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How to understand your users’ goals and use them to influence your design

Words by Megan HowellSeptember 28, 2018

A website user with a variety of needs

In this blog post, I’m going to be talking about how to understand your users’ goals and how to use them to influence your designs. If your website can help its users with one or more of their goals, they will see value in your service and continue using it. For this blog post, I’m going to be referring to user goals as user needs.

Firstly, what is a user need?

As defined on the GOV website:

'User needs' are the needs that a user has of a service, and which that service must satisfy for the user to get the right outcome for them.

Why use them?

We should gather user needs in every project because they help define problems that our users are having whilst interacting with a website, which in turn we can resolve. It is hard to know if there is value in your design if you do not understand the reason you are designing for and the problems you are trying to solve through the design.

The one thing to make sure you don’t do is to assume that your users will need certain things when you have nothing to back the statement up with. By making assumptions on how your users will act and carry out tasks when interacting with your website, you can end up designing a website that your users don’t value because you were designing for your assumption and not their needs.

How to gather user needs?

We have a whole selection of tools and exercises that we use during the research and discovery phase of our projects to draw out user needs. Here are a few ways you can gather your own user needs for your clients:

  • Workshops
  • Interviews
  • Talking to your stakeholders

How write a user need

During these research activities, we ask specific questions to uncover latent behaviours and gather the needs of our users. This helps us to really understand our users and to ultimately build our list of requirements.

After carrying out as much research as possible, we sit down and carry out an exercise to understand our user needs on the project. We call these user needs, as an example, I’m going to be talking about a student who is looking to book a cheap flight home.

How to write user needs

This looks something like: My user is a student who wants to the cheapest flight home possible.

How to write user stories

Once our user needs have been developed, we find it is useful to delve deeper into the story behind that need to get to the root of the issue. We need to know what the story is behind the need so we can help solve the problem through design. This is where we develop things that we call user stories.

Here is an example of how we take a user need and develop it into a user story.

We take the need that we discovered which was my user, who is a student, wants to book a cheap flight home. We ask ourselves questions such as why does the student need to book a flight home and why? What evidence do we have that supports a student needing to book a flight home?

By doing this, we can now develop our user need from ‘my user is a____ who wants to____’ into ‘As a ____ I need ______ so that___.’

Here is what this looks like using our example of our student. “As a student, I need to be able to book a cheap flight home so that I can keep to my budget I have set for this term.

how to use user stories in your designs

You can take this user story and develop it further by using the word therefore which changes the story to say “As a student, I need to be able to book a cheap flight home so that I can keep to my budget I have set for this term. Therefore, I need the ability to compare prices across various airlines.

How to use your user story within your design

From these two exercises, you can build a list of everything your user could ever want from this service or website. Now we know what our user needs are and the story behind it. We understand the root cause and how to solve it you are ready for the design phase. We use Google Sheets to build all of our user needs and stories as you can then refer back to them as a checklist that you have met the requirements of the users which we can then use in every aspect of our projects from writing our personas, writing user journeys and even MoSCow workshops.

The design is then about taking these goals and solving them throughout the design. This means that the user has the information they need to make the best decision possible on your website and will see value in your product.

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Megan Howell

Megan heads up the user experience design in the studio and works to ensure user-centric projects are delivered.

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