22 Mar 10 things to do before commissioning a web agency
A few years ago, when I was at a networking event I met someone from the financial services industry, a bank. Back then, User Research was even less known than it is today. It was understood that they wanted to redesign their premier account site. Unsurprising as when I went to visit their site, it was quite old fashioned and not user-friendly.
We continued the conversation and offered services, explaining that the key factor to designing a great website is to understand the end users needs and to place them at the centre of the project.
At that time, it was more the sales and marketing departments in charge of the digital/web aspects.
At the end of the conversation, I was told: “we don’t need your services because WE KNOW WHAT OUR CUSTOMERS WANT and the design agency will help us.” We hear this all the time.
A few years later, we met the same person at another networking event and asked him how his website turned out? We hoped his customers were happy with it.
His reply was: “It’s a nightmare, it doesn’t work, we spent so much money and we get so many complaints from our customers.”
At the risk of sounding like I’m saying I told you so – I wasn’t surprised. Ultimately, it may have looked great, but if the user can’t use it, all the money spent with the design agency or designers will be a bit of a waste.
It was clear to me and often is, that the design of this premier bank’s website was driven by stakeholder ideas, designers, new design features and trends – all without taking into consideration the USER NEEDS.
What are user needs?
I will start with the definition from GDS Design principles that you can find here
“Service design starts with identifying user needs. If you don’t know what the user needs are, you won’t build the right thing. Do research, analyse data, talk to users. Don’t make assumptions. Have empathy for users, and remember that what they ask for isn’t always what they need. “
In other words, it is important to find out:
· Why the users will use the service?
· When they’ll use the service?
· The devices they’ll use?
· Which type of transaction they expect to do on the site?
· The types of functionalities they need?
Why you need the expertise of a user researcher?
A user researcher is not a designer – they are not market researchers either. User researchers are experts and professionals that will understand and evaluate the behaviour of users. They have scientific backgrounds and their high qualifications mean they ask the correct questions, yielding insightful answers. More on this, here:
1. Identify who your users and prospective users are.
2. Gather user needs by spending time with the real users and collecting data.(qualitative and quantitative).
3. Draw an account of their needs.
4. Create personas.
5. Create the ideal user journey for each persona and identify commonalities.
6. Organise workshops with stakeholders and designers to share findings and start prototype based on user needs.
7. Put the prototype in front of the user; guerrilla and/or lab testing.
8. Improve the prototype until it meets user needs and is validated by stakeholders and user researchers.
9. Build it.
10. Re-test the site once it is built and before it’s live.
User research will limit risk and increase your return on investment.
If a stakeholder says: “I know the user”
The reality is that the stakeholder is not the user and their understanding of what they think the user needs is often based only on assumption and understanding of the world in which they belong.
If the designer or a web agency says: “We do the research.”
The reality is you should beware – would you give an interior designer the lead on the construction of a new building without conducting any research of what is needed to build it?
This is the same for a website; the researcher gets the users needs, the designer and/or IA will create the plan, the designer will make the model/prototype and the developer will build the site.