When designing your website it is of great importance that you know as much about your audience as you can. Your audience for this purpose consists of anyone and everyone who will be using your website at any given time. There are many different types of research that you can do to figure out not only who your users are, but what their habits are, what they like, and how they will utilize your site. These include interviews, surveys, field research, task analysis, and personas. Which one you use depends on what phase of development you are in, and what questions you are trying to answer. Let me show you what I mean.
Interviewing current and future users gives you insight into how your product is or might be being used, and whether or not it is fitting the user’s needs. This method should be used during all phases of development, and once the site is live in order to continue to improve. Because of the interview’s ability to gather information on not only how effective a task is, but also on whether or not the task is even important to the user, it is important to conduct interviews before you develop a plan for usability testing.
These are normally used after the site is up and running. A survey is one of the best tools for finding out who your users are, and what they think of your website. It is extremely important that surveys are crafted to ask just the right questions, and that they are given to a large number of users. If the survey is done correctly, you now have a wealth of information about who your users are, and how you can serve them better.
This form of research allows you to see how your users work in their own environment. It is an opportunity to get out of the office/research lab and see how well your website works in the real world. It is one of the best ways to see how you can fit your website into the routine of your users.
This form of user research is much more focused. It consists of observing how your users are solving the problems your products/website was meant to solve. You perform task analysis in order to better understand any problems your users may be having. You will then be able to provide alternative solutions and more efficient answers to your user’s problems.
A persona is like a “stand-in” for a real potential user of your product/site. These personas are created as a result of the research gathered from all of the other methods mentioned above, and allow the designers some insight into how various target groups utilize the site. The idea is to keep the user’s needs at the forefront of the design process, and keep them in mind during the creation of the user interface.
The method of user research you choose will depend on what questions you need answered. Whichever method you choose to use, the important thing is to do some user research. It is the only way to measure the effectiveness of what you are doing, and the best way to ensure you are creating a website that will be useful to your target group.