User Research Methods for Web Design
Everyone knows that user research is an important step of web design: an audit of your website’s performance and users can help lay the foundation for enhanced decision-making.
But the typical interview with stakeholders and a simple look in Google Analytics won’t cut it with a website overhaul.
A highly experienced user researcher will go through a series of assessments to help craft the best design. Have you considered surveying your existing customer base, tree testing, or conducting some A/B tests? These methods may take some time, but will ultimately help your website and business excel.
Take a look at your CRM and compile as much customer data as possible. Can you segment customers by age, behaviors, or products purchased? Can you associate additional demographics with each of these segments to narrow down motivations and pain points?
While some of your personas may come from aspirational positioning, your bread and butter will be the customers that are currently generating the most revenue.
If you have a large pool of users to survey, you can see trends in responses that will help you make decisions. For example, asking 1,000 users: How do you shop for clothes? a) online, b) in-store, c) mobile apps, can help you decide whether or not to build a mobile application for your clothing store.
User surveys are easy to distribute and analyze; however, it can be tricky to get enough people to fill them out. Incentivizing users with a small prize or drawing can help you collect the responses you need.
The benefit of interviewing a user over filling out a survey is that you can add followup questions. The best way to truly get to the bottom of a user’s frustrations is by talking to them and better understanding what does and doesn’t work for them.
Start out with a written interview, and leave some time to stray from this set of questions. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Ask users what they do, not what they want.
- Don’t ask leading questions. Keep it open-ended.
- Ask the same question from multiple angles.
A/B testing designs on an older website can help validate or redirect your ideas. You don’t have to completely redesign each variation of a test. Instead, incrementally test smaller ideas such as: a new opening statement, new calls to action, a new navigation, or reordering information on a page.
A paid tool like Optimizely, or a free tool like Google Optimize will be effective in helping you measure results.
For each test, make sure you notate your hypothesis, a description, the start/end date, and the result. Keeping a log of your A/B tests will help you compile information to draw higher-level insights. These insights will be useful in all design decisions down the road.
Card sorting can help you stop making assumptions about website and product structure. Instead, see how users organize information. Matching your site structure to a user’s thoughts will facilitate navigation.
Traditionally, card sorting involves writing different information on notecards. The focus group will sort these note cards in a way that makes the most sense to them.
For the highest accuracy in results, make sure your focus group matches your personas as closely as possible.
Tree testing is a fast way to validate a hierarchy of information. A user is asked to find where they think certain tasks can be completed within a tree. Typically used after card sorting, tree testing is a quick and inexpensive way to evaluate a design.
Just like with card sorting, your users need to match your personas closely. For instance, someone performing a card sort with heavy industry knowledge will behave differently than someone with less industry knowledge.
Accessibility Scanners / Manual Testing
Accessibility testing will help you find out if people with disabilities can navigate your site. Do you have alt tags for each image, so a blind person could use a screen reader? Can you tab through each page? Is text-to-background color contrast easy to read?
With more complaints filed against websites every year for discriminating against people with disabilities, it’s important to make sure you’re website is accessible to all. There are many ways to test for website accessibility.
An automated tool like A11y Machine or Wave can help you find basic issues. However, the only way to test for some issues is to have someone with a disability review your site and flag any issues. A certified expert may also be able to catch some things that an automated tool will not pick up.
Accessible design will also help you cast a wider net. A large percentage of the population has a disability, and catering to these people will give you a competitive edge digitally.
Brand Audit Workshops
Although a brand audit is not a form of user testing, this tie-in can also help make informed design decisions. Does your website focus on a core competency?
Many businesses lead with their products and service varieties on their home page. But it’s important to lead with your competitive advantage to prevent people from moving on to competitor websites. That’s why you must take some time to really drill into what sets you apart. And it may be difficult to determine this without some outside guidance.
A consultant can help you see that the best way to determine your core competency is to talk to people who work with your customers - sales and support teams. These employees will know best what user frustrations are and which products/services resonate best with the customer. Build your business (and your website) on the foundation of what you do best.
How These Methods Can Help
These eight user research techniques create a strong foundation for web or application design. For each business, different steps will require more attention and be more useful. For example, a university website would need a thorough focus on accessibility to avoid lawsuits. On the other hand, an eCommerce store would need solid results from a card sort to best categorize products. To be efficient, go through each step and spend some extra time on the methods that you find most valuable.
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