As charities we can be good at creating social value, and at solving social problems. But if you want people to use your digital service then you need to learn about user value too.

‘User value’. You may have heard of it. Or you may have an idea of its meaning just in the words ‘user’ and ‘value’.

However, we’ve found it means different things to different people. And that sometimes they confuse it with ‘social value’ or ‘social impact’. They think that if a digital service is designed to improve someone's life then it has value to them. And that this leads to social value.

Unfortunately they are wrong.

A definition

Social value is about whether a service solves a social problem. If it does then it has value.

User value is about whether and a service meet’s a user’s needs and how it fits their expectations and lifestyle.

It's about how it feels to use it, how easy it is and the benefits it brings them. Benefits that directly relate to their needs as defined on their terms. These benefits may align with or lead directly to social impact. But they aren't the same.

"User value: a measure of the benefit a user gains from a service or product. This could be functional (e.g. time saving), emotional (e.g. feeling less anxious) or social (e.g. recognition)." - James Boardwell, Service Owner at Ministry of Justice

Mario Kart & other examples

Here’s some examples of user value from common apps and games:

  • Super Mario Kart: adrenalin rush, portable (play on the move) or play with friends (connection to others), battle mode is an even bigger rush
  • Facebook: feeling connected to friends, accessible on any mobile device, customisable notifications to suit interests
  • LinkedIn: keeping in touch with old colleagues, progressing my career, accessible from a personal device
  • Trello: feeling organised, more productive, intuitive interface, customisable backgrounds

Why is user value important?

Every person that uses your product or service has needs and wants. They have expectations that what you’ve made will help them do something very specific. These expectations can be both rational and emotional. When designing something for them, it’s so important to take these into account. - Darshan Sanghrajkha, Super Being Labs

It’s easy to focus on social value. It’s what charities are good at!

But without user value your users won’t use your digital service or product. And if they won’t use it then social value goes down the pan, regardless of your good intentions.

Nominet Trust describe user value as the degree to which people will actually choose to use your product. Choice matters. Your service must create a product or service that has a strong enough proposition that people choose to use it, usually again and again.

Examples of user value in digital services

Big White Wall create user value by making users feel safe and free to express their feelings, and by connecting them with others who know what it feels like.

Olio creates it by making it easy to sign up and making users feel good about food waste, knowing they are saving society money.

Settle creates it simply by how it makes it easy for users to give their consent to use the service

Ways to create user value

There are many. It'll depend on your users. Here’s some common examples:

  • Onboarding (signing up and getting started) is swift and reassuring to the user: “I feel like this product cares and is trying to make my life easier”.
  • Easy to navigate on devices common to your user group: “It’s as simple to use as my other apps”.
  • Delivers on its marketing promise: “It solves a problem of mine that I am aware of and care about; it feels trustworthy.”
  • Fits into a user’s lifestyle: “It knows when I might need to use it. It might even remind me it’s there at the right time”
  • Considers a user’s particular needs: “It's aware of how I might be feeling when I use it. For example, it is very easy to navigate away from if I need to hide it”

If your service delivers on even one or two of these it will be easier for people to use.

How to design user value into your service

Creating a service that delivers user value can seem complex and daunting the first time round. But that's okay, because methods exist to break the process down and guide you through each stage.

  • User centred design remind us to begin by understanding our users and carrying out good user research, that anyone can do.
  • Questioning assumptions about how the solution needs to look, feel or behave. Traditionally in the sector we’ve believed that having a strong idea is important. While this is still true it’s only useful if we question our assumptions about it with the same intensity.
  • Agile methodologies help us focus on building the things that matter most to users, and to build iteratively, rather than specifying every build element up-front like we used to.
  • Prototyping (or ‘skateboarding’ as CAST call it) reminds us to build something small and test it first to find out what has user value.

Take it one step at a time

Hopefully you've now got a better understanding of user value and how important it is to building services people want to use. Sign up to be notified of future articles on all aspects of building digital services.

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