What it is
‘User needs’ express people’s goals, values and aspirations. They are the things people need from a product or service to do something.
For example, people visit mygov.scot because they have something they’re trying to do. This could be finding out how to pay a council tax bill, or finding out what business rates they have to pay.
Why it’s important
User needs help us to express and understand who our users are, and the circumstances which lead them to use a product or service.
They help us make sure the things we build help people to find or complete something they need to do.
Understanding user needs can help you meet government policy goals and intent. They can also save you time and money, by avoiding spending it on things people don’t actually need.
How you do it
User needs are based on evidence. To define them you need to find out:
- who your users are
- what they’re trying to do and how they do it
- any problems they have trying to do this
Research can help you find the answers to these questions. For example, you could:
- review existing evidence such as analytics data, search logs, call centre data or previous research reports
- interview and observe actual or likely users
- talk to people inside and outside your organisation who work with actual or likely users
You can also do user journey mapping.
Once you understand what the user needs are, you should try to express them as user stories. User stories describe a user and the reason they need to use the service you’re building.
User stories help you:
- track everything you need to do
- think about your work from a user’s perspective
- discuss your work with colleagues
- prioritise your work
Good user stories are written from a user’s perspective, in language a user would understand themselves. They also express a need and don’t specify solutions.
They can be written in the following format:
As… [a type of user]
I need… [something]
So I can… [do the thing I need to do]
As… someone who rents or owns a home
I need to… know how to pay my council tax bill
So I can… keep on top of my bills
Once you’ve defined your user needs and written user stories, it’s important you check them with actual users.
You can do this using different types of user research.
- Leisa Reichelt, GDS blog - We need to talk about user needs
- Sarah Richards, Content Design Centre blog - User stories and job stories
- Government Digital Services - Service manual - Learning about users and their needs
- Government Digital Services - Service manual - User research
- Government Digital Services - Service manual - Writing user stories
Digital First Service Standard
This article offers guidance relevant to the following criterion from the Digital First service standard:
- User centred