The best made plans are based on a foundation of user evidence. By understanding what your users want, how they want it and where they go to get it you will more effectively be able to meet their needs.
To understand what users want, we use a tried and tested two stage process:
- Stage 1: Qualitative discovery research
- Stage 2: Quantitative top tasks survey
Qualitative discovery research
Qualitative discovery research focuses on understanding users: their background, expectations, behaviours, needs, motivations and frustrations. It provides insight to understand how users go about finding information and achieving goals that are important to them.
User research also helps to challenge internal assumptions about what users want, forcing organisations to walk in the users’ shoes and look at things from a user perspective, rather than an internal perspective.
Discovery research allows you to:
- Check that the way products and services are described ‘fit’ with the users’ mental models and identify any improvements that would help improve the user experience
- Design external and marketing communications to align with the users’ perspective and language
- Develop the website and other customer touchpoints to enable users to look for product in the way best suited to them, thereby improving the overall user experience and perception of your brand
- Build consensus across the organisation about what users need and what makes for a good user experience: this will help develop a shared view of the user and to align business goals
To conduct discovery research, you first need to recruit your participants. These should be genuine users of your product or service, either current or potential. Ensure you are finding representatives from all of your user groups and don’t forget to consider users who have specialist requirements.
These sessions are best conducted one-to-one with your recruited target users, facilitated by a moderator. Time should be spent upfront finding out as much as possible about your users and their needs. Ask lots of open questions, don’t interrupt and continually ask ‘why’ to get an even deeper level of insight.
If necessary, show them sources of information to stimulate their thinking. This could be your website, competitor websites, marketing messaging, offline resources. Anything really!
This will give you a huge dump of information including a long list of user goals. But how do you know which are the most important?
Quantitative top task survey research
Qualitative research will tend to be done with a small sample size of between 10-30 users. This is not enough to give you a significant steer on which goals are the most important.
Instead you need to speak to several hundred users. And in order to do that, you need a survey.
To get people to engage with your survey it needs to be short, simple and structured with yes/no or tick box responses. We, therefore, need to know both the issues to which we want answers and the range of potential answers. These insights will come from the qualitative research and why this survey comes second in the process.
A survey structured in this way will also give you meaningful data that can be effectively analysed to quantify and prioritise user goals, behaviours and preferences. In contrast, a survey comprised of free-text boxes will produce an unmanageable amount of data from which it will be difficult to extract meaningful insight.
The outcomes of the survey can then be fed into a wide variety of business functions:
- Digital – do digital services effectively meet the priority needs of your users?
- Marketing – how well does campaign messaging resonate?
- Sales – are you telling potential customers what they what they want to know or what you want to tell them?
- Product development - what frustrations do current users experience and how could you reduce these?
- Customer service – are you communicating with your customers through their preferred channel?
There is really no aspect of your business that does not benefit from having a deeper understanding of who your users are and what they want. So if you are embarking on some grand new plans for 2021 or want to shift your organisational culture to a 'user-first' approach, its time to get discovering.