Why user research for charities is an investment, not a cost.

June 11, 2024


Digital Skills | User Research | Charity Website Design

Pixeled Eggs, a digital agency with over a decade of experience developing websites for not-for-profit organisations and charities, big and small. In that time, we’ve observed the differences between the charities that came to us with a research budget or previous research findings and those that could not secure a budget for user research.

Charities that invest in research have a deeper understanding of their users and are empowered to make intentional design choices; charities that base decisions on assumptions cannot make these same decisions with confidence. And yet, despite this generally understood truth, the Charity Digital Skills report of 2023 showed that 64% of charities in the UK have excellent basic digital skills, but still show significant skill gaps in collecting and analysing data to inform decision-making and user research. From the same source, just over 21% of charities have had funding for developing their website, but only 5% were granted funding for user research.


So why is the value of user research still yet to be entirely understood?

In our team’s experience, we found that many charities perceive user research as an expensive process. It’s often considered a significant cost, when, in reality, user research can be tailored to the budget and time limitations of the organisation. The result is that research is often the first thing to be cut out of a website design project.

However, when done right user research is not a cost, but rather an investment. Google defines user research as “research that focuses on understanding user behaviours, needs and motivations through observation and feedback. It helps bridge the gap between what the organisation thinks users need and what they actually need before an expensive and time-consuming product is made”.

User research can only benefit charities and charity funding bodies because:
  • User research will save time and money in the long run by designing a website based on real users and analysis, preventing the design of a website that will not be used.
  • Good user research will not only investigate user needs but also consider the charity’s objectives and limitations. This means that user research will provide prioritised focus areas, helping the team align behind one clear design direction.
  • User research findings are hard to challenge. When stakeholders disagree on design decisions, research findings provide a clear path forward and avoid design based on assumptions or the opinions of the loudest person in the room.
  • User research will guarantee a better understanding of what users need from the experience, which will unquestionably provide the elements to design a more relevant and pleasant interaction with users.

Pixeled Eggs has collected numerous examples of this over the years.


The success of foundational research.

‘Foundational’ or ‘exploratory research’ is the initial stage of research, aimed only at answering the questions:

  • What do users need?
  • What problems are they currently experiencing?

Pixeled Eggs ran this type of research with the charity Bumblebee Conservation Trust. We set up exploratory interviews with their community intending to uncover their pain points and what they might need from a new website. In so doing, we discovered the surprising discontent of the volunteer community, which was poorly serviced online. We also uncovered significant areas of improvement in the online donation journey which was proving to reward members making smaller donations over non-member repeat donors making larger donations. These pain points would not have been uncovered without speaking directly to users before the design stage. With these findings, together with the client, we were able to simplify the donation journey, eliminate inequality between members and non-members, and design a whole new website area that services and rewards the charity’s active community of volunteers [now live; volunteer section live in the autumn of 2024].

Barnaby Smith, Public Engagement Manager, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said:

“Collaborating with Pixeled Eggs on our website user requirements specification gave us a fantastic insight into how our users interact with our current range of sites, and crucially what different audience groups would need from a new website. The approach the Pixeled Eggs team took allowed us to identify key points in a timely, and important to us as a charity, cost-effective manner.”


Through the foundational research efforts we ran with not-for-profit The Earthshot Prize, an organisation rewarding a sustainable future, we conducted several interviews with former prize winners and partners and audience focus groups. During those exploratory interviews, we uncovered that while most users felt great pride in their Earthshot association, some stakeholders felt there was room for improvement when it came to representing their involvement in the prize and their impact. Additionally, we discovered that users felt that, as the organisation grew, its activities had naturally shifted (with the Earthshot Prize becoming so much more than just a prize, but a platform for scaling solutions), and the messaging had been diluted. Therefore a new story needed to be told – one that proudly introduced the organisation to an ever-growing audience. We also used the opportunity to speak directly to users to crowdsource ideas for the website’s “get involved” section.

With these insights and ideas, The Earthshot Prize team reshaped the organisation’s website into a robust design that can grow with them and serve their audience effectively for the coming years [website live now].


JDRF, a charity dedicated to funding world-class type 1 diabetes research, conducted extensive user research with the agency 93 Digital to relaunch its UK website. The user research informed the design, user journeys, content strategy, information architecture and wireframes. The research provided solid foundations for relaunching the website in a way that resonated with its diverse audience of people connected to type 1 diabetes, funders, and researchers in a user-centric way. The research also helped identify key user journeys; for example, it identified that JDRF’s lived experience content was highly valued and helped people feel reassured and supported, generating a sense of hope and learning from peers’ experiences. The findings that JDRF handed over to Pixeled Eggs helped our design team create a website that emphasises the organisation’s role as a trusted source of information. Through an informed design system, the website can surface the right content based on audience knowledge and intent. [website live now].

Kate Lawton, Head of Digital at JDRF, said:

“Through conducting UX research ahead of our website project, JDRF gained invaluable insights into our audiences’ needs and preferences. By involving people with a connection to type 1 diabetes, we were able to balance the clinical nature of JDRF’s cutting-edge research with a warmer, more people-focused brand centred on togetherness, positivity and a shared mission. The research helped shape our design and strategy; the result has been a much improved user experience, with a 19.6% increase in user engagement since launch.”


The confidence gained from design research.

Research during the design phase of the project is often called ‘design research’ and aims to understand how users found the experience designed for them. This phase’s research type is more like a series of testing activities rather than exploratory interviews.

Pixeled Eggs ran three user testing experiments for the international development charity Practical Action to refine the website’s information architecture, which had grown and become confused over time. For our first test, we used a card sorting exercise (with the tool Useberry) to understand how their audience would cluster content categories. When we reached a consensus on a new architecture for the website, we ran a tree-testing exercise with 300 participants to understand how audiences would fare when looking for information in the new design. After amending that design again, we finally created a mid-fidelity prototype, which we tested again to ensure it was truly as intuitive as we’d hoped. The result of those efforts is confidence that the team’s changes to the website will allow users to locate important information, engage, donate and avoid frustration and drop-off [revised website live later in 2024].

The Digital Manager at Practical Action said:

“We were very keen to include audience research as we sought to simplify our website navigation. It’s always fascinating to see how different people interpret the same information, and our research allowed us to test our assumptions, settle internal debates and feel confident in creating a menu that will work best for our users.”


The care shown in post-launch research.

The last research phase is ‘post-launch research’, which seeks to answer the question “Did we succeed?”. This is where checking the product’s performance and testing areas that are under-performing can lead to further improvements. One way of staying on top of website performance is by regularly checking the analytics via Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or paid tools such as SE Ranking. But while these quantitive metrics can be effective in learning what users are doing, it’s only qualitative research that can tell us why they are doing it. Therefore, once a particular user behaviour (or lack of behaviour!) has been spotted in the analytics, further research and tests could be carried out in the form of interviews with users, or A/B testing activities to understand best whether a different design would achieve the desired user behaviour.
Post-launch research is an act of care for a product—in this case, care for a website that took effort, time, and funds to build and should continue to effectively serve the charity that made it and the audience it addresses.



If you’re planning to design a new website, investing in user research is a great way to build a well-thought-out platform that stands out from the competition. By conducting user research, you can create a tool that your cause can be proud of and that users will love. So, if you want to build a website that lasts and resonates with users, investing in user research is a great place to start!

User research doesn’t have to be costly. Many research activities can be run in-house before a web agency has even been engaged. When an agency is involved, we recommend taking the user research approach: this involves identifying your and your user’s needs and pain points. A good design team will devise a plan to include some research because research is an investment and will always yield a return.