User Research

Understanding Needs and Objectives

Throughout this overview, we’ve talked about the alignment of your end users’ needs and your own departmental objectives. Below, you will find a small sample of the user research activities you can conduct during the discovery and concept design phases. Regardless of the activity, user research is key to building a usable, engaging, and accessible website that meets your user and departmental needs.

Involving End Users

“User testing is a way to make sure the stuff you created actually works as you intended, because best practices and common sense will get you only so far.” — Ida Aalen

The heart of a user-centered design process is engaging the audiences who currently, or potentially, use your services. While user research can vary by project, at a minimum you will need to conduct the following activities.

Setting benchmarks – Knowing where you're at

It is important to know what is working and not working with your current website. An initial benchmark usability study will enable you to evaluate the effectiveness of your current website as well as set benchmark metrics against which the redesigned website will be compared.

Interviews and observations – Listening to your users

Have a conversation with end users and listen to them talk about why they use your services, what they expect to be able to do, what they actually do, and where they get frustrated or confused.

Personas – You are not your target audience

From interviews and observations, you can create personas to represent the goals, behaviors, attitudes, and frustrations of specific user groups. Personas are a great way to communicate what you’ve learned about your target audience. They can also help guide decisions about content, layout, and design.

Tree testing – Verifying your information architecture

Before finalizing a proposed information architecture or site structure, you will ensure that it reflects the end users' mental models through a tree test.

A tree test evaluates the findability of website content. In a tree test, users are asked to complete website tasks using a site "tree" or text-only map of the site structure. The results of a tree test will help you understand where you can make additional improvements to navigational labels and content organization to ensure that users can find the information that they need.

Usability studies – Observing user interactions with design solutions

The adage goes that what end users say they do and what they actually do can be very different. With quick iterative, task-based usability studies of 3-5 users, you can gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of proposed navigation, labels, content layout, and features well before your site is launched.