The National Archives

Website Design Consultancy, Information Architecture, Usability & User Research

We were incredibly impressed with the thoroughness of Cogapp’s approach and the depth of insights provided.
— Paul Lamey, Customer Research Manager, National Archives

About the project

Preserving 1,000 years of the Nation’s records from parchment to websites, The National Archives is rising to the challenge of ensuring the survival of digital information for future generations. 

Cogapp has worked extensively with The National Archives on a number of projects. These have featured user experience research, branding, information architecture and evaluation of interaction across various areas of their site, to ensure that it continues to deliver on their organisational goals.

We conducted user research and undertook an extensive programme of design exploration, covering imagery, navigation, iconography and page layouts documented by online design guidelines. Alongside the design work, we delivered user-tested wireframes for key areas of the site that considerably improved the user experience and supported the clients’ goals.

We also ran a qualitative study for the Archive, exploring the journeys, needs and research behaviours of their users. This included looking at methods used by researchers in their natural context, over a period of time. The objective being to re-arrange online information more effectively, and in a way based more accurately on the specific user journeys.

Over a 4 week period, we asked participants to capture their daily research environments and activities through photos and text entries in an online diary. This was hosted on the microblogging site Tumblr. The use of an online diary allowed us to observe people in their own natural environment over a period time, without the traditional physical or time-based constraints. Removing the individual from the standard archival context allowed for a more authentic and holistic picture of user behaviour. We accompanied the diaries with a series of qualitative interviews and task based exercises with each participant. 

The Archives were also interested in evaluating the differences between their new Discovery search interface, compared to the established Catalogue search.

Based on the rich data we gathered, we were able to provide the Archives with detailed and holistic user journeys and profiles across channels and a visual task search model, plus an analysis of general themes and questions that arose from participants during the study.

The insights gathered by using this approach allowed us to gain a unique perspective on user experience, journey and behaviour, that would have otherwise been difficult to obtain through traditional user research methods. These insights lay the foundation for advanced product development and a sound reference point for future user experience concepts and designs. 

It was fascinating to discover the depth and richness of the world of historical researchers. This study provided new insight into their views and revealed how their work evolves over a comparatively short period of time.

The combination of diary entries written in their own words, photos of their research environments and one-to-one qualitative interviews, gave us a 360 degree picture of journeys and user needs across multiple channels and beyond the National Archives website. I can only recommend diary studies as a profoundly valuable research tool.