User research: Behind the scenes at Brompton

by Andy Ingle on 28 April 2015

I'm very excited to announce that after 6 months hard work researching, designing and testing the amazing new is live! As with all user-centred design projects, we always start with a good dose of research (business requirements gathering and user research). Re-designing the website for iconic British brand, Brompton Bicycles was no different. Their mantra of “Made for you, Made for cities” meant they jumped right on board the user experience philosophy of making sure that their digital interfaces were as delightful to use and well-engineered as their products. Read on if you want to explore some of the lessons we learnt along the way in case you:

  • Love Brompton and you’re fascinated for a sneak preview into how the website redesign progressed or
  • Want to learn from our experience to get a few quick tips from a real project

So, here are the lessons we learnt and a sneak preview behind the scenes of the Brompton “Made for you, made for cities” website redesign, starting with user research.

The plan of action for Brompton user research

The key techniques chosen for the user research were:

  1. Guerrilla user research: We did a lot of guerrilla research, hanging around in bike shops so we could interview bike owners to find out about them and what they thought of the brand. We also talked to many Brompton owners, stopping them on the street to ask questions.
  2. Analytics data: We did research through analytics analysis. We used Google Analytics to work out what the key user journeys through the site were, where people were dropping off, behaviour trends, platform usage etc. It also helped us to identify what was missing from pages and what SEO opportunities were open for Brompton to increase their traffic. Identifying additional keywords to target was key for the success of the website moving forward.
  3. Shop visits (Ethnography): We also visited shops as part of our guerrilla user research to understand how dealers sold them. This was about seeing how dealers needed to use the website in the sales process by watching them use it in real scenarios. This uncovered  the frustrations resellers had with the site as it was and what customers asked them about
  4. Focus groups: We ran focus groups at Webcredible HQ using the old Brompton website as stimulus to explore what people liked and ideas of what we could do moving forward. We then looked at what made ‘owners’ and ‘prospects’ tick and what they each needed from the website so we could make sure that both user groups were designed for.
  5. Stakeholder engagement: We also planned in multiple stakeholder engagement workshops with the senior management at Brompton. This was really helpful to ensure their priorities were considered and everyone came on the same journey. Kicking off with a stakeholder workshop was great, it got the whole company engaged and helped us to really understand what their priorities were. Everyone had an opportunity to share what they had a say.

Why was user research important?

The most important objective was to cover as many different user groups as we could. A common trait among Brompton owners is that they aren't ‘typical’ cyclists, and we all know it's dangerous to pretend we know the thoughts and natural behaviours of our users without observing them properly. So, we spoke to commuters, as well as doing research in bike shops.

It was key for us to cover as much of the international market as we could as well. We did interviews with business stakeholders worldwide, including those from US, China, Taiwan, Holland and Italy to make sure that we considered cultural differences, requirements and needs, how the bike was used in different cultures and how the brand was perceived. Spending the time doing user research upfront was really important, as with all our projects, and we used it to create a digital strategy based on real perceptions and needs of users. We then addressed the current frustrations and reservations that people had with the website and brand.

Did you learn anything interesting about the Brompton brand?

The findings from our research with Brompton can be split into 3 major themes, one related to the international use and perception of Brompton, one around the UK perception of Brompton bikes, and one around how even rock stars use them…

  • There is a huge amount of commuting by bike across the world, particularly in places where people don’t have much space to live, having a bike that folds up is really useful.
  • The English heritage is hugely important in the Far East market.
  • In the US, people don't tend to commute by bike but instead like to take bikes away at the weekend. The Brompton meets this need by easily fitting in to an RV and has the performance of a non-folding bike.
  • In China, they have a basket attachment so they can use it in a supermarket and unfold it ready to ride home.
  • Taiwan has meet-up type groups that travel to different street food stalls every Friday on their Brompton's – they ride and eat together.
  • In the UK, people associate folding bikes with getting a train. “I don’t get a train so I don’t need a folding bike” was heard numerous times during research, despite a person meeting all criteria for needing one.
  • Bon Jovi’s road crew had been in the week before and had all just come back from a gig. The whole crew had bought Brompton's to get around cities in downtime. When they are finished a gig they threw them in flight cases with the instruments and shipped them to the next place.

All of the above findings were key insights we fed back to the company - they are real perceptions and use cases that we addressed in the project.

What were the deliverables from user research?

The above insights were taken back to Webcredible HQ and the walls were smothered in post-it notes ready for analysis and recommendations. This was used as a basis for creating personas, which in turn aided in developing a digital strategy. The process went a bit like this:

  1. Stick post-it notes to the wall, group things together, map ideas and make suggestions
  2. Create customer journeys and personas
  3. The above is all an iterative process, with the Webcredible team and Brompton stakeholders taking part
  4. Present the digital strategy back for sign-off
  5. Get going on design & build!


How research fit into the larger project

  • Step 1. research.
  • Stage 2. Create a strategy and roadmap - we refer back to this at every stage, when you’re designing and you have an understanding of your customers it is much easier to design and make something that will meet their needs.
  • Stage 3. design, iterate, build, test and launch! (OK, probably more than just three stages…)

What we learnt for next time?

The biggest lesson I learnt from the project was to do with Guerrilla user research. Guerrilla research is hard work, you need to be well rested and clear headed to be able to stop people you don't know in the street, who really don’t want to talk to you. It’s very hard to document as well, people don’t like having a camera put in their faces, but if you don’t record it then it’s hard to document. So, when you’re trying to do a lot of research in a short amount of time it’s important to think how you can record it. I ended up writing it down in a notepad. Next time, 2 people – one talks, one takes notes. Also, don’t do what I did - I spoke with a woman who was looking at thermal tops, she was a famous actress and just needed to buy some thermals and didn't seem impressed I didn't know who she was!

So, there it is - a quick lesson learnt on guerrilla testing and an overview of how to structure a user research project. If you'd like to learn more then we have a great user research course run by our Head of Research, Isabel - and loads of events, so sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about them. If you're a Brompton customer or are interested in purchasing one of their bikes - take a look at their amazing new website, it's live now!

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