Building user research capability at Reach

What is user research, and how does it help?

User researchers plan and run studies that help teams learn about the users of our products and services. Early on when developing an idea into a product we recognise that understanding our users, their behaviour, context and the problems they face will help inspire good decision making about what the product should do and how it should work. This helps avoid building products or features that aren’t useful to our users. Later on in the development process, we run usability testing with our users we can check that they will use and understand the software in the way in which the designers hoped. This allows product teams to make changes and fix problems before they get shared with a wider audience and risk financial or reputational damage.

There’s a lot of work we want to do at Reach to help our colleagues identify the opportunities for user research to feed into their work. However, as a new team (it’s my first week), we have some groundwork to perform before we can demonstrate the value of user research to Reach.

Setting up the tools

One of our first priorities is building the tools that allow research to happen. There are a huge amount of research methods — from interviews and observing people do real tasks in the real world, to lab based studies where we bring real users in and ask them to complete set tasks. We think that usability testing is one of the first areas in which we’ll be able to provide value, and so are building the setup to achieve that.

Luckily we have a dedicated ‘UX’ room which we can run these studies in. We’re now going to build our tech for running research, developing a robust setup suitable for answering a wide variety of research questions on mobile devices and desktop, so we can demonstrate the value of this type of research. These tools will allow us to apply the appropriate methods for answering the questions our teams may have, and be confident that we are getting reliable and actionable answers.

However usability testing is only a small part of the value a user researcher can bring to product development, and we’ll also be working hard to prepare our capability in helping teams understand their users, through tools such as interviews and contextual inquiry. This information will help our product teams be able to make informed decisions about products, features and their implementation and improve their ability to anticipate the impact of their decisions for their users.

Building the practice

There is also some groundwork we can do to help make sure our research team can hit the ground running. “Research-ops” is the term currently used to describe a lot of the infrastructure around running research, and we’ve been putting that in place. This includes setting up a relationship with a participant recruiter, who can help us find representative users for each of our studies, and ensuring that people who take part in research can get paid — this helps us make sure we’re getting the right people to talk to, and that we’re being efficient with the scheduling and running of our research. We’ve also been setting up the templates and processes so that running a round of research requires minimal admin work for the researcher and doesn’t distract from doing good research.

Finding the right opportunities

Something that’s really important to me is making sure that researchers are tackling the right topics that will have the most impact on the quality of the work done by Reach. The first challenge to me, as someone new joining the organisation, is understanding the range of things Reach is working on and identifying the right opportunities where a better understanding of our users can have the biggest impact.

Our prioritisation process is something we’ll be working on shortly, but one crucial ingredient we’ve started with is advocacy and explaining what we do — by helping people across the digital teams understand the potential for user research, we hope the teams can help us find the right places where research can help inform or test the work Reach is doing.

There’s a fantastic opportunity at Reach to embed user centered principles into their existing processes, and I am enthusiastic about getting started with our research capability. I believe we can help our teams to make more efficient and informed decisions throughout product development, and ultimately create increasingly useful and usable software for the huge breadth of users that Reach has.

Reach Product Development

The product development and engineering teams behind Reach plc's award-winning news websites and digital products

Steve Bromley

Written by

Reach Product Development

The product development and engineering teams behind Reach plc's award-winning news websites and digital products