Giving Design Context | SearchTempest Research Case Study

Role: Design Lead, Primary Researcher & Strategist.

To kick off our SearchTempest redesign, we set aside time to learn about our product, the people who use it, and the context that it sits in. This case study looks at how time spent on research can not only make for a more useful design for both users and stakeholders, but can also save time throughout the design and development process.

SearchTempest helps you discover the rare and best-priced by bringing together all of craigslist, eBay, and more in one search. With over 2 million users, it is by far the biggest player in its market.


Of all the projects I’ve worked on, this may have been my favourite. It is exactly the type of work I excel at and love doing: learning about our users’ unique stories and using our conversations to build something that is great for users and the product alike.

Doing better design by shining a light in the darkness.

If the blank page is the plague of writers, the start of a new design project can be, for designers, a cup of coffee away from a panic attack. Luckily for us, design is bounded by more than just the creative muses. We have concrete goals for our projects and work to meet the needs of our products and users alike. Research helps to guide us out of the angst of pure creative whim and into the productive light of constraint.

“Good design happens around good constraints.”
– Jason Santa Maria, The Nimble Process: Think Before You Design

Interviewing our users in their own contexts. Watch an excerpt of this interview here.

From years of running SearchTempest successfully, we already knew the product and its users pretty well. However, we needed to find the gaps in our knowledge and sift through it to separate the assumptions from the true understanding (as we learned from the AutoTempest redesign). Through a series of workshops, surveys, user interviews, market research, and product analysis, we came to better understand the people who use our product and the context that it sits in.

The results: Our guiding star.

Out of the expanse of raw accumulated data, we crafted an actionable bit of analysis: a brief document that the whole team could refer to as the guiding star of the redesign. It included:

  • A few key findings distilled into design mandates, making it clear what would set the new design apart,
  • User personas, scenarios, and journeys to help us emulate our users and bring them into the design process.
  • A Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat (SWOT) matrix to help us quickly visualize our product’s place in the market, and
  • A few other brief references for our product and our users’ perspectives.
One of our user personas we developed based on our interactions with real users. View a sample of our research analysis here!

By deeply listening to our users and examining our context, we navigated a way through the sea of possibility to the isle of great design. Every time a member of our team refers to our design mandates, personas, or SWOT matrix to make a decision, we’ve transformed the stressful and intangible into the manageable and concrete. The voice of the people who use our product rings throughout our work, and that means we’ve done our job.