How Audience Research Can Help Your Organization
Understanding who interfaces with your organization, and who uses your website, is critical for designing an experience that works for everyone.
It’s no secret that audience research and usability testing are at the heart of designing digital experiences. As user experience design professionals, we make it our life’s work to get into the heads of others. We need to understand their pain and frustrations, their needs and hopes. We need to see where they fail, and understand how to make them more successful in what they need to accomplish.
In our ideal world, we have time and money to go embed ourselves amongst our key audiences and users. We research the things they do, and how they do them. And when we’ve designed a website or other product, we watch them use it, and see where we might have missed the mark. Through all this, we keep our users and target audiences front and center in the design process, just as they should be.
But then reality sets in. If you’re not an Amazon or a Google or a Facebook, your organization may not be able to justify time and resources on research or testing. They are the kind of things that often gets pushed to the side. As advocates for user experience, we often have to argue to make a case for research of any kind.
Here are a few ways you can advocate for usability testing and audience research within your organization.
Define and prioritize your audiences
First and most importantly, unless you’re a major outlier, your primary audiences are not, “the general public.” Realistically, you have a stricter focus. Maybe it’s college-aged men, or 25-40 year old voting women in Washington State. Maybe it’s animal-loving tech workers looking to donate money. Or maybe it’s folks working in legislation around health care policy.
You must be able to focus your priorities around a primary audience so that you can target your research or your testing. This doesn’t alienate other users; it does, however, ensure a tailored experience based on the needs of a specific group. A user’s first interaction with an organization’s website is like the small talk of conversation — it’s time to make an impression, and the best way to do so is to make it about them, not you.
So, figure out who your most important users are, and center your strategies around them.
Pick organizational goals and explain how testing/research supports these
As user experience advocates, we’re not doing our jobs well if we’re not simultaneously considering the goals of our organizations. A successful website or product must do both — and do so well — at the same time. If you’re experiencing pushback on conducting research, make it first about the organization, not the users.
Dig around. What are your key, actionable organizational goals? Is it to drive donations? Collect email addresses? Sell a dataset? Prompt people to download publications? Sign a petition? Increase brand mentions on Twitter?
Whatever the case, once you’ve got your hands wrapped around a few key goals, position your proposed research around how your team can better understand what drives your key audiences to sign up for a newsletter. Or what kind of content they tend to share on Twitter. Or what brands they’re thrilled about already. Or what kinds of donation calls-to-action are most attractive to them. Map your research plan to these goals, and you’ll be well on your way to making a great case.
Find out what makes your stakeholders successful
It’s too simplistic and idealistic to expect that your bosses or other stakeholders will just go along with testing or research because, “it’s the right thing to do” (though it totally is). Instead, dig into your stakeholders as your first priority audience.
What makes them look good to their bosses? What insecurities might they have in their current position and atmosphere? What stresses them out, day to day? What recent successes have they experienced?
You’re looking for a way to position audience research and usability testing as a way to further their own goals, rather than doing the right thing for right-thing’s sake. Remember that these stakeholders are people too, and if they’re resistant to your ideas, it’s because you’re not making the right argument. Dig deeper. Play to their needs, just as you’re trying to do with your users.