Understanding users and their needs

The better you understand your users, the more likely you are to design and build a service that works well for them.

When you include all types of users in your research, you build a service that’s barrier-free for everyone. It’s best to start wide and begin your research with a diverse group of users before narrowing down.  

Decide who to include in research  

Brainstorm the different groups of people you need to include in your research by using information from: 

  • existing research and analytics  
  • subject experts and front-line staff 
  • service data and general population statistics 
  • user personas.  

Consider how many participants you need  

The research methods you use will determine the number of participants you need. For example, you’ll need: 

  • 4 to 8 participants per round of user research 
  • more than 250 participants for benchmarking.  

Define your research criteria  

Depending on your research objectives, your criteria might be: 

  • a particular demographic, for example, women under 30 years of age 
  • a specific user group, for example, small business owners or job centre staff 
  • specific life events, for example, users who have recently moved home or are looking for a job 
  • specific access needs, for example, people who use assistive technology 
  • a specific level of digital skill, for example, users who have basic online skills. 

Understand your target groups  

When you've defined the overall criteria, decide which groups you’ll include in each round of research. Consider groups who:

  • regularly use the service 
  • may need the service in future 
  • have problems using the service 
  • work in the service, for example, call centre staff 
  • help others use the service, for example, caseworkers, legal professionals or charity workers. 

Ask subject experts for information about target groups. They may know about groups that you haven’t included. They may also help you get in touch with people who need extra support to take part in your research.

Review your participant criteria to make sure they are relevant to your research questions. Do a gap analysis to make sure you don’t miss important groups.  

Encourage diversity  

To build a good service, you need to include users with diverse abilities and different access needs. Recruit participants that reflect the population and choose accessible research locations.

Be careful not to exclude anyone in the way you do research.  

Find access barriers 

Regular users of your service will show you what business-as-usual looks like. You’ll see why and how they’re using each of the products in the service.  

While it’s useful to include your regular users, don’t forget the users who have trouble accessing the service or can’t access it at all. This will help you explore pain points or obstacles that push users out entirely.

For example, they may find the service too difficult to navigate or they may be unable to access the service using assistive technology.  

It’s also useful to learn the workarounds used to access your service. For example, you may find that several users require a website translator to read the content in their preferred language. 

Include all digital skill levels  

You should research with people who have a mix of digital skills. It is important to speak with people who have a low level of digital literacy to understand their support needs. For example, some users may not be able to leave their homes, may not have a computer or may live in an area with poor internet.  

It is important to do research with people who have a high level of digital literacy. They may still need support with an online service or may have concerns about privacy and security.