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. 

Working with stakeholders

The purpose of the project kickoff meeting is to discuss project objectives, requirements, and departmental needs. While these discussions often take place with a core website team, we also like to meet with stakeholders who either interact with end users or who use the website in their own work. These meetings can take many forms, including:

  • In-depth discussion of your department’s organizational objectives, workflows, messaging, and desired outcomes
  • Group task analysis to help document workflows
  • Development of user profiles based on stakeholder insights
  • Creation of user journey maps based on stakeholder interactions

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 we strive to conduct the following activities.

Setting benchmarks - Knowing where you're at

Before we begin a project, it is important to know what is working and not working with your current website. An initial benchmark usability study will enable us to evaluate the effectiveness of your current website as well as set benchmarks metrics against which the redesign website will be compared.

Interviews and observations – Listening to your users

With your help, we’ll sit down with end users and listen 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. If your website includes business workflows, we will also watch users interact with your site.

Personas – You are not your target audience

From interviews and observations we 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. 

Card sorting– Understanding users’ mental models

Once you have a clear understanding of the user and business objectives your content must support, we’ll want to learn how end users expect this content to be labeled and organized. Card sorting helps facilitate these activities.

In a card sort, we ask users to organize representative pieces of your content into logical groups and then label these groups. When we conduct card sorts across multiple participants, we begin to see patterns in how they expect your content to be organized and labeled. This helps us determine your site structure or information architecture.

Tree testing– Verifying our information architecture 

Before we finalize a proposed information architecture or site structure, we 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 help us understand where we can make additional improvements to navigational labels and content organization to ensure that users can find the information that they need.

Usability studies – Observing users interact 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, we can gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of proposed navigation, labels, content layout, and features well before your site is launched.

This is only a small sample of the user research activities we 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.