Understanding users' goals

User Research

Informs the development of effective websites and apps

  • Why and When

    We undertake user research to inform the development of effective websites – at all stages 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

    The appropriate research will depend on the question you’re trying to answer, but we offer a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand needs and attitudes: Depth interviews, Focus Groups, Online discussion groups and Online Surveys.

    • 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
    • Online discussion groups: these are a great 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 top tasks in order to inform site development
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  • Our Approach

    The approach we adopt to user research ensures the right research is undertaken to achieve the client’s aims combined with a process to produce agreed and actionable results.


    In order to recommend the appropriate research approach we look at your ‘broader’ strategic picture. What is the purpose of the research, what are you trying to achieve, how will outputs be used? With our extensive user research experience we see it as our role to challenge clients’ views about their requirements and research methodologies to ensure all projects deliver useful outputs and provide value for money – we won’t undertake a project if we disagree with the proposed approach.

    Action Oriented Process

    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 of the research and participate in a discussion facilitated by Web Usability. During the sessions, observers are asked to record issues using cognitive mapping techniques for subsequent discussion, in order to capture their immediate reactions to respondents’ feedback. Subsequently, a Web Usability consultant facilitates a discussion to identify the key issues. This discussion means that the client takes ownership of the research results, and develops a collective view of the issues that enables the identification of actionable results.

    Web Usability consultants bring to these discussions our many years’ experience of strategic consulting in the private and public sectors. As the situation demands, we draw on this experience to ensure the discussions are guided by this knowledge.

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  • How we do it

    How projects are undertaken depends on the research objectives and methodologies but typically there are three elements:

    • Project preparation
    • Recruitment
    • Conducting the research

    Project preparation

    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 discussion guides (for depths and focus groups) 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 and focus group 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.

    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

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  • Outputs

    The outputs of the research are dependent of the project but typically include reports or presentations detailing the research outcomes and recordings of the research sessions undertaken in research studios.