What it is

User research is a process that helps us understand how people use products and services in their day-to-day lives.

This is different to asking what users want. User research will help you understand:

  • who your users are
  • what problems users are trying to solve
  • how users use and experience existing services
  • how a user’s life or work influences what they do
  • who has difficulty using the existing service and why

Understanding users through user research is often about finding out things you didn’t think you needed to know.

Why it’s important

People rely on public services to carry out important tasks or deal with life-changing events, like a birth or death of a family member.

If they can’t do these tasks, it might cause problems and delays.

User research helps teams to:

  • learn about users - their behaviours, motivations and life experiences
  • design services based on what they’ve learned

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.

This means you can improve the effectiveness of policies and reduce the frustration of individuals and businesses when services don’t work properly.

How you do it

User research should be carried out by user researchers, who are trained in gathering information on users in a legal, safe and ethical way.

They also have the expertise to process and make sense of the data that informs service design.

Involving the whole team

All members of the team should have a basic understanding of user research methods because their work relies on it. It avoids teams making assumptions about who the service users are and what they need.

Team members should:

  • watch real users interact with your service by joining user research sessions
  • take part in sessions to make sense of the insights and agree on the findings of any research done

This helps the team to:

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

Deciding who to include in research

To design and build a good service you need to learn about all types of users. This includes 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.

When to do user research

User research should happen from the definition of the service, to live service improvement, so think about the problem you’re trying to solve throughout the whole process.

The goals of the research and the methods used will depend on the phase of the project, but should aim to help you:

  • understand potential users and their context (for example, when they will need a service and if they are in a stressful situation)
  • help the team design and build a service
  • test what the team have designed to find issues

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