Tuesday, January 04, 2011

User Research on the Team

Customers need websites that work. Business owners need projects that deliver on organizational goals. IT developers need to know what to build.  Enter user experience: the profession that bridges the gaps.

User experience (UX) team members ensure that business needs are identified, buildable blueprints are delivered to IT, and end users get websites and applications that engage them, delight them, persuade them, answer their questions, and exceed their needs and expectations.

Research plays a critical role in the sphere of user experience.  User research boils down to finding and listening to the voice of the customer. This strategic approach works particularly well when carried out collaboratively, with the participation of business, IT, and users alike.  The user researcher translates the mandate to "fight for the user" into specific research activities, trackable metrics, actionable reports, and more. The lead researcher will also look at how user research can creatively permeate many aspects of an IT project and even extend into related channels. For instance, research can engage with the help desk, marketing department, and social media manager, to the mutual benefit of all.

In my current project, I serve as User Experience Team Lead for a major government web portal. One of our first actions two years ago was to establish a solid foundation for user research that would work within an Agile development environment. That meant our research activities had to be fast, focused, and answer critical interface questions for features that were just about to be built. One piece included setting up a large and representative user engagement pool from which we could draw respondents on short notice. Another was to lay out our research tools up front in a roll-your-own user research handbook.  Another element was to put a range of metrics into place, and we now track help desk stats, ACSI survey results, web analytics, and media mentions, and create regular briefings on all these findings. We also succeeded in establishing a participatory research approach that engages users, team members, and business owners in the process of collecting information and translating it into improved design decisions. Furthermore, the UX team has begun supporting stakeholders with research for marketing and communication efforts on behalf of related projects.

Baking in user research can also pay unexpected benefits.  A powerful lobby approached the business owner of my current government project and wanted to know how their constituents were being served by this high-profile web portal.  Preparing a report was a simple matter, and our in-person briefing demonstrated that the voices of their constituents have been represented throughout the process via interviews, card sorting exercises, focus groups, and prototype tests.

In short, research gives us tools that work for the project, the owners, and the users.  Having user research on the team is a win for everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment