Making the move to user research

User research helps make products and services that work for the people who use them. It takes loads of different forms including lab sessions and interviews, onsite visits and analysing data but, regardless of its form, it must be present throughout the design process. And even after the thing is live.  

Moving into a user research role

I’ve worked at the Co-op for just under 2 years. I originally joined the Analytics and Optimisation team, but for the last 10 months I’ve been a user researcher at Co-op Digital.

User research really appealed to me because it’s about listening to users as well as looking at data. My old role was heavy on the quantitative side of things: I evaluated data collected from user journeys and improved the experience for users. Good user researchers consider both quantitative and qualitative research so I’ve been working on my qualitative research skills. Now I feel even better equipped to help teams design the right thing.

User research at Co-op Digital

I applied for a user research role after seeing the work that our now Head of User Research James Boardwell and the team were doing with wills. The multidisciplinary team was working in an agile way to build a digital service to make it simpler and quicker for Co-op customers to get a will.

I saw how both data and qualitative research fed into the design process. User research formed the basis for discussions and the team could test ideas, put them in front of people and iterate them quickly. The whole team came to user research sessions so that everyone saw first-hand how users behaved when we put prototypes in front of them and asked questions. The team analysed the themes that came out of the sessions together which meant that everyone had a similar idea about where the design was heading.

Everything moved so quickly and decisions were based on things that the team had seen or heard. At each show and tell the team knew so much more than the week before – they’d added another piece to the jigsaw. They’d started small and built the right thing, quickly. I loved watching their progress.

My first taste of user research

Supporting James was my first experience as a user researcher. I joined the Wills team during a sprint focused on increasing the number of people making it to the confirmation page. I already had good experience in this from my previous role but here I also got to see James talking to people, showing them the prototype and doing qualitative research in lab sessions.

The data I’d collected told us what was happening with real people using the website, and James’ conversations with people told us why it was happening. The data showed that the exit rate from the ‘Your details’ page was disproportionately high. Qualitative research told us that people felt uncomfortable giving their personal details before knowing exactly what the service offered. Changing the order of the pages, so, giving the user more upfront information, resulted in more people completing the form.

The 2 kinds of insight complemented each other. You can read more about this in James’ post, User research and sample sizes.

Learning how user research works in a product team

I spent 6 months working with the Membership team too. User research gives us the chance to test things to make sure we’re doing the right thing for users. This way, any decisions we make are better informed.

Working on Membership opened my eyes to other ways of doing research too. It’s not just about interviews. We:

  • used qualitative website feedback and quantitative analytics to compare what users told us with what they actually do
  • visited stores to find out what our members and customers talk to colleagues about
  • spoke directly to members

It’s about analysing all available resources.

Leading my first project

Photograph of a user research session. Shows 10 members of the Electrical discovery team talking about and analysing what they've seen in the user research lab.

For the last 2 months I’ve been leading the user research on a discovery in our Electrical business. This project has helped me learn a lot about how user research informs service design through techniques like customer journey mapping and service blueprints. Service design is a fairly new way of thinking at Co-op Digital so leading this project was sometimes challenging, but we’ve got a strong user research community at Co-op Digital and support and advice was always available if I needed it.

Hard work, but worth it

I think the biggest challenge for a user researcher is using all of their observations and data to find the need, and working with the team to translate these into things we can work on.

User research encourages teams to take a more balanced approach to design. It changes the way teams work and brings the business and digital sides of things together. It’s a way to stop people jumping to conclusions about what’s ‘right’ because we’re using evidence to make decisions. And ultimately, that’s going to work better.

If learning about how people behave and why sounds interesting and you want to help teams build the right thing, quickly and cost-effectively, get in touch with James Boardwell or leave a comment on the blog.

Vicki Riley
User researcher

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