What Are User Goals?
User Goals are descriptions of end states that users want to reach. Importantly, user goals should refer to real-world end states — they are not confined to within the scope of the website. Example user goals could be getting into college, learning a to bake cookies, or becoming a licensed driver.
Web sites and applications are most useful when they are designed with an understanding of the user’s (and site creator’s) larger context. A website that makes all of its content findable and all of its interactions intuitive may be usable, but it won’t be useful unless it is relevant to an actual goal a user has.
Mapping a user’s journey toward meeting their goal, including steps taken before and after using a website or application, can be helpful to generate insight.
Designers and site owners should understand user goals before any design or development occurs. One of the most substantial risks to a development project is building the wrong product. Understanding user goals mitigates that risk.
Eliciting User Goals
A variety of methods exist for eliciting user goals, each with strengths or drawbacks.
Asking project stakeholders (people who are not end users but who nevertheless are invested in the project’s success) is not an optimal way of finding user goals. Stakeholders — even ones that interact with users directly — often have goals that are different from and even in tension with users’. So, it’s best to seek out other, objective sources. Stakeholders’ perspective are important for the project, but they should not be considered a definitive source of user goals.
Asking users themselves, such as through user interviews, focus groups, or surveys, can be a better way of discovering user interviews, but they are not perfect. When directly asked, users may not fully understand their own goals, or may feel pressured to give what they think is the “correct” answer. In focus groups, participants may be afraid to speak up outside of a consensus. In all cases, it can be difficult to recruit participants. Interviews can be most valuable if the interviewed is skilled at digging past a user’s first answers.