Doing research throughout the lifecycle of a project enables us to understand our users’ needs and check that we are meeting the requirements of the business and users.
Ideally, you would work with a user researcher to better understand your audience, their needs and motivations, and the language they use. We know in local authorities that this isn’t always possible, so below are some ways you could conduct your own research to help design services.
In academia, at the start of every research project, there is a literature review, where you would read, survey, critique, analyse, and summarise everything already written about the topic you are researching. The Royal Literary Fund (rlf.org.uk) has written a great article outlining ‘what is a literature review?’.
This is a vital part of research, as it gives you a solid grounding in the topic. In any project, a similar approach can give insights into what other people are saying about the topic, including popular themes, the language used, and any gaps. This literature can include blog posts, white papers, articles, manuals, or books.
Review existing products
If there are existing products or services that are similar to the one you are working on, you can review their concepts, interactions, language, and experiences. This could be within your organisation, competitors, partners, or independent bodies. There is equal value in looking at similar products and services internally and externally.
It is difficult to say which analytical data would be most useful for your project. Google Analytics is a common analytics platform but there are many others available with different ways of presenting data.
Before deciding on the analytics you want to analyse, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve so that the data aligns to your project and helps you to understand the work. As an example, if you’re working on a survey, the number of surveys started and completed may be useful data to look at.
Be cautious of vanity metrics that may look good but do not necessarily help you to meet your goals.
A Boolean search is a formula to search the web, allowing you to refine your search by combining keywords to produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be “Pub” AND “London”. This would limit the search results to only items with those two keywords.
Boolean search works on search engines (like Google, Yahoo, or Bing), social networks (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and in many databases and professional directories.
The most popular keyword search tool used is Google AdWords. This would tell you the most popular keywords people use in searches in relation to your topic, as well as key questions being asked. This is especially valuable for a content review and to understand the words and language people use.
Network, research and ask questions within your own organisation. There may be old folders on a shared drive that you can access, or people in your customer contact centre that have dealt with similar enquiries (customer service data and customer enquiries are a great source of data for desk research!). There may also be other teams who have worked on something similar.
Tap into the experiences inside your organisation to gather better insights into your own project.
Customer reviews on your website, forums, or social media are a good source to help with desk research.
An accessibility review can give you quick insights into your project if there is existing content.
Some quick ways you can do it on your own from your desk include checking the readability of your content through an application (such as Hemingway, Grammarly, or checking readability statistics in Microsoft Word), using an online colour contrast checker tool, or using online accessibility websites to assess your content.
A content audit would give you a clear view of the content already existing on the website, platforms, or service you are working within.
To find out more about what a content audit is, and how to do one, see this blog post, ‘How to Conduct A Content Audit’ from UX Mastery.
If you don’t have access to a user researcher but would like to conduct some primary research, and have access to a sample of your users, you could conduct a short survey to give you better insights into the user needs.
This can be done through your organisation’s social media accounts, email subscribers, or events your company is hosting.
This is also a common method to use if your audience is internal.
Here are some ways to run your own primary research:
- Polls offer a quick way to get insights from your audience, and Twitter polls are a popular way to gain primary data.
- Surveys give you more ways to collect data, from free text boxes, to multiple choice – common software used includes Survey Monkey, or Google forms.
- The free web-based software Slido has a variety of ways to collect user insights, including polls, word cloud type poll, or direct free-text feedback.
There’s an old saying of “two sides to every coin” and this is the same for any data collected. Whether this is qualitative or quantitative data, there is always more to find out. See each piece of data as part of a jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t need to be complete to see the picture, but you do need more than a single piece to get the gist!
An example may be using bounce rates to inform decision making. They can either show excellent page design, where the customer could get everything from a single page before moving off the site… or they can show that a person came to the wrong place and left as fast as possible. Using other data to build a narrative will help you learn which it is.