The User ResearchHandbookHow to put audiences at the heart of digital products                                            ...
Contents                                             Introduction                                 Listen to your users			 ...
Why do this?                                 They can’t give you the                        People may not be able to arti...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
Curly WurlyCase study                 Cadburys breaks from tradition      Cadbury failed to look                    Cadbur...
Why do this?                                  They often say one thing but   Ask any health professional and they’ll     W...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
Why do this?                                  Bring your users into the heart            back to their peers throughout th...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
‘Get Together’Case study                  Tackling loneliness among older people, from Participle      Loneliness and soci...
Why do this?                                  A lot of your questions     Whatever nut you’re trying to crack,     Do desk...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
Why do this?                                  You can test your own             It’s easy to lose sight of how we     Use ...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
Why do this?                                  Don’t develop a strategy until   Doing research is pointless unless     Paus...
How to                                                                                                                    ...
Notes32   33
Thank You     Public Zone would like to thank the     many people who contributed their     time and wisdom to this report...
t: 020 7267 4774                                      e:                                  thisiszone.c...
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  1. 1. The User ResearchHandbookHow to put audiences at the heart of digital products 1
  2. 2. Contents Introduction Listen to your users page 4 Technology has changed so many elements of our clients’ businesses: from the provision of information, to ease of donation, to mobilising thousands at the click Case study: Curly Wurly page 8 of a mouse. These changes have made a massive impact, but one valuable Watch your users page 10 opportunity doesn’t always get included in the list of ‘big’ digital breakthroughs: Involve your users page 14 the ability to engage with your audience. We think this is among the most important. Thanks to digital you can now reach out to your audience and they Case study: ‘Get Together’ - Participle page 18 can reply in a way that is faster, cheaper and more responsive than ever before. Carry out desk research page 20 We believe that if you put the user at the heart of your digital strategy, not as a Use it yourself page 24 customer, but as an influencer and product developer, you will create a better Pause and take stock page 26 product. Of course, there is still an important place for expertise, but it’s easier to make expert decisions when you’ve gained deep insights from engaging with Case study: Return on investment page 30 real people. Thank You page 34 People constantly surprise us and challenge our assumptions when we seek their involvement in our work. We can honestly say that user research has improved every single project we’ve worked on. This handbook offers some simple ideas about how you can engage your audiences, and examples of organisations that have reaped rewards in doing so. Special thanks to Julie Dodd, our user experience design director, for putting this together. In the spirit of this handbook, get in touch and let us know what you think, and feel free to share these ideas among your networks. The Public Zone team This handbook was written in 2010 and is the second in the series.2 It was reprinted in 2012 using our new branding. 3
  3. 3. Why do this? They can’t give you the People may not be able to articulate Listen solution but they can give you exactly what a product should be (they didn’t ask for a car) but they’ll tell you the criteria by which you need what they need, what they like and to judge the solution. to your dislike, and how they feel about your organisation or product. Talking to them before, during and after digital When he designed the world’s first project development will help identify users car, Henry Ford once said: “If I had the product requirements and optimise asked people what they wanted, they performance. would have said ‘faster horses’.” This is Every time your audience visits your site, sometimes quoted by people who think Facebook page or app they’re telling you that customers don’t know what they something, and showing a willingness to want until professionals give it to them. engage. Why not listen? Reviewing these But we think there’s a different lesson to comments, conversations and analytics be learned from Ford. should be part of your everyday process. “Faster horses”: these two words convey We see many very good organisations a surprising amount of information and set up the tools to listen to users, but not insight. What users were unknowingly follow up by regularly reviewing what’s giving Ford was a useful set of criteria for being said. If you’ve built a social media his product design. They implicitly meant: following or have polls on your website, use them to review your work. “I want to get where I’m going faster” “I want something that feels familiar” “I need something I can rely on” “I need something I can afford”4 5
  4. 4. How to If you do listen to your users one thing: Ask fewer questions but ask them well page designs, see where users click What we’ve learned: Keep the conversation going One-to-one interviews are one of the and how a design makes them feel, most valuable research activities you all through simple two-minute tests. We interviewed people with a range People’s behaviour changes all can do, but aim to get depth rather than of disabilities for the redesign of the the time, especially on the web, so Use social media channels BBC’s My Web My Way site. The site your products and services can get breadth when interviewing. You don’t to find the right people provides how-to guides that help out of date very quickly. To stay need to talk to everyone who uses your People love being asked for their advice, people with sensory, cognitive and relevant, gather feedback from your services, you can gain major insight from and social networks have made finding motor disabilities more easily use users regularly. It doesn’t need to a half-hour chat with just a few people. users for research a doddle. If you’ve the web. The interviews highlighted take much time or effort – request Asking just a handful of open questions, got followers on Twitter or Facebook, some common misconceptions about feedback through Facebook, and following up on interesting snippets ask them what they think. Or try finding living with disabilities. Users with Linkedin or Twitter, or set up a survey from the answers, will tell you more relevant Facebook or Linkedin groups partial sight are heartily sick of being using a tool like Survey Monkey. One about your audience’s needs than a to join and ask the people there. grouped with the fully blind, yet that’s of our clients, Diabetes UK, started five-page questionnaire. To help interviews go smoothly, set up a time the way most sites treat them. The the design process for an iPhone app Put a feedback button and to talk so they’re not in a rush, let growing awareness of screenreaders by asking their Facebook group what contact us page on your site people know that what they say will be is a good thing, but use of screen their favourite apps were – it resulted The Stanford University ‘Web Credibility’ confidential so they feel able to tell you magnifiers and simple enlarging of text in one of the best briefs we’ve ever project has shown that letting users the truth, and leave plenty of time for is a lot more common. As a result, we received, and cost them nothing. But contact you easily is one of the top five people to think before they answer - completely changed the signposting they couldn’t have done it if they factors in making sites appear credible don’t jump in to fill silences! used on the site so that people with hadn’t spent time nurturing their ( Ask users visual impairments would get how- Facebook pages through frequent, what they think directly through your Use simple online tools to guides that were relevant to their thoughtful updates. site and make sure the contact link is There’s a new online research tool needs, and blind users aren’t just told obvious. You’ll also need to make sure popping up every month; we’ve found to make their text bigger. ( it’s someone’s responsibility to read a few that make it really simple to listen accessibility/accessibility_beta) the feedback log or it’ll just sit and to what your audience has to say. Verify gather dust. ( allows you to compare6 7
  5. 5. Curly WurlyCase study Cadburys breaks from tradition Cadbury failed to look Cadbury made a mistake in failing at what Curly Wurly to look at what the Curly Wurly consumers wanted from their consumers wanted from chocolate bar. If only they’d known their chocolate bar. that in 2011 there would be more than 50 Curly Wurly appreciation groups on Facebook waiting to give them A few years back, Cadbury changed some feedback! The failure to do user the recipe of the Curly Wurly. The new research turned what seemed like a recipe meant that the chocolate on practical business decision into an the bar didn’t flake off as easily and expensive flop. didn’t melt as quickly. A desirable and sensible improvement you’d think? Yet it went down badly. In fact it prompted a backlash so strong that Cadbury had to return to the original recipe having wasted months of R&D and packaging budget. Why? It rendered the Curly Wurly un-stretchable, thwarting a practice which people, young and old alike, had used for fun since the bar was launched in the 1970s. In fact the practice of Curly Wurly stretching is the subject of more than one Guinness World record! 8 9
  6. 6. Why do this? They often say one thing but Ask any health professional and they’ll Watch do another. Find out what tell you that there’s a big difference between what people say they do they really mean. and what they actually do (“I drink your less than 10 units a week, doctor”). So it pays to observe people using your product in their workplace or at home – wherever they might typically use it. users You don’t have to spend thousands immersing yourself in people’s daily lives. In fact, you can learn from watching as few as five people: your flatmate, mother, teenage cousin, whoever. Just make sure they’re people outside your office team. They’ll show you the pre-conceptions people have, the first thing on a page they notice, and perhaps more importantly the things they miss, like that strapline you assumed everyone would read before they started clicking! Every time we watch someone use the web we learn something new.10 11
  7. 7. How to If you do watch your users one thing: Do a usability study Analytics What we’ve learned: Spend five minutes Sometimes projects need specialist Spending quality time with your site with a stranger user testing labs but there are much analytics is one of the most cost We ran usability research for Livity cheaper, more accessible ways to do effective ways of learning what your on our prototype for their new site, Go to an internet café or library usability tests today. With the help users do and don’t want. Google, which connects and ask some people to spend five of brilliant and inexpensive tools like Analytics has a simple but powerful young people who need a place to minutes using your site or app. You Silverback (, you In-page analytics function that shows pursue their hobbies with people who may want to set them a specific task can now do full usability tests in your at a glance where users are clicking have space to offer. Users filled in the or just ask them to find something office, in users’ houses, or completely on each page. Your site analytics are online form with ease and reported that interests them. They may not be remotely through brilliant software like an amazing resource and not looking that they felt positive about offering your exact target market but they’ll Loop11 ( at them is like a retailer ignoring their their resource. But when we watched still show you a lot about what real sales figures. the footage from the test, we found users like, dislike or find difficult. Get in context that our sample users were hesitating Being in a busy public space also Try to observe people in the before they clicked the ‘submit my means you can get through a lot of environment in which they would space’ button. When asked if they people in just an hour or so without normally use your site. They’re more would get involved in the project in the need to spend time setting up a comfortable and will behave more person, they all said yes, but their more formal test. naturally. Most people are surprisingly body language suggested otherwise. open to visitors at home or work but It turned out they liked the idea but if you can’t do that then get them they didn’t feel reassured enough to sketch room layouts on a piece of to commit at this stage. As a result, paper. This helps put them in the right we’re changing the experience, adding frame of mind, and shows you what a more reassuring explanation and influences or interruptions may affect clearer next steps. their online use.12 13
  8. 8. Why do this? Bring your users into the heart back to their peers throughout the Involve of the design process and find process. Their involvement totally changed the design of the site – out exactly what they need. the visual route we thought was a your sure-fire winner was universally panned by the young people and they Involving your users in the design went for a much simpler option in the process can be really helpful, not only end. It was a reminder to us all that we users for delivering useful insights but also should never second-guess what the unexpected benefits, for instance, target audience wants. turning potential detractors (most But beware: users’ design suggestions people dislike change at first, even shouldn’t be taken too literally. It’s not for the better) into vocal advocates. the user’s job to design your product And it is always an eye-opening and their inexpert efforts to do so experience. Changing Faces, the could be a red herring. What they’re disfigurement charity, asked us to brilliant at telling you is what their develop a website for young people priorities are, not what colour your with disfigurement. The site was to be logo should be. run by the Charity’s Young People’s Council so it was incredibly important to involve them in the design process from the beginning. We offered two weeks’ work experience to Council members to help us with the visual design and site functionality, reporting14 15
  9. 9. How to If you do involve your users one thing: Draw the homepage Follow up What we’ve learned: Turn your site Ask people to draw your homepage (or You’ll start to build a productive, into breakfast other key pages) based on how they trusting relationship with your Nowadays, when we get users to think the page should be organised. audiences if you remember to follow draw a homepage, people tend to What would your brand look like if See what they’ve put in or left out, up with them. You get major kudos by place a horizontal line across the top it were a box of cereal? It sounds and ask them why. You’ll quickly learn reposting revised designs/prototypes of the page to represent the main daft but thinking about your brand what the user’s priorities are and what showing how you’ve responded navigation, and a search box in the in this way encourages you to see they’re expecting to see. to their feedback. If there was strong top right corner. When asked why, what users think your main priorities feedback that you couldn’t take on generally the response is a quizzical are – this is often quite different from Share early look and “that’s just where it goes”. what you’d think. Give people a blank board, tell them why it wasn’t included Post initial designs or prototypes in This is a big change from five years template of a cereal box and get to show that you’re listening. your own social media channels or ago and shows us that people’s them to sketch what should be on forums. You can ask for open feedback, increasing familiarity with the web the packaging. You can give prompts or if you want something easier to means they’re making less conscious like “what’s the slogan?”, “what are analyse ask for one thing they like and effort to navigate sites. This means you the top ingredients”, “what free toy one thing they’d improve. That way need to have a really good reason to do you get inside?”. This is a great it’s easier to compare answers. To get put core elements somewhere else on way of seeing what users think your opinions outside your current users, a website, because it risks making a main message is and in what areas make contact with other Facebook or site less intuitive to use. they think you deliver most value. It’s Linkedin groups connected to your also a great tool to use on internal desired audience. stakeholders to get them thinking about your brand in a fresh way. There’s a template on our blog to start you off.16 17
  10. 10. ‘Get Together’Case study Tackling loneliness among older people, from Participle Loneliness and social isolation Current solutions are letting the older can have severe social, population down, so in response Participle prototyped a new service financial, physical and called ‘Get Together’, working in mental repercussions. partnership with Westminster City Council. To research the service, Participle worked with over 50 socially Currently in Greater London, 250,000 isolated people in Westminster, getting people over 65 do not see a friend, a unique insight into their world. neighbour or family member at least They also spent time watching and once a week. 150,000 have no contact interviewing Westminster Council with others even once a month. Those service delivery partners, such as figures rise to 3.1 million and 1.8 million, meals-on-wheels, mobile libraries and respectively, UK-wide. Loneliness sheltered and residential housing units. and social isolation can have severe The new service provides telephone social, financial, physical and mental and in-person social networks by using repercussions, not only for the elderly matching technology to introduce themselves but also for the families and like-minded individuals. They can meet welfare systems that support them. one-to-one or join group phone and face-to-face meetings or activities based around shared interests. It’s proved to be highly successful thanks to its research-led innovative approach. 18 19
  11. 11. Why do this? A lot of your questions Whatever nut you’re trying to crack, Do desk already have answers – go someone has probably already tried to crack it before. So don’t miss the out there and find them. opportunity to learn from other research people’s data, research and insight (sometimes called secondary research). We’ve worked with over 50 charities, and almost always start by searching for existing insight about our target audiences and looking at websites from comparable organisations. Don’t view other organisations as a threat; see what you can do that’s different. You’ll save yourself unnecessary risks by, for instance, avoiding an idea that has already been realised. Google is an obvious place to start, but it’s important to check that sources are credible and that quantitative data is statistically valid.20 21
  12. 12. How to If you do do desk research one thing: Use the National Centre Find profiles (personas) What we’ve learned: Share your research for Social Research or personal stories NatCen are doing a great thing: If you’re not the teenager facing Newsround asked us to find out how The commercial sector doesn’t opening up their research archives to education choices, the ardent sports 7-12 year olds discover and react to like to share its audience research the public. In their vast library they fan, or the partner of someone living news. We researched existing sources for fear of competitive advantage. have top quality studies relating to with an illness, how can you be sure of alongside holding workshops with children Thousands of research docs are everything from teen attitudes to sex what might help them? and teachers. squirreled away collecting dust in and booze, to British attitudes about filing systems. It’s a tragedy! If you can’t talk directly to users, Swapitshop’s monthly survey data (children stay-at-home mothers and fathers. existing profiles (text or video) are the self-reporting their activities) revealed that Let’s not make the same mistake Well worth a look ( next best thing. Many organisations major current affairs stories rarely pique in our sector. Of course there’s Competitor analysis have them on their sites; use them to kids’ interest. A few topical items made it competition among charities with What are competitor organisations visualise what the person profiled is into the ‘most talked about list’: Halloween, similar goals, but ultimately if doing online to engage with your trying to get from your site or app. heavy snow, Olympics and Swine flu, but everyone shares what they know audiences? Don’t just look for best They’ll also help reveal the context these were blips compared to the persistent then everyone benefits. So let’s practice, look for the elements of in which they might use it. Typing appearance of football, computer games, declare a research amnesty. If you’ve their site that seem awkward or phrases like ‘living with [your issue]’ or schoolwork and girlfriends/boyfriends. got something interesting, be it unloved – you don’t want to make the ‘being a [user type]’ into youtube often survey results or user profiles, share Disheartened at first, we realised we could same mistakes. To help clarify your turns up great first person accounts. the insights. turn ‘snow’, ‘schoolwork’ and ‘games’ to our discoveries, try plotting the results on The personal stories we incorporated advantage. ‘Snow’ was directly affecting a simple matrix graph, with axis like into our redesign of BBC My Web their lives at the time, ‘schoolwork’ filled serious/fun and sparse/crowded. My Way reveal a lot about how 60% of their day, and analytics reavealed disabilities can affect the way many current Newsround users came from people use computers game-based sites. If Newsround could ( make news relevant to children’s personal and school lives and more interactive, they could be onto a winner. This theory was backed up by our user research.22 23
  13. 13. Why do this? You can test your own It’s easy to lose sight of how we Use it products for free. If you don’t appear to the outside world. Brand communications are often the like using them, why would responsibility of more than one team anyone else? yourself – the person writing copy for your website may not be the same person that produces your mailouts or writes your tweets. So put yourself in your users’ shoes. When thinking about users’ reactions to you, try starting with your own. They are not a different species, they’re people just like you. Being on the receiving end will help you to discover errors that can damage your brand such as broken links, typos, overwhelming newsletters, and irritating forms. And don’t forget your social media channels. Do you like the way you sound and is the tone appropriate and consistent between your Facebook and Twitter pages? Have faith in your own reaction and response – it can help to guide your decisions.24 25
  14. 14. How to If you do use it yourself one thing: Sign up for your newsletter(s) Turn Javascript off What we’ve learned: Stalk yourself on right now! Browse around your site with social networks Register to get your e-communications Javascript disabled so that you see This book is part of a set we’re writing and open the next newsletter you what non-Javascript users see. Does it about different things our sector can Follow your organisation on Twitter receive. Which bits are eye-catching or still work? Is it still a pleasure to use? do to make better digital stuff. Since or become a fan on Facebook and sound really interesting and which bits Around four per cent of people will be writing our first book, The Online keep an eye out for posts every did you skip? Which bits seem punchy using your site in this way. They include Campaigning Handbook day. Think about which ones gave and insightful? Do this with three more people using assistive technologies (, we’ve done you an emotional reaction – made - is there a pattern in what works well such as screenreaders, as well as IT some research into what people you smile, made you angry and and what could work better? Sign up staff who may turn it off for security thought of it. Happily, everyone’s been most importantly, which made you your family and friends too; they’ll be reasons. Many mobile devices don’t very nice about it but there was room want to find out more. The style of honest with you! come with Javascript interpreters so for improvement. Some of the things your social media messages has a it’s increasingly vital that your online readers pointed out: huge impact on how effective they Pretend you don’t have internal are. If a status update left you flat, services work elegantly regardless of systems 1) It looks a bit serious. where and how people are trying to your users may well have felt like If you want to know something about 2) We haven’t put in enough of our use them. that too. If there was a link and you your own organisation, you probably own work examples. didn’t feel like clicking, what would use your intranet or other internal Stress test your navigation 3) It looks pretty on your desk but have made you do so? network. Try finding information as the On our blog you’ll find a handy form isn’t very shareable. user would have to, i.e. through your ( designed to So we’ve tried to incorporate that website. If there’s better images and show what it’s like for users to navigate feedback to improve this one. We’ve information in your internal libraries your site if they land on a page via also republished each chapter on our than on your site, you’re not promoting search. Do they know where they are blog and tweeted them to make it your brand as well as you could be. and how to get around or are they a bit easier to share. lost? Start on a page that’s quite deep down and see how easy it is to answer the questions on the form. It only takes ten minutes.26 27
  15. 15. Why do this? Don’t develop a strategy until Doing research is pointless unless Pause you’ve drawn conclusions you can apply what you find. A lot of feedback can feel a bit overwhelming from research. so try to categorise insights. For and take example, if one user complains that you don’t update your news pages often enough, and another is reluctant to donate because they’re not sure stock how the money is spent, there’s a link – you need to get better at telling your audience what you’re up to. You should listen to your users as often as possible, but that doesn’t mean you need to be in a continuous process of redevelopment. Build moments into your schedule where you can take stock of what you’ve found out.28 29
  16. 16. How to If you do pause and take stock one thing: Appoint a third party Keep your organisational What we’ve learned: Get anyone who talks to your users There’s huge value and enjoyment goals in mind (researchers, for instance, or your to be had in trying out user research Thinking about your research findings During the development of The call centre staff) together for an yourself; however, it can sometimes be in the context of your overall goals Prostate Cancer Charity website, we hour or so and discuss what they’ve hard to stay objective or turn a chorus will create structure around your invested a month in user research, learned from them. Write individual of voices into clear insights. External analysis and help prioritise emerging spending time exploiting many of the bits of interesting feedback on a expertise can be really useful at the requirements. For example, if techniques in this book and talking to post-it note. Then look across the analysis stage (or if you simply don’t fundraising is your top goal then you teams in the organisation. However, set for similar points that can be have time to carry out the research might want to spend time fixing any the key moment was not sitting face- grouped together under a theme. yourself) and of course we’re more issues in your donations form and the to-face with a user, or pouring over Fiddly but fun, this is a great way than happy to help! (Well, there had user journey to get there. analytics; it was when representatives to see the big themes that are to be a plug in here somewhere from across the charity came together emerging from your research. didn’t there?) to discuss the conclusions. It was a great meeting because it gave internal teams a chance to think about the website as a whole rather than just their section. Within an hour and a half we were able to reflect on what users wanted, and create a holistic view of the site’s content requirements. It really emphasised to us the value of sharing research right across an organisation.30 31
  17. 17. Notes32 33
  18. 18. Thank You Public Zone would like to thank the many people who contributed their time and wisdom to this report, including Steve Rogers, Martin Belam, Julia Whitney, Jennie Winhall, Duncan Letcher, Nicky Smyth, Chandra Harrison and Hannah Forbes-Black. Special thanks to our very own user experience design director, Julie Dodd, and to all our fantastic clients who continue to invest in user research.34 35
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