User research is about talking with, and observing the behaviours of the people who use your service to understand what they are doing before, during and after they interact with it. It may not always be possible to talk directly with your users, which means you will need different techniques to engage with them.

Why do user research?

Understanding user needs, wants and limitations during each phase of the process is central to the UCD process. Conducting research allows your team to develop empathy to understand the real problems that users are facing. User research also allows you to test and evaluate your service before you build it.

This will ensure you are addressing the right problem in the right way!

Who are the users?

Users include:

  • anyone who uses the service
  • public servants supporting service delivery
  • policy users.

User research planning

Before any interviews or other forms of user research can commence, you need to plan your approach. The user researcher will work with the team to detail and document a plan. Once the plan is complete, create schedules and add them to your wall.

Examples of research topics:

  • Who are your users?
  • Who isn’t a user?
  • Are there different groups of users?
  • Where are your users based?
  • Are there ethical requirements we need to consider before talking to users?
  • Are there sensitivities we need to be aware of?
  • What sort of research can we do - interviews, phone calls, etc?
  • How are we going to approach each method of research we are planning to do?
  • Will you need translators?
  • How much lead time do you need to book interviews?
  • Do you need to provide an incentive? If so, what?

Interviewing users

One-on-one interviews with users is the best way to understand the challenges that they encounter when using your service. One-on-ones allow you to experience both visual and non-visual cues. Hearing your users' pain points and what they did prior to and after using your service gives you broader insights and allows you to build empathy.

Interviewing techniques

Consider the following techniques when conducting interviews:

  • involve two team members
  • one team member can ask the questions, the other can scribe
  • prepare your questions in advance - ensure they are structured and open-ended (not yes/no)
  • start by asking broad questions about the person’s life, values, and habits, before asking more specific questions that relate directly to the areas you want to explore
  • write down the exact meaning of what the person says (it doesn’t have to be word for word), not what you think they mean
  • if the person is comfortable and gives their permission, record the interview
  • if you're relying on a translator, make sure they understand that you want direct quotes, not the gist of what the interviewee says
  • pay attention to users who have problems using your service. This will help you create a simpler, clearer, faster service that more people will be able to use

The best interviews are flexible and respond to unexpected lines of enquiry.

Types of interviews

Contextual Observing your users in their natural, real-world setting. The aim is to gather insight into how people live, what they do, how they use things, or what they need in their everyday or professional lives.
  • Completing an online application at home with the technology they would normally use.
  • Someone interacting with your service end-to-end when they have an appointment in a service centre.
Lab research Bringing groups of people into a lab to observe how they navigate your online service.  This can be helpful for understanding the starting point for using the service and how users search for information.
  • Observing people using your current online service.
  • Testing prototypes in development.

Focus groups/workshops

Bringing five to ten people together at once to conduct user research.  
  • Used when you have a group of people with similar attributes that you want to know more about.
  • Does not allow for in-depth exploration like a one-on-one interview.
Disruptive  Speaking to people straight after they have encountered a service.  This is a great opportunity to ask them about their motivation for making contact with the service and the experience that they had with it.
  • Ask to speak to someone as they are walking away from a service desk.
  • Question someone after they have been speaking to someone in a call centre.
Phone interviews  Phone interviews are another way to reach a broad audience. Interviewing customers that have called your service, or using your customer database (with ethics/consent) to conduct user research, is another way to gather information about the people who use your service. 
  • When people call to speak to someone in your service, it is an ideal time to conduct a brief interview that explores areas you would like to know more about.
How your business works

Doing research with internal users in the organisation will help discover some of the internal pain points with current processes and give insight into the viability of potential options for the Alpha phase of UCD.

  • Listening to calls in call centres and observing how staff respond to them.
  • Visiting shopfronts where parts of the service are provided.
  • Mystery shopping to see a user’s perspective of accessing the service.

Analysis of your user research

It is recommended that at the end of each day, each team member downloads what they have learnt to develop either: