User Experience (UX) service

API Service user research and discovery

We conducted user research to develop a strong understanding of the user base of the API Service.

The client

API Service project team, Service Management:

  • Alex Carter
  • Susan Cooke
  • John Grzesinski

The challenge

As part of the Digital Transformation Initiative, projects are under way to introduce an easy-to-use API framework for users across the University, to enable the development of flexible systems to be quicker, more secure and less costly.

To this end, the API Service wanted to better understand their user base to inform the development of the service and ensure the new framework would be successfully and appropriately adopted. The service team was particularly interested to understand more about the extent of demand for the service.

What we did

We developed a picture of how APIs are being built and used throughout the University. We gained an understanding of target audiences’ current attitudes, behaviours and working practices – and their aspirations – with regard to the API Service, APIs and other ways of interrogating data.

Initial interviews and workshop

To set priorities for the research, we held a half-day stakeholder briefing workshop, bringing together members of the API Service project team to collaboratively explore their current knowledge and assumptions.

The initial intention of the user research was to engage with the University’s developer community. But it quickly emerged that other user groups (including service managers, project managers, business analysts) had a strong interest in the API Service, and that the service would need to be designed to meet the needs of these people as well.

A list of potential research participants was supplied by the API Service project team. Because the project team also wanted to find out about the extent of demand from users in Schools and other local areas of the University, we also sent out an open invitation through mailing lists. This enabled us to source a wide variety of volunteer research participants.

We held one-to-one interviews with six people representing a cross-section of potential users of the service. Each of these interviews began by exploring attitudes surrounding APIs from an open perspective, and later turned to the prioritised areas of focus identified by the service team. This enabled us to build a full picture of people’s attitudes towards interrogating data, and people’s aspirations with regard to working with APIs, as well as gaining insight into some of the more specific questions identified by the project team.

Following this, we organised a user engagement workshop, bringing together additional potential users of the service with representatives of the project team. The workshop centred on creating empathy maps and journey maps.

The outputs of the interviews and the workshop were then synthesised, and journey maps and personas created.

Validation workshop

Following a review meeting, areas of focus for the remaining period of research were agreed with the client. These were:

  • Gain further insight from representatives of more Schools.
  • Understand what would attract developers not currently using APIs to begin using them.
  • Understand more about the pain points in the process, especially around:
    • Data access
    • Designing and building an API/solution

A follow-up user engagement workshop, and an additional interview, were organised in order to gain deeper insight in those focused areas.

The follow-up workshop brought 8 developers, including people with less experience working with APIs, together with a representative of the API Service. The users validated the journey map, and collaboratively determined their priority pain points. Then the users developed solution ideas for the top priority pain points. They then completed a collaborative sketching exercise where they prototyped a potential solution.

The API Service also wanted to gain insight from data stewards around what they would need from the Service. We held a short interview with a data steward to gain this insight.

Outcomes and benefits

The research we conducted with potential users of the API Service throughout the University has given the service tangible evidence about who their users are, what their users need and what major pain points in the current process need to be addressed.

This evidence of people’s real experiences working with APIs and other ways of pulling data from one system to another will provide direction and focus to the work towards developing an API framework, based on a strong understanding of their audiences’ needs.

User journey map

The user research enabled us to document the journey users go through when working with APIs and other ways of pulling data from one system to another. The journey map also conveys the ways in which the journey is different depending on who the user is, where they are in the University, and the nature of their project.

The map also brings into focus what the pain points are in each step of the process, and which of these are most important to potential users of the API Service.

The journey map will provide the API Service with strong evidence about which areas need addressing the most.

Personas

Personas are a communication tool for the service to consider the development of new features and processes from the perspective of their users. The personas provide a clear overview of the range of behaviours and attitudes among potential users of the API Service, APIs and other ways of pulling data from one system to another.

Solution ideas and sketches

Towards the end of the research, with pain points having been prioritised, users were asked to identify ways in which pain points might be improved for them by generating ideas and collaboratively producing sketches. These outputs provide a steer to the API Service in terms of what kinds of solutions could be explored in order to address users’ priority needs, and what features these solutions need to contain.

UX techniques used

Collaborative sketching

Experience mapping

Personas

Interview and contextual inquiry

Prototyping

Workshopping

Client quotes

Working with the UX Service has given us the insight we need to prioritise our work based on an understanding of our user base. We already suspected some of what the user research has found. But we now have tangible evidence of it, as well as new knowledge that we didn’t have before.

John GrzesinskiSenior Business Intelligence Manager

As a result of this user research, we now have a strong sense of where we need to focus our future effort as the API Service develops. Collaborating with the UX Service to embed user-centred techniques and insight within the project team has been an important step towards ensuring the future success of the service.

Susan CookeEnterprise Data Services Team Manager

Further reading

Blog posts on the API Service user research project