By the end of this module, you should understand:
- What we mean by ‘user needs’
- Why user needs are important to digital products and services
- Digital techniques you could use to research and define user needs
What are user needs?
When we refer to ‘users’, we mean anybody who uses the department’s digital products and services. This of course includes a wide range of people, from health professionals looking for a specific piece of guidance for their work to, less frequently, members of the public wanting information on a particular issue.
Our digital platforms are only successful if they help these users do something they need to do. For this reason, we begin every digital project with research into:
- who users are
- what they need to do
- why they need to do it
Only after we define these user needs do we begin creating a solution to meet them.
Being user-centred isn’t the same as being user-led. You don’t have to slavishly follow every suggestion your users make. A proper understanding of user needs means knowing what will best serve your users better than they do.
However, we don’t create digital products or services that users haven’t said they need or that are based on the department’s needs and assumptions.
Why are user needs important?
Researching user needs:
- demonstrates that we listen to users and have a genuine interest in giving them what they need
- provides structure to project planning and delivery, as we have a clearer idea of what we need to achieve to ensure success
- helps us create more targeted products and services that help people do what they need to do online
- improves efficiency and prevents taxpayers’ money being spent on digital services that don’t succeed
Researching and defining user needs
Researching and defining user needs takes place during the discovery phase of the agile project management process (you’ll learn about this in the Agile Module). It’s important to approach the task with an open mind, as the findings are often unexpected – there are times, for example, when users say they don’t want the product or service we’re planning.
Methods for researching user needs include:
- web analytics – data that reveals how people are using a current product
- online surveys – asking users to give feedback about a current digital platform
- feedback – analysing what users have said before, including complaints
- formal user research – often by a specialist agency using qualitative and quantitative techniques
Research findings will help you develop a clear list of user needs that include who the user is, what they need to do and why they need to do it. For example:
As a health professional, I need online guidance on what to do if a patient reveals domestic abuse, so that I can ensure the patient gets the help they need.
As a patient, I need to book an appointment with my GP online, so that I can get help with a health problem.
In this video, the process of user research is explained:
The digital team has recently developed a new platform for content that can’t sit on GOV.UK. This platform was designed to meet the user needs of those involved with:
- campaign sites (where campaigns are defined as short-term activities and a specified end date)
- online consultations (which also have an end date)
- complex publications (which may need breaking down into a more user-friendly and interactive format than the standard publication format on GOV.UK)
GOV.UK currently does not have the capability to meet these needs, which is why the Government Digital Service gave us the go-ahead to create and host a new platform. We incorporated some of the user needs we identified during the discovery phase of the project into the design itself.
- The Government Digital Service manual has a comprehensive overview of user needs.
- GOV.UK also has an introduction to the idea of a ‘discovery’ phase of a project.
- The Digital Health blog has a handy – and simple – guide to how to incorporate user needs in the development of your project.
- Finally, it’s worth reading about separating what users think they need from what they actually need (which is something the biggest tech companies do). User need and user desire might not be the same thing – just think of all those products you use every day, that you couldn’t do without now that you’ve purchased them!
- There is plenty of government advice on user research, why it’s important, and how to go about it.