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Episode 9 us here, and in this episode of our video and podcast series, Tom speaks to John Paternoster.

John has extensive agency experience working in design, UX, branding and advertising.

In his role as a product design lead, he oversees production of rich, human-centered, engaging and considered solutions for Waitrose.

He gives us some fascinating insight about how Waitrose make the most of customer feedback, and how important it is to consider a full range of needs from real people.

He relates how his team are championing accessibility in the ways they augment their physical spaces in relation to their their digital channels.

He talks about testing with Fable and how Waitrose are considering Amazon Go!

Who are you and what do you care about?

I’m a customer Product Design Manager at Waitrose sample company working in the digital team. And we work with the wider business as well. But yeah, essentially I lead a team of senior product designers that work across varied work streams.

We’re based on the customer and content domain. So we don’t really look at the Browse journey that customers go through, but we look at more kind of customer niches like signing in their actual account, and then across like the inspiration pages, and yeah, just basically anything away from the Browse journey. And we don’t really touch the app either. That’s a separate thing.

And then in terms of what I care about, I suppose yeah, one of the main focuses we look at Waitrose is kind of championing the customer. And ensuring kind of the customer needs met alongside the business needs as well. That’s obviously really important at the moment with what’s happening with kind of the current climate as well. So yeah, we just made sure that that sort of touch across all the experiences that we work on, really,

How do you personally go about explaining the importance of online accessibility to someone who probably never considered it?

We occasionally have sessions where we talk to stakeholders about the need for accessibility for our wider experiences. And yeah, we just like to take a step back and just, pull out some figures, insights.

I suppose, because we are predominately UX designers, we love stats and data. So yeah, we look at just around 14.6 million square feet in the UK. And then that’s 22% of the population who look at it. I don’t think people consider it is that high essentially.

And then yeah, we just also make sure that whatever we do, users with disabilities and cognitive impairments, that they can fully participate in whatever we’re pushing through as a product.

And yeah, the other thing that we do, as well is we track a lot of customer verbatim. So we track a lot of customer comments, and we look to highlight the impact of inaccessible experience through that chat and through those channels. So we’ll kind of pull out any verbatim we get from customers, and then we try and react to those as well.

So we try and highlight those. And then we have some real live customer feedback to play with. We find that really beneficial with any user testing, we do. Any kind of customer verbatim we get just helps us fight our cause a little bit.

We had one recently, during checkout – we think that was a visually impaired user that was just trying to check out and it was proving quite challenging. So that actually got raised to us and escalated. And we looked to address that. So we looked to push it through one of our development teams and it got bumped right up the backlog. So yeah, we try and be quite reactive in Waitrose to actually listen to the customers and any needs they might be having. So yea, that was a good story, really, for us. And we used it as well for trying to trying to realize the value.

How do you think the internet will change over the next 10 years or so? And what specific features or habits that exist now do you hope will be seen as from their time?

I mean, I think one thing we’re looking to at Waitrose at the moment is just being more customer mission led – just actually empower the user a bit more. So one thing that one thing that all of us, in retail and grocery have been looking at is Amazon Go. So the whole kind of just walk out store experience. And yeah, that’s a great example of a brand empowering users and removing potential pain points of actually having to queue to check out or any issues at checkout, and they can literally just walk out of a store, and then the receipt will pop up in an email for them.

So yeah, I think moving forward as well, technology will just help us kind of personalize these experience for specific users, which again, will help with customers with specific needs. And again, the whole personalization side of things, I think will help.

The other thing I was reading the other day is that Apple have got some really exciting accessibility features that are launching. So I was reading about one for blind and low vision users around how their technology can detect doors as well. If they go into a new environment they can help the user understand the distance from the door, if it’s open or closed, if there’s any signs around the door. I think just taking the initiative more from a technological point of view and actually just helping the user whenever you can, is one thing.

And I think yeah, I mean, way away from Waitrose, I think if I had to do that someone who just kind of standard site now I’d probably just do that. And I think it would blow their mind the sheer amount of kind of information that the user has to take in from that aspect of browsing a site.

Yeah, great. Yeah, really interesting point on that alone, trying to control the thing, but the sheer amount of cognitive load it puts on you the amount of information to digest.

Yeah, I mean, there’s some really good videos on Tiktok of actual, you know, people use it day in day out and the actual speed, and just the way they browse and the way that, you know, they just kind of interact with, you know, just the first few kind of syllables of a word, and they’re straight on to the next thing, I think, is a really, really big eye opener for anyone who, you know, wants to actually develop and consider assistive tech as well. So, yeah, that’s kind of recommend trying to search out those videos.

In terms of the adoption of more accessible digital products, what do you think is the biggest challenge face?

Over the years, I think it’s just actually realizing the value of it. I think it can be quite hard to put a finger on it. And actually, from a business perspective, what does it mean to be fully accessible?

One thing we’ve done at Waitrose over the last year / year and a half, is set up a accessibility champions squad. So I think there’s around 12 of us at the moment that include product designers, managers, like myself, or product managers, and delivery leads, and we meet a few times a month to just discuss anything that has been raised in backlogs or anything, any verbatim that anyone’s picked up.

We also have a Slack channel so that if there’s any articles anyone sees, or anything that’s picked up in verbatim throughout, when we’re not meeting, then it’s raised on there. But yeah, the other thing that we do is we use a third party platform called Fable that we can, so we do a lot of auditing through them. And any new experiences that we launch, we actually run it through Fable with their community of testers from an accessibility perspective. So yeah, we found that really useful, and then we have catch ups with them quite a lot.

The champions squad, as well as just given the wider business, a team that they can reach out to, if there are any accessibility concerns, like I said, about the visually impaired user: Leadership could then reach out to our accessibility champions Slack channel and raise it with us. And then we could answer back and start the balls in motion to get a ticket raised in the team’s backlog and things like that.

So, yeah, we found that a really good one source of truth that the wider business can come to. And yeah, we’re just trying to champion that. So, if there’s any events in terms of accessibility, and we try and run workshops and new training and stuff. So yeah, we’re trying to just empower the rest of the team as well.

I think it’s us getting a group of us.. I’s away from our day to day tasks that we do in our agile teams and the rest of the digital team and we’re all quite passionate about trying to raise the profile of it in the rest of the business as well. So, yeah, all of us are kind of quite keen and proactive. And as I say, we’ve got fable on board now that really helped us push that forward. They’ve done a few lunch and learns with us as well. So yeah, we’re just trying to push it really.

Finally, what is one thing that every single person can do or learn to play a part in the progression towards a more accessible and inclusive internet?

I suppose I’d encourage anyone involved in digital products or anything do do with experience. Even the graphic design side of things just to be more empathetic. And ultimately that will lead to your solutions and ideas being more considered, customer focused, and more likely to solve problems that benefit the end user.

The other thing as well is just making sure that any value is added upfront, because we found as well, that adding things in or retrofitting anything that is inaccessible is a lot more time consuming and costly.

So I think that’s why we’re trying to do a lot of that up front now with our user testing from an accessibility perspective and just thinking of the wider picture a little bit more, because retrofitting can be quite detrimental.