2.6b How to gather user information: user research
When should you conduct user research?
Web site projects should be based on information derived from user research. Critical points at which to conduct user research are:
1. Gathering initial requirements.When the Web site:
2. Prototyping. If you are releasing a prototype of a system, testing with a small sample of prospective users can give insight into the interface and the logical flow of information. This information is then included in the development or finalization stages. Consider the pre-launch as a prototype and avoid any kind of user test close to this date (except, of course, for quality control of content and functionality). When you are focusing on core content and functionality it is too late to discover key features to be changed or corrected. If you need to do a user test before launching a Web site, plan it well in advance.
3. Monitoring the success of a Web site. There is no need to wait for a formal evaluation to verify the success of your Web site. Adjustments or improvements can be done in small steps, driven by user feedback or unusual patterns in the traffic statistics (for example).
4. Validating the introduction of a key feature or area. If you receive requests for a new feature that will substantially change the site without going through a site redesign.
5. Evaluation. User research is an evaluation technique in itself - its purpose and application changing according to its specific goals at a certain point of a Web site's lifecycle. Sometimes, formal evaluations (external or auto-evaluations) are required. In this case, aim your user research at gathering feedback based on the specific objectives of the Web site or the programme entity that it is part of.
How to conduct user research
Following is an overview of the main steps to plan and implement a user research project. Specific skills are required to implement these methods and analyse the results.
1. Contact OCP for advice, guidance and coordination. OCP conducts user research and needs-assessment. Data is available from previous research and OCP staff can help you with project definition and choice of methodology.
2. Define a user research strategy. Define why you need to conduct user research: is it to evaluate usability or general user satisfaction? Is it about general user characteristics, or what kind of information users look for on the site? Decide what kind of data you want to obtain from your research and why it is needed to solve specific problems.
3. Look for existing sources of information. Sometimes it may not be necessary to start from scratch. Talk with different stakeholders: has anything similar been done before? Who is the person in contact with users (e.g. the Webmaster)? Is the site or system used in the field? Talk with OCP and/or OSP to find out whether other divisions have done something similar (e.g. profiling surveys): is their data applicable to your case as well?
4. Select and recruit users. Where to find them: mailing lists, lists of workshop participants, through the Regional Offices, partners, committee meetings (although not always helpful because people may be too busy), announcements on newsletters and discussion forums. OCP has a list of people who have volunteered to participate in user research.
5. Choose the right method (or the right mix). Each set of issues and research questions requires a suitable method. Also, consider the current stage of the lifecycle of your site and the availability of resources. Here is a list of common, easily adoptable methods to collect user information (Explore other user research methods by stage/resources/access to users at UsabilityNet.):
See also in the guide
References and resources