User research in Discovery

Date adopted: 
September 13, 2022
Last update: 
July 27, 2023

Discovery is about challenging our assumptions. We work together to gain a better understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve.

It's important not to start a project by designing a solution based on our assumptions. If we do this, we'll help the government achieve a goal, but the service may not work for the end-user.

Teams that focus on the user experience are successful

In our work with teams across the government, we've found that these teams:

  • build services based on user research;
  • test the service with their user groups throughout the service delivery process; and
  • make improvements until they are confident they are delivering an exceptional customer service.

Teams that design a service based on their assumptions are not successful

These teams have not done the work to meet the government's digital service standards.

  • They have not allocated time or resources for user testing. At a minimum, they might have tested the service with a colleague. This might confirm the service meets the government's requirements. But, it does not expose any usability issues that might be present.
  • They deny the need for user testing. We hear that it's a simple service or the platform is WCAG compliant and there is no need to spend time on user testing.
  • They have not allocated time to address any issues user might have with the service.

When these teams launch their service to the public:

  • they might have an embarrassing launch - especially if there was an announcement;
  • they find out it isn’t working for users. This is the last thing we want. It should be easy for citizens to access and use government services; and
  • the project team has to fix the service so people can use it. This can be challenging and expensive. Addressing issues after launch might conflict with design decisions made earlier.

The user research goal for Discovery

The user research goal for Discovery is to make sure your user stories are simple, clear, distinct and prioritized. Find out how to identify user needs in Discovery.

Examples of some user research techniques you can use in Discovery


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 in your prototype.

Card sorting

If you are building a website, use card sorting to get into the minds of your users. This is a great way to see how people categorize your information and what labels they give the content.

Field studies

Use field study techniques to gather information in Discovery. Observe people as they use the existing service and document where they run into issues. This will inform the design process so you can avoid making costly mistakes.


Interviews can help teams discover unmet user needs based on their current experience. They are a useful tool to help inform personas and journey maps.

Surveys and questionnaires

Surveys give you a reflection of attitudes of your whole user populations. Questionnaires give you opinions, but do not represent the whole user population. Both of these techniques can help you better understand your service's users.

Tree testing

Conduct a tree test after your card sort to test your information architecture. This will give you assurance the labelling and information placement meet people's expectations.

Usability testing

Conduct a usability test on the existing service. This will help you understand the challenges people are currently experiencing. You can then plan to address these user needs when you design your new service.

User feedback

If you have an existing service, examine the user feedback to identify any user needs that are not met. You can then design the new service to address these user needs.