View all articles

User Research Basecamp

Hey there, design reader!

Welcome to week five of my UX Academy Journey. For those of you who are new to these posts, this series covers my experience as a part-time student at Designlab’s UX Academy, Weingart cohort.

Let’s dig in!

Where we left off: After a month of the program under my belt, week four was all about rolling up the most valuable lessons I’d learned thus far into a short list of (newbie) tips from the tip of the UXA iceberg. With the battle of the big bad schedule boss behind me, I had turned my sights to leaving Procrastination Station in my rearview. While I’m still not fully caught up (hello, goals for weeks six and seven!), this train was slowing for no one. Full steam ahead! Next stop: the Research Roundabout.

Competitor analysis

As part of our “research ramp-up” exercise, we did a quick competitive analysis and mapped out some provisional user personas

As a person who is obsessed with research to the point of overdoing it, it never ceases to amaze me how many industries are able to exist without letting the research do most of the heavy lifting. It’s also a large part of what makes UX design the industry rocketship of the future, and what makes this UXA Journey so fun—it uses research to create real and effective results, and makes the whole process of digging in sexy again (except for with people like me, for which it has never stopped being sexy).

Plenty of UX-ers wax poetic about the importance of user research to the design process. For me, as a former journalist and avid storyteller, research is where it all begins, always. Well, actually, quite often it all begins with assumptions, but I digress.

Building on Transferable Skills (aka You’re Never Really Starting at Zero)

For me, this was the point where the course started to stop feeling like a quick-burst primer on broad design theory and really started to click. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was able to go digging around in my past-careers skills vault and dust off an old timer (did someone say interviewing?!) that, unbeknownst to me, would end up proving incredibly useful.

My journalism background came through for the win, allowing me to enter into the user interview process with more confidence than I’d had in prior weeks and make up for lost time (at least incrementally, which adds up, I promise).

And as we know, confidence is key—in life, and in the design process.

I had expected my previous work experience to inform the way I approached UX, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the inverse reaction: how the coursework would influence the other facets of my life and the skills experiences I’d built thus far, particularly my writing. And after just five weeks, I’m happy to report that I now find myself equipped with a bunch of UX tools that also double as a mighty fine remedy for your standard, run of the mill writer’s block.

User persona

And from all this research, my first persona was born—meet Joe Menendez

When I first began this latest project—a company rebrand and e-commerce platform development for KAUS, an imaginary insurance company aiming to expand to the millennial market—I was overwhelmed at the prospect of seeing the whole UX design process through start to finish as a one-woman team for the very first time. Where would I even begin?! But the more I dug into the research, the more I saw the path—or rather, several paths—revealing themselves all around me.

If designing a new product is like climbing a mountain (which it felt like for me, the newbie), then the research is like basecamp: I, the UX designer (i.e. “the mountain climber”) arrives at the trailhead with quite a bit of preparation already under my belt, but the stopover is essential to ensuring the success of the ascent. Yes, there is still an entire peak to climb, but the actual kicking off point for the design process is already, more or less, behind me.

Getting up to speed quickly is a necessity of agile designing—and as with any skill, more experienced climbers continue to improve their technique with every new successful summit.

Relatable, Accessible Stories Are Based in What’s Real

Storyboard

My first persona storyboard: Joe Discovers a Better Way to Bundle

In my previous writing life, storyboarding had always intimidated me and I’d often find myself stuck and unable to make decisions about where I wanted my narrative to go. With my first persona storyboard, however, the narrative flowed easily, because I was already so involved with Joe, the persona I’d created—he felt real, and so did his behaviors, motivations, and desires (no doubt because they were borne from the research—from real people and their very real needs, which is sort of the beauty of the whole operation).

You better believe the next time I find myself stuck (in both my writing, or in my UX work) and unable to find the narrative thread, I’ll be calling on this process to help me visualize—and empathize—and dig into that story.

Effective UX design relies on its research processes—they are the direct path to a polished, finished product, and the closer you get to hitting the mark in the beginning stages of the design, the more compelling that product will be at solving an actionable problem for its users and staying relevant. Just as, in my writing, it’s often easy for me to get off topic if I don’t first set a clear direction and tone, it is essential for the design process to be based on real, properly executed and compiled research. If not, we end up falling into the trap of designing for a user that doesn’t exist, and creating in a vacuum.

Project goals

A visual representation my project business goals, user goals and technical considerations, displayed in a nifty Venn diagram

Emphasising the necessity of good research helped me develop an effective persona for KAUS, based on actual people and their very real behaviors and needs. This, in turn, directly informed the features I planned to build for the company’s rebrand.

Where Users, Content and Structure Meet

Once I’d established my feature roadmap, next came the task of effectively organizing it. And if research is the mother of effective design storytelling, information architecture is most certainly its father—the structural skeleton for a project’s design execution.

Information Architecture

Information Architecture Venn Diagram, courtesy of Designlab

Check back next week, when I’ll be digging even deeper into that elusive design father figure, IA, and refining my first round of actual working wireframes and prototypes.

Looking for a change of careers?

Designlab’s UX Academy program offers rigorous curriculum, personalized mentor support, and a thriving, global student community. Ready to launch your new career as a UX designer? Get all the details here

Check out UX Academy

About Designlab

Designlab teaches you UI/UX design skills through online courses with 1-on-1 mentorship from expert designers.

Get Updates

Be the first to read our new articles on UI/UX design education, career development, and more!

Got it! We'll keep you in the loop.

Get the syllabus & take a tour