When Did You Last See Your Users?

by RedEye RedEye

When was the last time you watched someone use your website? Not you, not one of your team, but a genuine user interested in the product/service you offer? The Government Digital Service say their teams must see at least two hours of user research every six weeks to be able to contribute to a project. They even created a great poster to remind themselves of this commitment.

Without this exposure, designers, developers and stakeholders can easily start putting their own views above those of their users.

If you’re thinking “that doesn’t apply to me” then let me give you five reasons why you’re making a mistake if you’re not watching user research at least every six months.

You’re Potentially Wasting Time And Money On Unnecessary Changes

Picture the scene: you push live the new feature your team has been designing and developing for months. Everyone is proud of the work they’ve done and excited to see the impact it has on site traffic. You push the button and… Nothing. No-one cares. You’ve developed something that users had no need or appetite for.

Doing some user research in the early stages might have told you not to spend all that time and money. Or it might have suggested some changes that would have made the feature more valuable to users. It might have helped avoid scope creep as extra functionality was unnecessarily added. Investing in user research upfront could save you money in the long run.

You’re Biased

“You are not your user” is a UX mantra. Without exposure to a variety of users, it’s easy to forget that other people don’t do things online the way you do. Forcing users to do things your way can lead to abandonment and lost sales.

It’s also easy to start thinking of users simply as stereotypes: young people only shop on mobile, older users don’t trust buying online or everybody scrolls. I’ve seen people from six to 76 use websites and I am regularly surprised about what people do or don’t do. Trust me there is no ‘normal’.

You’re Only Getting Half The Story From Your Analytics

Analytics is great for telling you what your users are doing, and you can go into great detail by splitting the data. But what analytics won’t tell you is why your users are doing what they’re doing.

Without understanding why users are behaving in a particular way, all solutions to issues raised by analytics are guesswork and have a higher risk of failure.

Your Market Research Is Unverified

If you have market research why do you need to watch users? Well, I don’t know about you, but I find the differences between what people say they do and what they actually do can be very wide!

Users sometimes give answers to conform to what they think the ‘right answer’ is or what they wish to be true. Watching users on your site can verify the feedback you are getting from other sources and ensure actions are based on real insights.

Tech (And Your Competitors) Aren’t Standing Still

The devices we browse the web on are being updated constantly and new sites are launched all the time – how can you truly rely on user research from three years ago? Expectations of your site are influenced by all the other sites users look at. What might have been acceptable the last time you tested could now be deemed outdated and clunky. If your website is a work in progress how can research ever be complete?

Luckily, we see over 400 users a year, on a variety of sites, which makes it really hard for us to get complacent. We learn something from every user that comes into the lab and every new bout of research. And you will too.


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