What is user research and why is it important?

When designing a new service, or refreshing an existing one, there are a number of questions you must answer in order to understand what works for your intended audience:

  • Who are my users?
  • What are they trying to do?
  • How are they currently trying to achieve what they are doing?
  • How does their life or work influence this?
  • How do they use and experience existing services to achieve their aim?

How do you answer these questions?

Through user research, or to put it simply, listening to the people who use your service.

By conducting user research you will have the opportunity to learn the behaviours, needs and motivations of your users, and how to refine these services to meet their needs.

You’ll be better prepared to identify the problems to solve, the solution to build or if the services will work when up and running.

User research can be achieved through discussion, observation techniques, task analysis, and a variety of other feedback methodologies, some of which are outlined on our Services page. As you might expect, these approaches are all dependant on the type of service or system you are developing, as well as your timeline and environment.

What remain true, however, is to think about user research as a continual process – not implemented only one or two times but used continuously to ensure and sense check that your service remains effective and efficient at solving user needs.

“This all sounds like a big commitment – how can I sell this internally?”

  1. Growth through inclusivity – the more inclusive you are, the more users that will be attracted to your service. To build a good service it is important to learn about all types of users, including those with disabilities or needing support to use your service. By actively including people from these groups throughout each development stage, you can learn how people with specific needs may use your service, and barriers they may face. This in turn can help you refine design, functionality and content based on how different users experience them. Unrepresented groups are too often forgotten and capturing them presents an enormous opportunity.
  2. Community – by encouraging users to work with you to improve your service or system, you will begin to build a community with shared goals. This lowers the barrier between organisation and user and encourages innovation, user experience and cohesion.
  3. Cost reduction – user research can end up saving organisations a lot of money in the medium to long term. If users find problems in using a service or their desired outcome isn’t achieved effectively or efficiently, it will lead to higher care/support costs, lower satisfaction metrics and may delay – or stop – organisations achieving their intent.