Deciding the purpose of an online community

The goal of this work was to help Deaf people and people with hearing loss and tinnitus find, connect and learn from each other online. On this project, I was a User Researcher at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).


RNID supports deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus by connecting them to expert information. Our latest strategy included a new focus on helping people connect with each other too.

I was asked to lead a study to understand how we might help people connect with one another online. Noticing the number of stakeholders involved and the existing assumptions for how to solve the problem, I worked with our Design Lead to lead an exercise to identify and agree constraints.


Based on our unknowns and constraints, I proposed objectives:

Because we had initial ideas, I worked with an interaction designer to visualise concepts to use in testing. The concepts were based on insights from various conversations and workshops with stakeholders.


Working closely with British Sign Language interpreters, I tested concepts with users, including, deaf people, those with hearing loss and tinnitus and people who support them.

I chose concept testing because I saw the need to identify a focus. Even if we knew people wanted to connect with others, we didn’t know how, with whom or what that might look like. The concepts were a stimulus to understand how people expect to interact and with whom.

Make sense

I learned that people expect a community to welcome everyone, but need ways to interact more closely with those who are similar to them.

Although I'm familiar with BSL, I'm very slow. Someone using sign language would leave me confused. I would need a voiceover or captions.

Their priority was sharing personal stories, so they know they’re not alone and can help others solve problems, in a way that is accessible to them and to others.


By mapping findings to our original matrix, I showed how I built on or challenged our initial assumptions through doing research.

Running a workshop with close collaborators allowed me to discuss the findings and turn them into a useful set of user needs.

Then, I worked with our Design Lead to develop a Future state blueprint for the service. I presented these insights, user needs, next steps and a service blueprint to key strategic stakeholders.


My research helped define the purpose of an online community and let us build a vision based on what users expect and need.

By focusing on the riskiest unknowns that were within our control to change, I filled knowledge gaps early in the design process.

This let us start to refine a focused concept, start testing interactions with users and resolving issues, and begin to define the service blueprint and supporting processes based on what we learned about users' needs.