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Redesigning our approved developments search

Blog post by Oli Kass, Digital Manager.

Our approved developments listing houses a searchable database of development plan PDFs. Solicitors and developers use these plans to confirm that developments are to be built on land that a developer owns.

Reviewing this content when moving from our legacy site to the new was a big challenge. The content had to better address user needs and the needs of the service team at Registers of Scotland.

Growing pains

Screenshot of old DPA listing

When the listing was built back in 2015, the web developers couldn’t have foreseen the huge growth and uptake in the service.

A performance audit in Google’s Lighthouse tool made for grim reading. It was creaking under the weight of some 1000 high resolution PDF plans and around 3500 searches per month.

Page load and search speed could definitely be improved upon.

Legacy site performance audit screenshot

We made some assumptions about the listing:

  • Having a fixed set of dropdown filters for searching offered limited scope for users to refine or tweak their search parameters
  • Title numbers are allocated to each listing but aren’t searchable, adding this could speed up search for users
  • Users may not find what they were looking for or give up due to load times
  • Viewing previous iterations of a plan would be useful to users

Gathering feedback

We asked our users to take part in a short online survey to see if their feedback matched our initial assumptions. The feedback echoed many of our assumptions until we asked users about the ability to access previous plan iterations. There was a clear divide in opinion here.

A new theme also started to emerge – the ability to follow a particular development.

Here are a few snippets of what they told us:

It would be better if you could search via title number not just developer. Sometimes the listing of the developer name is inconsistent.

The ability to sign up to be notified when a particular DPA is updated or amended would make the listing more useful.

Can be difficult to narrow a search.

Add a Title Number search.


Armed with this feedback, we drew up a set of basic requirements and built a simple prototype for testing.

To save time we re-used our new site search templates.

They were already performing well in speed tests across the beta site. This made us confident they could deliver some immediate benefits to users.

We elected for a single search box to give users the most flexibility to refining their search. A new set of metadata would ensure the previous filter options were still accessible and listing information remained consistent.

In September we gave a live demo of the prototype to a small focus group of service users.

Positive feedback from the group gave us the confidence to put the prototype into production. But it also revealed there were still mixed feelings from users on how best to handle previous versions of plans. We took the decision to hold off on displaying these until we could conduct more research.

After consulting with users and the DPA service team, we decided to drop all plans older than 3 years from the site.

This would help to ensure we kept the listing to a manageable size and keep content relevant to users.

Switching from PDF listings to content pages for each development should give us the flexibility further down the line to keep many documents under one link as well as explore a notifications feature.

With no technology for notifications currently in place, we’ve put this into the backlog for further enhancements across the whole site in 2019.

Speed testing and feedback

After a couple of months of research, a week of prototyping and a week of content migration, we were able to go live with a public beta at the end of September. We then pushed the new listing into live a few weeks later.

DPA new search

DPA new look listing

Here’s how the lighthouse speed test looked for the new listing. Now firmly in the green and a dramatic improvement on load times.

Live site performance audit

We also ran some basic search task tests across both platforms. On average the most basic keyword searches were loading four times faster than the previous dropdown filters.

Most importantly, users had positive reactions to the changes via in page feedback:

Easy to access and use

Title Number search function is a massive improvement

Next steps

Rebuilding the listing along with users has been invaluable. Incorporating their feedback along the way has enabled us to get from a prototype to a new iteration of the listing in a couple of months.

We’ll continue to collect data and feedback on this first release for the rest of the year.

Then we’ll start looking at options for implementing content notifications across

Find out more!

Follow the team via @RegistersOfScot on Twitter and on FacebookLinkedIn and YouTube for more updates. Want to comment? Let us know below!

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