User research helps you understand what your users want so you can build the digital service they need.
Why do it?
Understanding who your users are and what they want to achieve will enable you to meet their needs. User research helps answer these questions and informs the development of effective websites. It can be conducted at all stages of the design process – from early concept testing through to established site redesign. This includes:
- User goal research – to understand what users want
- Organisational research – to understand the organisation’s aims and objectives from their digital presence
- Concept testing – to test new concepts and ideas
How we do it
Typically, there are three elements to each project:
- Project preparation: We work with you to plan the research, so you get the right solution – not an ‘off the shelf’ one. At this stage we will discuss research approaches – what we choose will depend on the question you’re trying to answer. We offer a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand needs and attitudes: Depth interviews, Focus groups, Ethnographic research, Online discussion groups and Online surveys.
- Recruitment: We undertake our own respondent recruitment – we do not use third parties. We believe this allows us to recruit more accurately to our client’s specification, provide greater flexibility, and treat respondents in a decent and ethical way.
- Conducting the research: This will depend on the research approach adopted.
- Depth interviews and focus groups tend to be held in research studio where they can be recorded
- Ethnographic research is conducted in the field – this could be in the home, workplace or a sports venue, wherever the site would typically be used
- Online discussion forums typically run across 4 or 5 days with new tasks posed daily
- Online surveys are usually posted online or linked to from social media and run until an adequate number of responses is achieved – at least 100.
When the research methodology permits, a key element of our approach is to encourage all those in an organisation who can influence the implementation of the research to observe some respondent sessions.
This helps your organisation take ownership of the research results and develop a collective view of the issues and actions.
What are the different approaches to user research?
- Depth interviews: qualitative research usually done one-to-one with users to explore, in detail, user goals and attitudes. We also do depth interviews with organisational stakeholders to understand what they want a site to achieve and get their understanding of users and goals. We would normally do these face-to-face but sometimes do these remotely (e.g. phone, screen sharing, etc.) in order to involve hard-to-reach individuals.
- Focus Groups: qualitative attitudinal research which can be useful for testing new concepts or generating ideas in response to specific material – the group situation encourages participants to interact and spark off each other to stimulate thinking
- Ethnographic research: qualitative research that is normally done with individuals but may involve groups operating in a natural environment – the research involves both observation and unstructured discussion to understand what respondents need and how they would use it with all the opportunities, constraints and distractions they encounter in the real world
- Online discussion groups: a good way to access hard to reach, geographically dispersed or busy respondents and is particularly useful at the exploratory stage of a project. Participants can get involved at times to suit them and from their own home or office and we usually aim to have about 100 people involved in the forum. Because respondents can interact and the moderators can probe or ask supplementary questions, you can deepen your understanding of users’ needs and explore issues raised by the respondents which you hadn’t previously considered.
- Online surveys: quantitative large-scale surveys to help identify user goals and quantify and prioritise top tasks in order to inform site development
How we do user research
We plan the research in consultation with the client so the client gets the ‘right’ solution – not an ‘off the shelf’ one. We agree with the client’s project manager the key aims of the research, research methodologies, respondent profiles, research locations, timescales etc. We prepare guides (discussion guides for depths and focus groups and more unstructured guides for ethnographic research) or or questionnaires (for discussion forums and online surveys) for approval by the client’s project manager in advance of the research. In all cases having absolute clarity about the research objectives is critical in order to ensure the research delivers value for money. And precision in the wording of online discussion forum and survey questionnaires is essential to avoid confusion and ambiguity, whereas in depth, focus group and ethnographic research there is a facilitator on hand to explain and clarify.
We undertake our own respondent recruitment – we do not use third parties. We believe this allows us to recruit more accurately to our client’s specification, provide greater flexibility, and treat respondents in a decent and ethical way. We are experienced at recruiting respondents from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations, and with a range of experience, including respondents with visual, motor or cognitive impairment. All potential respondents undergo a detailed screening to ensure they match the respondent profile – a list of recruited respondents is sent to the client project manager prior to the research session for approval. Respondents are usually paid an incentive for their participation in the research: this ensures their participation and demonstrates appreciation of the value of their involvement.
Conducting the Research
Depth interviews and focus groups with users tend to be held in research studios so we can use relevant web based stimuli, record the sessions and enable clients to observe if they wish. One of our consultants moderates the research using a semi structured guide in a fairly informal manner, managing the session effectively to ensure all the required areas are covered; if the client is observing, additional questions can be fed in to the research session ‘on the hoof’. Interviews with organisational stakeholders, on the other hand, tend to be held at the client’s premises in order to ensure that senior managers, when required, can get involved. The outputs are then analysed qualitatively to identify e.g. themes, goals, top tasks, etc.
Ethnographic research is carried out in the appropriate natural environment with either individuals or groups. The length of the research will depend on the topic e.g. if we want to understand better what a football app might need then we might be with respondents for the duration of a football match, whereas if we want to understand better what an environmental officer needs we may shadow for a day or two. Evidence is gathered using video footage, still photos, recordings of conversations, or notes by the facilitator. Following the research, we do a thematic qualitative analysis.
With online discussion forums, the respondents are briefed on the process and given the forum schedule. Typically, a forum is run across 4 or 5 days, with new tasks or questions posed to the whole group on a daily basis. We can flex the timescales as the forum develops. Respondents are given a link to a website, prototype or image, they view the stimulus material, and then we start asking questions. Respondents must post and complete a simple poll style question, after which they can see and respond to other respondents’ comments. Our moderators monitor the discussion and respond to comments to probe further, or to get other views. Members of the client organisation can log in and observe the forum discussion. They can pass questions or comments to the moderator to post on the forum board. They can even redesign a page in response to respondent feedback, have this posted to the forum and get feedback on the revised design. Following the research, we capture the key issues identified, with graphs and tables showing the poll results and illustrative respondent quotes
Online surveys are usually posted on a client’s website or linked to from social media. The survey is posted and is run until an adequate number of responses is achieved – at least 100. Web Usability will then analyse the results