What is User Research?

User research is a key part of the Discover section of the design methodology we are following on our projects working with FutureGov. In many ways, user research is as simple as it sounds – going out and speaking to the people who use the service to identify their needs before starting to design a service. In order to deliver a service which is useful to people and that they will actually use (and therefore provide value for money and make the best use of our limited resources) we need to understand and empathise with our users. We may have a professional opinion about what the problem is, but we need to talk to the end users to confirm or challenge our assumptions before we start designing. Doing user research helps us to understand the problem we are trying to solve, so we don’t spend time and money solving the wrong problem.

User research is not the same as consultation or collecting feedback on an existing service. Rather than asking people to rate things as good or bad, or telling us what they like and don’t like, user research asks questions like “When do you feel healthy?” or “How do you feel about change?”. Unlike market research which uses large sample sizes to gain broad insights into what people say or what they will buy, user research is about getting deep, focused insight into a smaller group of users to learn about how people might use a product or service, what they do now and what their lives are like.

User research can be as in-depth as living with someone and observing their life for a week, or just having a chat on the phone or in the street. Key to good user research is identifying who it would be interesting and useful to speak to, what it is you’re trying to find out and what questions to ask to get you there. You also need to consider how to make sense of what you hear, see and learn about users and how to present findings in a meaningful way.

In order to conduct your own user research you need to:

• Identify your key user groups and the problem/topic you’re going to research on
• Choose which users you will research with
• Define the questions you want to ask
• Plan how to capture your research
• Conduct your research
• Analyse and pull out insights
• Present findings meaningfully

For more information take a look at the slides from the session and get some practical experience using the activity the group did on the day – in just half an hour you’ll have had a go at conducting user research is and see how simple it can be. Links to further reading and resources can be found on the final slide.

There are three more lunchtime learning sessions with FutureGov this spring which all staff are invited to. Each session covers a different topic which will include prototyping, agile and public sector innovation/digital government. They’re held in the Council Chamber on the following dates:

Tuesday 16 February: 1 – 2pm
Wednesday 16 March: 12 – 1pm
Tuesday 19 April: 12 – 1pm