Spending time with users

Dafydd Vaughan on 14 June 2015

Last week I spent a day in Manchester with my team’s user researcher. She’s visiting people all over the country to help us better understand how people interact with government services.

Taking part in research like this gives you a great opportunity to meet people outside of your normal circle. As a civil servant, I spend most of my time with people who have an interest in and understanding of how government works. As a developer, I spend most of my time with people who are confident using technology. Many of my friends have scientific, engineering or legal backgrounds. All of these give unrealistic expectations of how people cope with the real world situations we inflict upon them.

By taking the time to talk to or observe people with different experiences, ages and abilities, you get to learn loads about where people struggle with services. It helps you think about how you can build things that are easier to use. Even the slightest change can make a big difference.

During my visit to Manchester this week I was involved in interviewing people about a recent experience they’ve had. But previously I’ve sat and listened in to calls or observed them trying to use a service. Every time I’ve come away with a better understanding of how what I build can affect people.

I doesn’t matter what your role is within a team, you should get involved in user research. Don’t just leave it to a user researcher. If you’re a delivery manager, a developer, a designer, a business analyst or a chief executive, spend some time getting a feel for those who will be using the thing you’re building. At work, we describe user research as a team sport – everyone should be involved.

I’ve not spent anywhere near enough time doing this. I’m sure Leisa – the head of user research at GDS – would agree. I’m going to commit do doing this more.

Thanks to Abby for letting me tag along this week. And thanks to the people who shared their stories with us. I hope we’ll get to use what you told us to make better services.