Our User Research is Simply Appy!

In our work with University of Glasgow, we’ve been supporting the delivery and development of the UofG Life App – where our ambition is to provide a fully integrated student experience, giving them what they need to navigate life on Campus. We hear from Rory and Julie from the App team on a subject close to their hearts – user research.

“The answer to the question of knowing what users want is to simply ask them.” Rory Hetherington, Business Analyst, University of Glasgow

Using a simple analogy, if you commissioned an architect to design a house for you, you would want to make sure they knew your specifications first before they started their work. While the creativity and finesse an architect will bring should be retained, they are nonetheless, delivering on a set of needs.

Engaging students early on helped in a couple of different ways. Firstly, it smashed the assumptions we made about what students wanted, but it also helped define a list of priorities that we could use to plan our work, shunting items, which we may have originally thought important, down the line to pick up later. We looked for volunteers to contribute ideas to what the app could be, and students were more than willing to come along to yet another Zoom session. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that we offered an incentive to attend, but regardless, students were happy to let us know what they wanted and grateful for the opportunity for their voice to be heard. In turn it was an eye opener for us as it revealed the ambition students had for the app, one which we would have to up our game to be able to deliver.

We continue to engage students through the design, build and test stage of development, providing an invaluable source of feedback to help us optimise what we were building before it was released. Though initially we spoke with a small group, we always want to provide opportunities for more students to let us their thoughts. Using focus groups and questionnaires, as well as launching an in-app feedback mechanism, means we can collect the view of a wider group of students once they’d had a chance to use the features in the app. We also use data analytics to measure and check actual behaviours.

Ultimately, listening to and responding to students inspires confidence that their needs are front and centre of our work, which in turn supported the app’s adoption and usage. In the end it meant that the house we’re building for them is the one they wanted, not the one that we thought they needed.”

“The answer to the question of knowing what users want is to ask them… simply!” Julie Arbuthnott, Managing Consultant, AAB Consulting

One of the biggest problems in user research isn’t just asking the right questions but asking them in the right way. A technique that appears pretty hard for many organisations to master (just thinking of the scars from my recent tax return adventure!) What we’re after in our work on the UofG Life App, is that nugget of insight that will ultimately translate into intuitive behaviour change, so often language complexity in question-based research gets in the way.

One of the great things about the app, is that we have a very tangible product that we can ask our users to interact with. So, often we simply ask them to carry out a task so that we can observe what they do. Or, we build working prototypes to see what fits or jars.

Another path we have trodden for those golden insights is to ask simply why our users liked other apps – banking, communication, or shopping. In doing this recently, we realised there was another approach to some of the configuration we were struggling with.

Our agile working practices help us remain focused on simplicity. Delivering ‘slices of value’ at pace means we must get to the key insights quickly, so stripped back research and a focus on seeing the feature in action allows us to stick to our continuous release cycle while still maintaining quality and user satisfaction.

For the team, and for the students, the pandemic makes everything a bit harder, so the simpler we can make the process and the interactions, the better it is for us all!

Julie  Arbuthnott profile photo

Julie Arbuthnott

Principal Consultant and Service Design Specialist

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