User Research and UX design – Sector Challenge Programme

Sector Challenge logo


This challenge is to prototype and test ways of providing remote support for individuals struggling or failing to make Universal Credit claims online for reasons like a lack of digital or language skills, or mental health issues.

I was part of a digital team, working alongside four charities to create a ‘project team’ on this sector challenge. It was an 11 week project spanning January – April 2021 and the aim of the project was to help those who are struggling to claim Universal Credit remotely.

My role was as User Researcher and one of the UX designers.

My responsibilties:

  • Planning the user research sessions
  • Recruiting participants
  • Collating data and communicating this in appropriate ways
  • Creating personas
  • Designing one of the three prototypes we delivered
  • Planning user testing
  • Carrying out user testing with participants
  • User testing feedback
  • Prototype iteration

Research Strategy

User interviews

I planned and carried out inital user interviews to gain insights into users’ painpoints and frustrations of the Universal Credit application process. I wrote in more details about this research here.

Survey image

I tested some of our assumptions using a survey. This was sent out to contacts of our charity partners and members of relevent social media groups. I wrote in more detail about this research here.

User testing image
User testing

I tested our prototypes with users gaining valuable feedback for further iterations. More details about this process here.

Results and key findings from the research

I spent time collating all of the interview data into one place. As a team we used Miro for some of our workshop sessions so this seemed the perfect tool for this. As a team we grouped this data, after all user research should be a team sport! This process revealed some of the biggest issues that users have with the online Universal Credit application.

Affinity/stick note diagram with user research data
Results from our inital user interviews sorted in an affinity diagram

These are our three key findings:

  • Users were not always aware of what was needed to make an application. The Universal Credit application process is complex and applicants need certain information at different points in the journey. This is not clear to users at the beginning of their application.
  • Digital confidence is low among those applying for Universal Credit. This means that they often need external support. During the pandemic, that external support is limited to phone calls and online support. This situation is causing anxiety and stress to many claimants needing the support as well as stress to the benefits advisors who struggle to see what the user is seeing and doing with their application.
  • People applying for Universal Credit are already in a stressful situation where they are struggling. Confusion around the process and not being able to access the support they need and in the right way is adding to the anxiety people are feeling.


I was tasked with creating Prototype A, a visualisation of the Universal Credit application process. I created with the intention of it being friendly and accessible so that potential applicants could see all the steps involved. This diagram shows version 0.1 – 0.4 and the reasoning behind the iterations:

Iterations of a prototype
Prototype iterations

I iterated the prototype versions based on common user testing feedback. You can read more about this here. V0.5 (below) is the final iteration for this 11 week project. I have added the branding and colours from one of our charity partners as they are looking to develop this app further.


The impact of this prototype is clear from our user testing. All users found this app a clear and easy to follow guide to the Universal Credit Claiming process. Many users stated that it would help them in their universal credit claim and make them feel more confident approaching it.

Feedback from users suggests that this app could be taken futher. It could incorporate the checklist (prototype 2) to have all the information in one place. It could become context specific to help people with less common issues such as complex housing arrangements.

Read more about our project on the digital team’s blog posts: