of time and effort.
But that presents an issue when we’re talking to potential FixMyStreet Pro clients, in authorities and councils, who often see an app as a very desirable part of their offering to citizens.
Now, thanks to the emergence of the ‘progressive web app’ (PWA), we’re exploring a whole new approach that we hope will please everyone, as our Developer Struan explains:
We’ve been talking about what to do with the FixMyStreet app for a long time.
The app we offer at the moment runs from a separate codebase than the main FixMyStreet site, which means when we update features on FixMyStreet we then have to redo the same work for the app.
As a result, it sometimes lags behind: for example there are various features — detection of duplicate reports, and display of assets like streetlights or grit bins, for example — that have never made it across.
And in all honesty? We have to admit that apps aren’t really our speciality. Generally speaking, you’d employ dedicated app developers and designers if you wanted to create really excellent app experiences. mySociety is a small organisation without big overheads — can’t complain, that’s what allows us to be nimble and responsive — and so far, we’ve stuck to doing what we do well.
With all that in mind, the FixMyStreet app is beginning to look quite old, and there are various aspects of it that don’t really meet with current expectations of how apps work.
Loosely speaking, PWAs are a collection of technologies that you can add to a website that then give it ‘app like’ qualities. To all intents and purposes, a PWA-ified site looks and acts like an app: our client authorities will be able to add their own logos and colour palettes and tell their residents to ‘download the app’, and for the citizen, that’s just what it will feel like they’re doing.
In practice, the app is effectively the website being viewed on a mobile screen, just as we sometimes recommend to users. But the PWA tech not only makes it look and feel like an app, it also allows it to be added to app stores and downloaded by users onto their screens via that route. It also adds a more ‘app-like’ navigation and a startup process.
One downside is that only the latest version of iOS supports all the things we need to make this work, although we note that iOS adoption rates are quite high. To make up for this a bit, alongside the PWA work we’ll be adding in some code to make the offline process a bit less jarring for those accessing the website on older versions of iOS.
Meanwhile, as far as we can tell, everything should go smoothly on Android.
So — lots of positives and we hope it will all come together in the near future. We’re continuing to explore this approach and will report back when we can say for certain whether it’s viable.
Image: Saulo Mohana