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Ministry of Justice - Prison Visits

Duration: 9 months | Role: Senior UX & Service Designer | Link: www.gov.uk/prison-visits


To visit friends and family whilst in prison within the UK visitors are able to book a prison visit online. In the 3 years since its initial launch, the Prison Visits Booking service has worked hard to release new features so that more prisons are able to deploy this service.

This project was intended to review the current service proposition and to explore other methods that could better meet the needs of prisoners, visitors and prison staff.

End-to-End Services

In order to design better experiences for prisoners, staff and visitors, it was important for the team to start thinking beyond our online services. From the point of view of our users, the online experience is just a small fraction of the overall journey needed in order to visit someone in prison.

To design a better service proposition, we first mapped the current landscape so that we could better understand the problem space. From this deeper understand we was able to design a service blueprint that would better meet the needs of all our users.

Starting With Concepts

The process of booking a visit with someone in prison can quickly become a complex task. This is made even more complex with all the user types (such wing staff, prisoners, visit staff, visitors, etc) and how these user interactions are dependent on one another.

To tackle this complexity, it was important to start the ideation stage with high-level concepts so that the complexity could be thought through before adding any detail. These concepts quite often began as Post-Its and then on to sketch mock ups of how some of the key touch points could look and work.

Looking Beyond Digital Solutions

So that government services can have a better reach of citizens, it was important to look beyond digital being the only design solution. There is a large percentage of citizens who want to visit someone in prison but are not as comfortable using technology as those we are used to designing for. A challenge for this project was to ensure that prison visits could be booked equally as easily using both offline and online channels.

Designing for Crisis

Unlike most projects I have worked on previously, Prison Visit Bookings operates within a unique space where emotions are often running high. As a designer, I felt it was important to be respectful to the fact that the service is the opportunity prisoners have to maintain relationships with friends and loved ones.

It was also important to be empathetic to the visitors who can quite often be not thinking rationally when using the interactions that have been carefully designed.

Better Staff Experiences

In recent years, prison staff have had to deal with the challenges of large spending cuts across the prison estate. This has now meant there are less staff to manage a service that has a growing prison population. For visit bookings, we optimise our staff interfaces to better reflect the way they work and help automate tasks where appropriate to do so. This has meant that staff can concentrate less on administrative tasks and more on the roles that require their expertise.

Working Within a Multidisciplinary Team

Like most teams that work within government services, I worked as part of a larger multidisciplinary team. The team being made up of a product manager, delivery manager, content designer, researcher as well as multiple software engineers and front-end developers. To ensure the team are working as productively as possible, it was important that the method I worked in complimented the velocity of the team but also looking for the opportunities to allow the team to become ‘user-centred’.

As the Service Designer on the team, I was keen to let everyone have ownership of the design process. By working collaboratively it allowed all members of the team to create design ideas and have a say on which should be further developed.