Getting to know your audience
User Research is an essential element of the design process, drawing on users’ backgrounds and behaviours to create the most user-centric design possible.
What is User Research?
Knowing your audience is the first step in many different pursuits — writing, design, marketing and sales to name a few. In fact, every business needs to know who’s at the other end of its product or service. In the digital world, User Research is how we get to know the audience.
User Research is an integral component for the successful design and build of digital projects. User Research profiles users’ backgrounds and monitors behaviours so this information can be fed into the design process to create the most user-centric design possible. The results will affect the site’s visual look and feel, user interface, Information Architecture (site structure) and content and is one of many keys to success.
User Research can include questionnaires, observing users’ interactions with the system/prototypes, focus groups and other methods to gain an insight into people’s needs, behaviours and motivations.
How can you benefit?
By getting to know the audience through user profiling, you can build a digital project that’s going to meet the needs of the target audience. For example, for a website project you may discover through User Research that users most commonly look for three things on your site. You can then incorporate easy, homepage access to these items.
In addition, if you’re working for a government agency, User Research also benefits you in terms of following the DTA’s Digital Service Standards, specifically 1: Understand user needs and 3: Agile and user-centred process.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) old website suffered from legacy information creep and lacked topic focus. As a result, it was difficult to navigate unless users were highly familiar with TEQSA’s information environment and process. Salsa Digital worked with Folk and TEQSA interviewing a broad range of audience types to guide the direction of an updated Information Architecture (IA). The new site isn’t live yet, but it will be a great example of User Research feeding into a project to create better content organisation.
Similarly, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) conducted User Research that resulted in them including the aircraft register search and air operator certificates search on their homepage. This research was done by CASA (before Salsa Digital came on board) and is another great example of User Research informing web design to create a more user-centric experience.
If you want to find out more about User Research, I recommend these links:
Article on a five-step User Research process in Smashing Magazine