3 ways to get started with User Research

Many cultural sector organisations are aware of the benefits of user-driven services, but when budgets are tight and time is short, what steps can we take to help ensure that we’re putting our users first? In this post we want to share some of our experience conducting user research to help libraries and cultural organisations wanting to make their services more user-driven.

User research is a pivotal part of designing and delivering user-driven services, but you may not have the resources or the dedicated specialist staff to conduct in-depth user research for each and every product and service. 

The good news is that you don’t have to have dedicated user researchers on staff, or a huge budget: ongoing, in-house research can have a big impact and contribute to a more user-driven culture. 

Guerrilla user research

Guerrilla research is a way to conduct fast, low cost, ad-hoc user research using the resources that are available to you. It may consist of short user interviews that aren’t scheduled or pre-planned, although it’s a good idea to have a set of questions to ensure consistency and to be respectful of people’s time. For public-facing services like libraries and museums, approaching people in public may be necessary, but it doesn’t have to be formal or to require lots of dedicated time. 

Aside from these kinds of ‘user interviews’, taking opportunities for feedback within existing touchpoints can be a great way of conducting a bit of guerilla research. For example, ask people for feedback when delivering virtual services, and if anyone has feedback to share, make a note of it. Which brings us to …

Making feedback usable (and findable)

Keep a record of any and all research you receive. This may be a kind word via email following a reference enquiry, a passing comment when assisting with a printer or scanner, or within more formal user research activities. But to be of use, you’ll need to be able to access these comments in a structured way.

A DIY feedback repository can provide a growing bank of evidence and knowledge about your users, and it doesn’t have to be a bells and whistles repository. Although you could go the whole hog with a research repository platform (a ready-made, searchable, centralised archive to store all of your research, findings and actions), something more like a lightweight knowledge management or research tool can be useful here. We’ve used Obsidian or Wiki.js, for example, because they’re straightforward to get up and running and easy to add to and search content.

Though feedback should be kept anonymous, it can be useful to provide some contextual information for example, the type of user engagement, or information about their context. This helps to categorise the information and makes it reusable. You could try an automated tracker such as this Zapier-powered one to monitor feedback and comments on social media.

If you already have a team documentation or note-sharing app, it could make a great, lightweight feedback repository. The main thing is to make it searchable and filterable in ways that are meaningful to you and your team: By topic. By service. By feature. And shareable. 

Be open to feedback

Be open about your openness to feedback. This means providing easy ways for users to offer feedback that are built into different touch points. For example, if you send email communications, provide quick links to share feedback.

Integrated Feedback is another approach you can use. If you are introducing a new service, product or tool, try to find a way to integrate feedback into the rollout of that new service. This communicates clearly that you are open to feedback and that you are listening. 

Feedback doesn’t have to be onerous or ask too much of users. A good example is a simple rate button. There’s a reason that those HappyOrNot terminals are so ubiquitous – and so effective.

This doesn’t mean nagging your users – it’s best to keep the intrusive pop-ups and pesky asks to a minimum. 

We all have some degree of survey fatigue so don’t batter your users with questions unnecessarily. However, a thoughtful, polite enquiry for user’s input here and there can not only work wonders by supplying you with valuable knowledge about user’s needs, it can also help to create a culture of valuing and welcoming their input too.