User research in Conception and ideation

Date adopted: 
September 13, 2022
Last update: 
October 3, 2022

When you approach eServices to build a service or website, we focus the conversation on user needs.

What are user needs?

In our case, user needs are the needs people have of a government service. The service must meet those needs for the person to get the correct outcome. This is important for people interacting with the government. When citizens get the correct outcome it:

  • they have a sense of accomplishment and satisfying user experience; and
  • means the government has achieved the policy intent.

Do you need to define user needs if they are already defined in the policy or legislation?

Yes, you do. Many project teams don't see the value in doing this work. To them, the policy team has already done it, so why do they need to do it again? It's important to do this work because:

people who write policies don’t often interact with citizens; and
understanding user needs to design a digital service is different than understanding user needs to design a policy.

When we design a digital service, we look at the service from the user’s perspective.

  • What is the task they need to complete?
  • What do they need to complete the task?
  • Why do they need to access a service?

You will start digging into user needs more in Discovery, but it's good to start thinking about them now.

Think about the people who will access your service

Identifying specific user groups can be a challenge for teams. As a government, we expect services should be accessible and usable by everyone. This is true, but when it comes to service design, we need to identify specific users groups. This ensures we can build a service that works for them.

From experience, we know that if we try to design a service that will work for everyone, it will not work well for anyone. By learning all we can about the main user group, we can design a service that meets their needs. Once we've addressed their user needs, we can address the needs of user groups that may not use the service as often. This gives us opportunities to create a good user experience for them as well.

How to define different user groups

Use these guidelines to help you define your different user groups.

Define specific users

A good way to start is to identify the specific situations in which people need to use the service. There is always a reason why people need to use a service. Once you define these situations, it will make it easier to define specific users.

Identify the user group that access your service most often

This user group makes up the largest volume of users. Designing a service to meet this group's needs doesn’t mean the service won’t meet the needs of the other user groups. For example, say your service is for people to apply for a home energy rebate. Homeowners might the primary user group. But, you might also include people thinking about buying a home. Another user group could be contractors who provide a related service.

Identify user groups that access your service less often

These user groups will share similar needs with the main user group. They will also have some specific needs of their own. It's important to understand their needs. This will give you important insights into how they would use your service.

Consider accessibility and inclusivity

All users might encounter the same issues when they access a service. But, they might not be able to describe the issue. People with special needs can often describe issues better. Looking at issues from their perspective will give you insights into the needs of most users. They can provide new insights that allow you to create innovative solutions. These solutions can improve the service for everyone.

Examples of some user research techniques you can use in Conception and ideation

To prepare for Discovery teams can start to use the following user research techniques. 


If you have an existing website or service you can use analytics to:

  • get insights into what people are doing when they use your service or website; and
  • identify issues or possible causes of issues. You can then plan to correct these issues with your new service.

Field studies

If you have an existing website or service, you can conduct a field study to learn more about your user groups. Observe people as they use the existing service and document where they run into issues. If there isn't a digital service, spend some time with staff who work on the front lines.


You can set up interviews with font-line staff who interact with clients. They will be the most likely to notice where people need help when they access a service.

Surveys and questionnaires

Surveys and questionnaires are a good technique to use if you don't have a lot of information to draw on. You can use them to get an idea of the attitudes and opinions of your users.

Usability testing

If you have an existing website or service you can conduct a usability test on it. This will help you understand the challenges people are currently experiencing. If they are unable to complete important tasks, you can plan to address them when you design the new service.

User feedback

Many departments track user feedback clients provide in-person, online and over the phone.