Throughout school I always enjoyed taking part in making and designing new things for others (my favourite lesson being Textiles). I’m not implying that creating a dress is the same as implementing a policy, but they have very similar needs. These include, a (hopefully) happy user, an end product and that feeling of success! It turns out that by finding out what people wanted, and adapting to their needs I was actually carrying something called user research.
So what is user research?
User research is finding out what people need and is a useful way to give purpose to what you are doing. It begins with finding out what the initial problem is, rather than diving straight into a solution that is likely to be a waste of time. It is understanding who your users are, what they are trying to do and how they are currently trying to do it.
As I already mentioned, without realising it, I had already undertaken user research during school projects in textiles. I had the opportunity to speak to designers as well as customers, which enabled me to have more of an insight into creating a product where there was a gap in the market.
Learning on the job
As a Digital Data and Technology Apprentice I have been given opportunities to learn about user research methodologies with my fellow apprentices and I am also currently placed in a team who regularly undertake it.
My first taste of user research was when my fellow apprentices and I were given a project to design a product to improve ways of working. To find out if the project would be worthwhile, we decided to do some user research. We used the results of our research to identify common needs and develop user personas (a character created to represent a type of user) to better understand and communicate the findings. Focusing each stage of our project on user research means that our product is currently being built based on what the users really need rather than what we think they might need.
My favourite part about user research, is the psychological aspect of seeing how differently people behave and react, as a lot of the time it is unexpected. The smallest detail such as the colour and name of a product or service can have a big impact on usability.
From my own experience of using these methods so far, I see it as a fun and effective way of interacting with the people that we are designing for. It also saves both time and money as we are not wasting them on creating products that won’t be successful.
To carry out user research you do not need to be digital savvy, or an expert in communication but with a basic understanding of the methodologies and some simple tools it’s a clever way of interacting with the right people. As someone who finds it hard to stop talking, it’s right up my street.
Post by Tia Mais, Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Apprentice