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Research user experience (UX) - Digital Standards

How to find out what your users actually need and avoid assumptions.

Before you begin

This How-to guide for best practice user experience (UX) research is for beginners. This guide is one of a set that makes up the WoVG Digital Standards Framework.

The best way to learn how to conduct UX research is to understand the different types of research methods available, and then dive in and do it. The information collated here outlines a human-centered design process to follow and offers a number of resources to help you do that.

This guide is split into two parts: the first contains a primer on the field of user experience design and where research fits into the design process; while the second provides guidelines on how to conduct UX research.

Glossary

UX - user experience

WoVG - Whole of Victorian Government

SUS - System Usability Scale: a 10 item questionnaire to reliably measure the usability of your product. A score of above 68 is considered above average. Usability.gov SUS.

DPC - Department of Premier and Cabinet

DJR - Department of Justice and Regulation

Document control information. This How-to guide is also part of a set of internal documents for Department of Justice and Regulation: User Research How-to guide CD/16/412448, User Experience and Information Architecture Specialist.

What is UX, and why does it matter?

User experience design (UX, or UXD) is the process of crafting how your users interact with your organisation, its services, and its products in digital environments.

This goes beyond just delivering a beautiful interface. It means genuinely understanding the world from your customers perspective and constructing a seamless experience from the separate fields of interaction design, information architecture, visual interface design, and coding.

Ultimately UX is about understanding your users, identifying their problems, then solving them.

Why UX is important

Delivering a successful digital product requires satisfying three general criteria:

Viability - meeting the business objectives and vision of your organisation, within budget and timeframe. This is typically the domain of product and business owners.

Feasibility - delivering within given technical constraints. This is typically the domain of technical leads and product managers.

Desirability - solving the right problems for the right people. This is where UX design can help.

The UX design process

The UX design process is an approach that ensures you are putting people (your customer or user) at the center of your decision making. The first half of the process is all about gathering information and understanding the problem or need to address, with the latter half focusing on designing and developing the solution.

There are four main phases of the design process:

  1. Discover – understanding the problem
  2. Define – the area to focus on
  3. Design – potential solutions
  4. Deliver – solutions that work

Discover

All projects should begin with a phase dedicated to understanding the problem. Why are we building this product? Who will be using it? What do those users really need? Only by understanding the “who, what and why”, can we meaningfully solve user problems and deliver a useful product. This stage should include thinking broadly about all possible ideas and opportunities.

Define

This stage involves narrowing down and defining an idea or direction to focus on. This could even mean questioning if the original problem is still relevant. It is important to focus on a limited number of problems, and not try to solve everything at once. You can always keep other ideas or focus areas for future projects.

Design

Once you have defined a clear problem space, it is time to look for possible solutions. Using divergent thinking, explore many possible solutions and concepts to achieve the desired experience.  Refine the designs through iterative prototyping, testing and evaluation. The iterative approach allows you to fail early and cheaply while ensuring there is low risk of solution rejection.

Deliver

This stage is about bringing the solution design to reality and creating a concrete solution. Testing and monitoring play a critical part in ensuring the initiative is successful as it transitions to business as usual.

Where does UX research fit in?

User research ensures you are designing with people in mind.

User research should occur continuously throughout the design process, and can be grouped into two main types:

Discovery Research

Occurs in the first half of the design process and helps to answer to question “Are we building the right product?”. Discovery research is less about understanding what people want, and more about understanding their behaviours and needs. It is important to observe, and not just listen, as often what people say they do, isn’t necessarily what they actually do.

Discovery research will help you answer the following questions:

  • Who are the people that will use your product/service?
  • What are their main goals or the jobs they are trying to achieve?
  • What are their needs in achieving their goal?
  • How do they currently complete that job or task?
  • What are their pains and frustrations with their current experience?

Validation Research

Occurs in the second half of the design process and helps to answer the question “Have we built the product right?”.  This research is all about testing your ideas and assumptions, uncovering the “how” of people using your product.

Do I need to do both?

Often, organisations focus all their efforts on validation research and skip discovery research. This can have serious consequences - if you don’t understand the people using your product/service, how can you truly design a solution to meet their needs?

The inverse can also be true; if you focus just on understanding the problem but not on validating your solution, you’ll be guided largely by assumptions and your own biases. Therefore, testing solutions with users is just as essential as running discovery research.

Why do user experience research?

User research is vital to the success of a product or service. Skipping research means you are building products based on assumptions, and this can be very risky.

 “Designing without good user research is like building a house without solid foundations—your design will soon start to crumble and eventually fall apart.”

- Neil Turner, founder of UX for the Masses

The benefits to conducting research are numerous:

Create products and services that matter to people

UX research engages users throughout the entire design process of your product and service. It helps ensure that you are meaningfully helping your users, and delivering a problem that is useful and easy to use.

Discover insights you wouldn’t otherwise find

UX research produces qualitative insights unavailable any other way. You don’t know what you don’t know, and it’s only by directly talking to your users that you can find out.

Prioritise your effort

UX research can help you sensibly prioritise what to build, identifying the features that are the highest value to your users, and that you know you can realistically achieve.

Reduce development costs

Consulting with people early helps to avoid waste and rework. If a concept isn’t working effectively, you can find out early before investing months in design and development.

Learn and continually improve

Gathering and sharing lessons learnt (based on the behaviours you’ve observed) is an effective way for government to find ways to improve.

What does the Victorian Government recommend?

All Victorian Government online services should aim to provide a high-quality of user experience. To achieve this, all new online products and services should undergo both discovery and validation research before and after release.

WoVG recommends you apply the 12 Design Principles to all new and refreshed digital services. The outcomes of your UX research should produce an online experience that supports all 12 principles. Read more about the Digital Standards Framework and the 12 Design Principles.

What standards must be met?

Privacy

Comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, and only collect information you’re legally entitled to collect. You’ll need to craft and publish a privacy ‘collection notice’ (refer to the How-to guide, How to manage privacy or the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner website).

If your digital presence collects personal information, then the physical location of the servers where it’s stored must have the same level of legal protection for private data as we offer citizens in Victoria.

Accessibility

To comply with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act, and the WoVG standard ‘Conform to Level AA of version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)’, your digital presence must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 (WCAG) AA standard.

If your audience is primarily people with a disability (for example, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) clients), your site must pass the test for the AAA standard. Refer to the How-to guide, Make content accessible.

Reviewed 14 November 2019

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