Your website is a big deal. It is your number one marketing tool, so getting it right is important. Many small and mid-sized organizations have to align their internal forces and gather their resources to get a web project in motion. If a web project is executed ineffectively, it may be a while before the business gets another shot at doing it again. The research phase of web design is necessary because it establishes if we are solving the right problem, tests our theories about what our target users need, and takes other outside factors into consideration. By including a research and discovery phase, we get a much clearer focus on what we are building, who we are building it for, and what needs to be included. It sets the stage for the rest of the project by putting us on the right course.
We want to make sure we’re not solving the wrong problem.
Benefits of Web Design Research
Structured research allows us to define our most important customers, and build for them first, not outliers. We can discover what their real habits are and not operate strictly from assumptions.The important thing is to keep an open and observant mind, test any assumptions we have, and analyze findings first. Only after analyzing the findings of the research is it time to propose solutions to the problems that have been discovered.
Structuring the Research
In the beginning, assume nothing.
Asking iterative questions with stakeholders is my way of getting to the heart of what the business is trying to accomplish and why. As an outsider, I can ask questions that internal team members cannot voice or see easily. My job is to discover the goals and motivations of the business and figure out how to bridge the gap between the current website and where we will go.
Once a problem is defined, remove the obstacles to success.
Seeing Things From the Users Perspective
The purpose of user research is to get inside their minds and see what they see. We can use interviews, web analytics, or surveys to answer certain questions. Why do they make the decisions that they do? What are they looking for? What could they benefit from on the site? Figuring out where and how they use a site helps me figure out what design decisions to make.
We have to decide what problems need solving before we ever figure out the best way to solve them.
Knowing what audience a business site is targeting helps me gather research from the right candidates, the most valuable users, as determined by stakeholder interviews. Focusing research efforts on the right audience makes the results more accurate and less open-ended. What does the site offer them? What do they want the site to offer them? Is those things they are just saying, or will they act on those statements? Research is all about finding needs that are currently unfulfilled and filling that gap.
Considering Outside Factors in Web Research
Fluctuations in website traffic or conversions are sometimes not entirely related to the website itself. Factors outside of the business itself can have a major role, and these must be considered as well. These offsite factors can include new competitors in the market, changes in the local economy, and lifestyle changes in the target audience.
Web design research is an important phase of the design process, and should precede anything else. Defining the user pain points allows us to remove them. The research phase sets the path for the rest of the project, and keeps us from wasting time and money on the wrong issues.