Online course ‘User Experience for the Web’ – module 3


Knowing your users

Module 3 – Knowing your users

After module 1 and module 2, here are my notes for the module 3 of the free online course ‘User Experience for the Web’. Its topic is ‘Knowing your users‘.

Like for any module, you can perform a quiz with 10 questions.


And at the end of this post I give a link for the assessment module with 10 more questions.


Topic 1: Why knowing your users is important

User Experience and User-Centered Design put the users at the center of the focus.

Some of the information you might want to know about your users could be:

  • who they are: gender, age, likes and dislikes (about the product or service)
  • what are their behaviors when they’re engaged on your website
  • what are the tasks that they perform
  • how often do they perform those tasks
  • ultimately, what goal is it that they’re trying to achieve when they’re using your website
  • what is the experience that they have: happy, smiling, frustrated

You need to observe your users in real life, in real context, performing a task that they want to perform.

Topic 2: What you need to know

The information you need to know about users:

  • gender: male or female?
  • job: what do they do?
  • what sort of income do they have?
  • what sort of experiences do they have using the product or service?
  • what is the task they perform?
  • what is the frequency that they perform it?

Other important information to know: their access requirements. You cannot assume they can always hear, play a video or they have fast internet access. They can have permanent or temporary disability.

What are the sources of information that would be able to give you some insight who your users are?

  • data with market segmentation, website analytics
  • report done by other organisation explaining who the target audience is for the website
  • go out and visit your users in their context, using the website or product you are trying to design
  • talk to users
  • talk to stakeholders, on one-on-one to get a better understanding of who they think their users are
  • engage in some focus groups
  • talk to customer support staff or people at the call phase: as they talk to potentially angry customers, they can give you really good insights especially about where users are having issues

Topic 3: Accessing your users

Example of an Intranet with 10,000 pages. It can be easy to access users, because you are internal and so you can recruit them directly.

For external users, the best approach is to ask for a market research organisation. You can also can have a customers database or make an advertisement on the website and invite end-users to contact you to participate in market research.

To recruit users, you need to provide an incentive:

  • money
  • voucher (for cinema or online retail store)

You need a recruitment brief where you outline:

  • background for the project
  • objectives
  • activities you plan to run with users: how many, when and how they take place

Topic 4: Research techniques

Focus groups: qualitative research, face-to-face engagement with users. It enables to get the “why” of users behaviors or choices

Web analytics and surveys: quantitative research, about data and information produced by users

Personas: way of communicating your understanding in a document format

Topic 5: Contextual inquiries

Contextual inquiries is a method to better understand the needs of your users.

It requires to visit users within the context of what they do, so it is a better position to see:

  • when they do the tasks
  • what are the motivations for completing the task
  • any support they have in terms of completing the things they need to do

By doing contextual inquiries you can capture this sort of information that you otherwise would not be able to. What matters also a lot is checking the reason of issues they face: does the internet crash? Do they fail logging into the system? To which support they are looking for to complete their tasks?

Contextual inquiries imply interviews and observation. To better framing users, it is useful to know their:

  • title
  • position
  • length of service (how long they have been at the organisation)
  • what sort of experience did they have performing their tasks
  • what make their job difficult or easy
  • how often do they perform those tasks
  • what their work environment looks like: are they pressured? Is the floor they are working in really busy? Is there lots of lights? Is there lots of noise?

A typical “site visit” lasts between 45 minutes and 2 hours. It combines doing some interviews at the start, followed by some observations, and then, a wrap up interview at the end.

Ideally, you meet users at their desk or where they perform the task you are trying to observe. You can give them a background for what you are there, your objectives for that session.

Then take a step back, stay discrete and observe users working in their usual context.

At the end of the session, you can have some questions to clarify: about a manual users have read to perform their task, about the context and why they did what you’ve observed.

Strengths of this technique:

  • cheap
  • qualitative: it provides rich insights and the needs of your users
  • it is face-to-face


  • sensitivity: material can be private
  • space (office) is not appropriate to sit and observe (ex: a teller at a bank)
  • distraction: a work environment where there is a lot of movements can distract you instead of focusing on the user

To conduct contextual inquiries, you have to:

  • be unobstrusive
  • prioritise the sort of things you want to find out
  • build a relationship with users: if they feel comfortable, you are going to be able to better understand their needs and behaviors

Topic 6: Focus Groups

Another qualitative technique where you can better understand the needs of your users.

It involves recruiting typical users of your website to come together in a forum or in a room and discuss, share their opinions.

During a focus group session, you need to remain unbiased:

  • it is not about your opinion but the opinions of the participants
  • your goal should be to probe and ask questions and get some insight as to why those people have the opinions that they do
  • you need to involve all the participants

A good and skilled facilitator is really important for a successful focus group. As a facilitator, you are basically managing people to get them involved. So the activities must be stimulating, fun and at the same time meet the objectives.


  • qualitative: you get really rich insights
  • as it is face-to-face, you can at the same observe and talk to the participants
  • in a two hours session, you can cover many topics by having multiple activities


  • it requires a fine-scheduled session
  • it requires a skilled facilitator
  • it may have personality conflicts

Topic 7: Surveys

Surveys is more quant-based. It aimed at a larger sample size or large volumes of people who fill out the survey.

It is a great way to get data-driven information about the behaviors, and/or the thoughts and opinions of your users.

It can include closed questions (yes/no), multiple-choice or open ended questions. Answers of the latter will be far more difficult to analyse.

Examples of “good questions“:

  • “Do you own (a tablet)?”
  • “How often would you?”
  • “Would you feature X?” (more speculative)

Think about the order of the questions: starting with the most difficult ones and finishing with easy ones.

Different methods of delivery:

  • online
  • paper-based
  • in the street, face-to-face
  • telephone


  • can be run anywhere, international, location is not an issue
  • large sample size, can be run with many people as you want
  • flexible in term of delivery


  • data could be very complicated
  • requires to ask, to formulate the right questions
  • requires to access the right audience

Topic 8: Website Analytics

Another technique to understand the needs of your users.

In case of thousands of users on your website, web analytics is a great way to see patterns of use.

For instance, with a 4-steps process payment on an e-commerce website, it offers to check what is happening on the problem areas. Let’s imagine that 100% of users go to the 3rd step, and then 95% of them drop off. Only web analytics gives you this insight and allows you to really focus on the problem areas of your website.

What kind of information you get out of web analytics?

  • where users are based (country)
  • number of times they visit the website
  • number of times they view a particular page
  • length of time they spend on a website or on a particular page
  • where they enter or exit the website
  • how they use the search: what key terms do they put in, what sort of results do they get


  • it provides actual data
  • you get users from all over the world
  • data is often graphical
  • you get really rich comprehensive information: time, frequency, patterns, where people drop off
  • some tools / software are free


  • information and data are complex
  • it requires sometimes some training
  • the set up: the code to embed in your website need to be correct

Topic 9: Personas

Another technique is called Personas. Like the four previous techniques, it is more of a deliverable. It is going to help you solidify and summarize your understanding of your users, and help you better communicate to the wider audience.

The persona is based not on one user, but based on a group of users. It basically describes an archetype person that represents a wider group of users with similar attributes. It is a great reference material that you can use throughout the rest of your user-centered design process.

Basically, a persona is a document. It has certain attributes about the person and some information, goals, objectives and pin points. The way you use a persona is basically as a way of talking to that individual. As a designer, you can talk to the persona, and ask questions like:

  • How would xxx (user name) use this feature?
  • What does xxx think of this page?

There are two different types of personas: primary and secondary. Primary are typical, the most common users of your website. Secondary are also important: they have attributes that are similar to the primary personas, but also have some attributes that are different. It is relevant to include secondary personas if you want to widen the design of your website to cover more users.

The kind of information you can include in a persona:

  • a realistic picture (photo)
  • name
  • age
  • personal quote: it gives a bit of character and personality
  • bio: a short background, what s/he does, where s/he comes from, where s/he’s going
  • goals and pain points
  • education
  • salary
  • technology experience
  • technology equipment

It is fundamental you understand who your users are, what their needs are, and what are their behaviors when online and when using your product or service.


  • cheap and easy
  • multiple audiences
  • fantastic at giving focus to decisions needing to be made


  • there might be seeming inaccuracies in your personas: they might not be as true as you would like
  • them to be, so you might be biased
  • they may have some conflicting information in terms of marketing

Topic 10: Communicating your findings

It is important to communicate your findings to your stakeholders:

  • your objectives
  • your approach
  • any information gathered during the research phase, especially the users needs


Reminder: there is a quiz with 10 questions to test your knowledge.


And if you feel really comfortable with this module, perform the 10 questions assessment.


Feel free also to have a look at these other posts:

Image credits:

3 thoughts on “Online course ‘User Experience for the Web’ – module 3”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *