All effective systems are based on a good understanding of user requirements. “We want it to work like Google” is an aspiration and not a user requirement. In this chapter, a range of approaches is suggested to help define user requirements. There is no single approach that is better than the others and usually a blend of several is required. However, a balance needs to be kept. At one end of the spectrum is the Google approach, in which innovations are tested out on customers and if there is a positive reaction then the innovation becomes a Google product. Apple is at the other end of the spectrum. The late Steve Jobs commented that Apple needed to provide customers with what they wanted even though they didn’t know what this was.
The general lack of support for search invariably means that little attention is paid to defining user requirements, and all too often changes to either a user interface or the implementation of a new search application are largely based on anecdote and hearsay.
The value of user research is not just in defining the requirements for technology but also in setting a benchmark that can then be used in the future to prioritize search enhancement activities.
In this chapter, some of the techniques that can be used to define user requirements are presented. These may help define perhaps 80% of what is required. The remaining 20% will only be discovered over time, and some proportion of the 80% will be found not to be ...