The importance of inclusive and accessible user research in digital transformation projects

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Our operations director, Clare Gledhill, recently discussed the importance of inclusive and accessible user research in digital transformation projects with WeAreTechWomen.

If you missed the original article, you can catch up below.

Since the onset of the pandemic, businesses have had to do much more than adapt their workplaces with new health and safety measures. Many have had to digitally transform at an unprecedented pace and overhaul their tech infrastructure.

However, with any technical overhaul, it’s crucial that an inclusive approach is taken, to ensure that the end result is truly accessible, and all user needs are met. That’s why research is a vital stage in the process – and shouldn’t be overlooked.

An upsurge in digital usage

Digital transformation is one of the buzzwords from the last 18 months, with many companies having fast-tracked their plans due to the impact of Covid-19. However, while it may have already been on the cards for some, for other services and sectors that weren’t yet on that digital journey, they soon had to be.

As a result of needing to work at such a rapid pace though, this has meant that in some cases, businesses have cut corners to roll out new systems and comms channels quickly – and often to the detriment of user experience. It has been a baptism of fire for both parties.

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Approaching a project without user research, journey mapping, persona development, pattern analysis, and experience prototyping, results in a lack of real evidence on which to base design and usability requirement decisions. Consequently, this runs a huge risk of excluding people.

In truth, there’s a huge paradox between digital inclusion and digital exclusion. Online solutions can undoubtedly enable organisations to operate more effectively and be in tune with their audiences, however, if designed using subjective, opinion-based methodologies – without user input – this can have the reverse effect and cause more feelings of disconnect and frustration.

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Research to understand users’ needs

At the cornerstone of any successful digital application – whether that’s a website, content management system, or mobile app – is satisfaction from the people who will be using it.

The key point here is to note the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’, too. For example, do users want to call you because they don’t find the website accessible? Or do they need to communicate via a certain channel, but can’t find it easily?

Research is the key to unlocking this insight – with ethnographic, observation, and flexible styles allowing more people to be a part of the fact-finding process.

This inclusive approach has also arguably never been more important than it is at present. Following the pandemic, people who had previously managed their lives without using technology have been forced online, as companies and services made the shift from face-to-face to digital.

This has meant that while user segments have previously been dominated by digital natives and early adopters of technology, we now have to recognise that inclusive design means understanding the full spectrum of user needs, motivations, pain-points, ambitions, hopes, and capabilities – in relation to access to technology, alongside digital experience understanding and confidence.

Digital transformation offers the opportunity for companies to change positively rather than simply keep amending or retrofitting features onto an existing, not-fit-for-purpose solution. Businesses have the chance to step back and do things properly – segmenting audiences and tackling persona profiles in a much broader, more accurate way.

Ultimately, the research phase is essential for building a deep and meaningful picture of your audience and their requirements.

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Research is the biggest long-term gain

Working at speed and needing to implement new channels or features quickly can often see companies rush into their digital transformation projects – believing that the fewer stakeholders involved, the better.

Yet while involving a fewer number of people in the process may initially accelerate the overhaul, this time-saving is short lived. Conceptualising and building a new solution based on one person or a small, select group’s opinions is never going to be reflective of the true end-user – meaning they’ll experience more challenges and frustrations when the product finally reaches them.

This is why the fear that research will slow a project down is unfounded. The irony is that incorporating research can actually make the process move quicker – everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, no one is making decisions based upon guesswork, and design is completely user-centric.

It’s no secret that a lot of digital transformation projects are commercially driven, streamlining operations and offering greater employee and customer satisfaction, so getting it right is understandably important. But this can only be achieved through taking the time to get to know users and placing them at the heart of the project.

Finally, while embedding inclusive and accessible research into digital transformation ventures is important, it needs to be fully valued by companies – not simply seen as a tick-box exercise. When carried out properly, it can empower an organisation with true audience understanding and guide decision-making, which not only has a positive impact on user experience, but this translates across brand reputation, customer and employee retention, and bottom-line impact, too.

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