Making a better digital product with user research

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Discover how user research is vital for bringing positive change to digital products – and how we applied this to help a global hospitality group drive major improvements to its customer app.

When developing a digital product, it’s easy for an organisation to make assumptions about what their users want from it. But while it’s vital to consider user needs, the only way you can really know what those needs are is to ask your users.

The importance of user research in digital product design

An expert digital product designer will undertake a discovery process to research and understand the actual needs of your users or customers. This may involve interviewing users, stakeholders and customers, as well as desk research on the market landscape. Gaining this understanding is vital, since the most common cause of product failure is creating something users do not want or need. 

With a real understanding of the target users, the product designer can create user personas. These are concise and shareable documents that paint a clear picture of an imagined archetypal user – in terms of their needs, pain points, behaviours, mindset and other qualities.

The product designer can also explore the competitive landscape for your product. Are there well-established competitors or innovative disruptors already out there? How can you learn from these – and differentiate your own product from them? 

Driving customer-centric app improvements with user research

Elsewhen recently applied these principles with our client, a luxury hospitality group. The company operates exclusive members’ clubs in locations worldwide. Across several decades, the group has built a diverse global membership community.

We worked with the group on a 14-week engagement to give its customer app a fundamental overhaul in terms of user experience (UX). We researched and validated a range of essential improvements to the app’s usability, content and functionality – and helped their app team take a more customer-centric development approach.

Overcoming issues with app navigation, usability and engagement

The group provides customers with a mobile app to help them get the most from their club membership. However, the business had identified a variety of problems with the app that needed addressing. The existing app had been developed in-house, and the business wanted Elsewhen to provide an expert outside perspective on how it could be improved

Members were mainly using the app to book club restaurants, leisure facilities and accommodation. While the app also included other membership content, its design was unclear, particularly on the home screen. The confusing navigation and structure left customer’s struggling to find information and make desired actions.

Another aspect of the app needing a rethink was how members meet and connect. A feature had previously been introduced in the app to encourage members to interact and engage with each other. However, the implementation had not been fully worked through, so awareness and usage of this member connections feature was very low.

Bringing a more customer-centric focus to digital product improvement

Elsewhen worked closely with the group’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and leadership team to plan and implement a 14-week project to address these high-priority issues with the app. We focused on resetting the core app product and process – to help the client’s team work in a more customer-oriented and experiment-led way.

We began by researching and rethinking the key product areas: We needed to design a new navigation system and coordinate its initial implementation. We identified opportunities to improve the home screen and redesigned the interface to support this. We also worked to understand and improve the member connections experience, supporting the client’s objective to grow user engagement with this feature.

We ran 3 workshops with the client team to understand their challenges, priorities and objectives. We also conducted 7 customer interview sessions to gather real-world user feedback on the app from a diverse range of members. We then synthesised the insights gathered to “connect the dots” on how to improve the app.

Applying evidence-based thinking and design excellence

During the discovery phase, our team researched and validated hypotheses on the key app issues. Subsequent phases developed design recommendations for how to improve the app.

We verified that users did not find the existing sidebar-menu interface and structure an intuitive way of navigating the product – while some weren’t even aware of the menu’s existence. We recommended changing to a familiar tab bar navigation model to support tried and tested interaction patterns. We also designed options for a clearer and more brand-consistent user interface (UI).

We confirmed that most customers are primarily focused on using the app for transactions and bookings – browsing content as a secondary activity. This emphasised that the app should be redesigned around enabling these primary customer needs. At the same time, we designed home screen options to present other relevant features and content in a more considered and helpful way.

Building a clear way forward for stronger customer relationships

Overall, our work equipped the client with research, recommendations, prototypes and an implementation plan to overcome its biggest app challenges. We helped them build an evidence-based, experiment-led team culture – where user-testing will be central to any ongoing product improvements. 

Subsequently, the client asked us to undertake further work on the member connections feature. While users didn’t want the feature to become yet another social network to manage, many did like our proposal of interest-themed discussion groups.

We designed and user-tested a high-fidelity interactive prototype of a new group connections feature , enabling members to share insights, events and content on subjects such as fitness, wellbeing and creativity. This generated strongly positive customer feedback that the client can act on in future development of the app.


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