Observing our users brings unparalleled insight
Over the past few months we have been working with University Human Resources Services (UHRS) to help them develop a digital strategy. To gain a greater understanding of the needs of those devolved HR staff, we went out to interview some of them.
Devolved HR staff – the people across the University carrying out HR functions for their part of the organisation – are one of UHRS‘s key audiences.
The role of UHRS is to provide a central level of strategic leadership and infrastucture, in support of the HR work carried out within each college and support group.
Interviewing our users
The primary motivation for meeting devolved HR staff was to verify and further develop a list of tasks we had put together for a top tasks survey.
We also sought to gain some specific insights into what devolved staff needed from a couple of priority sections of the website.
But the interviews were also useful for giving us the opportunity simply to spend time with our users.
Get direct exposure to your users to improve your designs
The UX practitioner Jared Spool says that direct exposure to your users is the biggest factor explaining successful designs.
We had a short amount of time interviewing our users – a few hours in total. But even this was highly valuable.
While our sessions were ostensibly interviews, users naturally began to actually use the service to demonstrate what they were describing. Being able to directly observe how our users actually use the service gave us an unparalleled insight.
Why it’s important to observe as well as listen
It was particularly useful to see the cases where what people actually do is different to what they say they do (a common finding in usability, and social science in general).
For instance, I saw one person explain how they always used their college’s HR pages and rarely looked at the central HR website. However, when they actually demonstrated their use of the website, they were in fact using the central HR website – they just hadn’t realised it.
In another example, a range of people from different departments complained about one particular form being out of date, and cited it as a frustration with the central HR pages. On further investigation, it turned out that the file in question was actually uploaded by one of the devolved teams that had complained about it.
Our observations brought into focus the challenges surrounding digital content management for a Human Resources function that is heavily devolved. The insights we gained from directly observing one of our key audiences has heavily influenced our ongoing work developing a Human Resources digital strategy.
Get in touch
If you would like help gaining a greater understanding of your users’ needs and experiences, get in touch with the University Website Programme.
We can help you get started, or suggest ways in which we can support you.