It’s been really cool working with the team at Urban Flows. A research group based at the University of Sheffield, they’re developing a better understanding of the flows of energy and resources in cities — and supporting the creation of zero carbon cities that can thrive.
We sat down with Chris and Dan to chat through the process of creating their new circular economy engagement tool, regenerate.
Let’s start at the beginning. What was the challenge that the team was looking to solve?
Dan: regenerate is a tool that’s available for use for anyone involved in the design and construction of buildings, helping them to manage their project within the principles of the circular economy. Their solution at the time to data entry was labour intensive and not user friendly — it was based on a method that worked in a micro-ecosystem that wasn’t conducive to scaling.
Dan: The team challenged us to create a web-friendly product that would give users the ability to submit data entry for their building products (both collaboratively or independently) — one that could be returned to alongside each milestone within the projects.
What were some of your initial thoughts on the project?
Dan: Quite frankly, a lot of how regenerate works and the research behind it were new grounds for our team given its specialist industry needs. But they trusted in our ability to create successful user experiences, which was one of their most crucial challenges with the tool. Dani, Charles and Will from TUOS were fantastic at getting across to us what they wanted to achieve. With a few video call sessions, we were able to get to grips with the product model alongside the objectives the tool needed to meet to produce the right outcomes for its users.
And the next steps?
Dan: We discussed user journeys, design philosophy and development approaches to combat the current flaws in the Excel spreadsheet that the TUOS team used. We all felt quite excited by the opportunity that we were looking to produce in place of the existing product.
Chris: We’ve worked with many clients that need to turn complicated ideas into a product that anyone can use. It’s so important to take that time to really understand the aims and and user journeys before a line of code is written.
Dan: We then created a wireframe prototype for the TUOS team to test-flight. It highlighted the entire user journey — from the account creation stage to starting a new regenerate project, alongside a light-version of each milestone across the product which captured data from its users. As each product varied in building specifications, certain components would be dynamically edible and controlled across the product. If, for example, the user needed to make a global change to their project, we made sure it was much more manageable than had existed before.
Chris: On the dev side of things, we wanted to create a solution that would solve their immediate challenges around useability but be adaptable for any future changes in guidance and regulations. We developed a schema of data that could be versioned so that the new and old projects could exist alongside each other if an update was required.
Dan: The existing tool had a lot of spreadsheet pages. We condensed these down into show/hide sections for the user to access with ease when they were ready to be completed. We also introduced a section scoring notification that would advise the user if they met the circularity score required based on the RIBA framework.
What tools did we use in the process?
Chris: For the build of the tool, we used Lavarel and React to replicate the app-like experience that they were looking for. They’re our go-to tools as they’re an industry standard and are oftentimes already used within the large organisations we work for.
Dan: When it comes to design, the best tools are our minds and vision! It’s all down to design-led logic to execute the best UX flow across our product creation. We also used prototyping tools to get our wireframe generate before injecting design components — it helps us to build up a cohesive brand identity across the product. There wasn’t much of an existing brand, which gave us the freedom to inform a brand presence in the product UI design. It’s nice to see regenerate using it more broadly in other applications.
How do you feel about the end product?
Chris: I think it goes to show that we’re able to apply our expertise and create a solution — that benefits and reaches a brand’s target audience — no matter what the industry is, or how complicated the challenge may be.
Dan: What we’ve created for regenerate signifies what’s in our agency’s DNA — our ability to make things awesome for our clients in a way that only we can. This project shows how we can use design and strategy to take on a complex tool and turn it into a user-friendly product that can scale alongside its users. It was great to be able to input and develop a solution that allows more people to benefit from the product. I think it’s ace that the university has trusted us, and continues to trust us, to create these digital experiences that have an important real-world impact.
You check out the regenerate web tool here
— and our case studies here. Do you have a great idea or project in mind? Get in touch and we’ll try and make it happen.