Why user research is important, who does user research and when user research should happen.

User research is a specialist activity that informs policy, strategy, service, content and interaction design.

It helps teams:

  • learn about users — their behaviours, motivations and life experiences
  • design services informed by what they’ve learnt

Without it, you may not know what problems you’re trying to solve, what to build, or if the service you create will work well for users.

Why user research is important

People rely on public services to carry out important tasks. If they can not do them, it can cause problems and delays. For example, they might not receive their social security payments, or they may get a financial penalty which they could have avoided.

These problems increase government costs and reduce the effectiveness of policies. This means your user research must focus on how people achieve what the service is meant to deliver. This is different to what people would like or prefer.

If the people delivering the service can not do what they need to effectively and efficiently, individuals and businesses will experience problems, delays and frustration. The cost of delivering the service will increase.

To design an effective service, you need to research your users’ end-to-end journey and all the ways they interact with your service.

Understanding your users

You need to understand:

  • who your potential users are
  • what they’re trying to do
  • how they’re trying to do it now
  • how their life or work influences what they do and how
  • how they use and experience existing services
  • who has difficulties using the existing services and why

User research is often about finding out about things you did not think you needed to know. The better you understand your users, the more likely you are to design and build a service that works well for them, and for you.

Who does user research?

Whenever possible a user researcher will lead the work, supported closely by other team members. User researchers have training and experience in research techniques and tools across a range of projects.

The research has to be carried out in a safe and ethical way which usually requires professional knowledge and experience.

User research is a team activity

All members of the team have to understand user research basics because their work will rely on it. To learn about and understand your users, the whole team must be actively involved.

Part of the role of a user researcher is to promote a research mindset within the team, by helping people understand that learning about users means admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

Ideally, all team members should watch real users interacting with your service or talking about it for at least 2 hours every 6 weeks.

Team members who observe research can then take part in collaborative sensemaking sessions to help agree on the findings and any resulting actions.

This helps the team:

  • learn the language that people use when talking about the service
  • understand the highs and lows that people experience when using your service
  • think, talk and build empathy about users as real people with real needs

Equally, user researchers need to work closely with all the other team members to help inform their decisions.

When does user research happen?

User research runs from the first to the last day of a project. During each phase the goals of the research and the methods used will vary, but it will usually be aiming to do one or more of the following:

  • understand potential users and their lives
  • work out what the team should design and build
  • testing what the team have designed to find issues

This means doing user research in every design phase. Not just at the beginning or end of your project.

Which user types should you include?

To design and build a good service you need to learn about all types of users. Include people with disabilities and those who need support to use your service.

You must actively include people from these groups in your research throughout every phase.

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