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  1. Service manual
  2. User research
  3. How user research improves service design

User research gives your team the understanding it needs to design a good user experience. It also enables you to test your service and evaluate how successful you’ve been at meeting your users’ needs.

Without it, you won’t know what to build, how to build it or what problems you’re trying to solve.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

To pass point 1 (understand user needs) in your service assessments, you must show that you’ve researched the needs of all your users, including those with the lowest level of digital access, skill and literacy.

To pass point 2 (do ongoing research) you must show that you have an ongoing plan to research and test your service with all your users, including those with access and support needs.

Understand your users

To deliver a service that meets your users’ needs, you have to understand:

  • who your likely users are
  • what they’re trying to do
  • how they’re trying to do it now

Unlike market research, you need to work out how your users think and behave rather than find out what they like or think they want.

If you understand your users’ circumstances, influences and expectations, it will help you design a service that’s easy to use and valued by the people who need it.

Research continually

To work in an agile way, service teams must be able to quickly:

  • update their understanding of users and their needs, including users who lack the ability or access to use digital services on their own
  • test new design ideas, content and features to see if they work well for all users
  • understand problems users are having and how they might be resolved

This means doing user research in every iteration of every phase - starting in discovery and continuing throughout live. You can’t only do it at the beginning or end of development.

Doing this means you can:

  • focus solely on building things that address user needs, including support for people who can’t use digital services on their own
  • respond quickly to changes in policy and organisational objectives
  • identify and solve problems as you become aware of them
  • decide which are the most important things to work on next
  • respond to user behaviour and feedback to continuously improve the service

Involve your team

All team members should watch real users interacting with your service and talking about it, ideally for at least 2 hours every 6 weeks.

These ‘exposure hours’ can involve interviews, home or workplace visits, lab-based usability tests or any other research activities where people can watch and listen to real users.

This will help your team:

  • understand the frustrations and joys people experience when using your service
  • learn the language that people use when talking about your service
  • think and talk about users in terms of real people with real needs
  • develop empathy for the people they’re writing or designing for

The team members who observe research can then take part in analysis to help agree on the findings and any resulting actions.

Share your findings

You should also invite your team, stakeholders and people in your organisation who deal with users to show and tells and other activities where you share what you’ve learned from user research.

Involving more people in user research helps your team make better decisions about how to improve your service by:

  • reducing the risk of researcher bias and unchallenged assumptions
  • giving less dominant team members a voice
  • limiting the influence of individual stakeholders

Learn more about why user research is a team sport.

Make time for research

It’s essential to plan user research for your service.

Throughout each development phase, user researchers should typically be:

  • working on a project for at least 3 days a week
  • running user research sessions at least every 2 weeks

Regardless of the size of your service or team, it’s important that researchers share their findings and work with the team to inform the design process.

This means they might lead joint analysis sessions and design workshops. They should also work closely with designers, developers and content designers on prototypes and design decisions.

Examples and case studies

To learn about user research best practice, find out:

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User research community