Story Tactics: Research & Juxtapositions (Part 2)

Sarah Dzida
Jun 28, 2018 · 5 min read

In response to my previous post, the talented designer and design teacher Paul Lumsdaine quoted Nicholas Negroponte:

“Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.”

In part 1 on juxtapositions, I talked about how a well-placed one can illuminate your audience. But the truth is that there’s also how juxtapositions can help illuminate yourself by identifying opportunities gaps for innovation. And that’s what I want to talk about in this post.

By Ion Chibzii from Chisinau. , Moldova. — “Problems, problems…” (70-ies)., CC BY-SA 2.0,

Juxtapositions Can Reveal Your Solution

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago during a UX research project currently in progress. Because it’s ongoing, I can’t really talk about the tactics right now. But in doing it, I realized a lot of our insights were coming from how I used UX tools to juxtapose known data and information. In that difference, I was pulling out insights on opportunity gaps for us to pursue in user interviews.

What’s also notable for me about this particular project is the juxtaposition between myself and the other design team members. I’m brand new to the project whereas they are veterans of this platform and client. Therefore, we are constantly juxtaposing their expertise with my curiosity and ignorance to find what might need to be addressed. (This makes me think I should do a post on ignorance or lack of knowledge and how that’s beneficial for a UX designer. This is because a UX designer is a learner, and in coming into a project fresh, they are able to utilize their analytical and critical thinking skills to bring a fresh perspective to a project.)

Juxtapositions Can Change How You Tell Your Story

I’m a storyteller. I write my own stories. I’ve helped lots of other people tell their stories. And I can tell you without a doubt their are multiple ways to architect them. At heart, all the stories we tell are about a handful of subjects. But it’s in how we tell them that we make them unique. In The Art of Asking Amanda Palmer calls it the creative “blender setting.”

In design work, I find that the research phase causes anxiety because there’s so much uncertainty about where the research will take you. In addition, it causes anxiety for designers themselves when you put research into your tactics, and you still can’t find the shape of your solution.

But that’s where juxtapositions come in. You need to play within your tactics by juxtaposing the research you have; you need to SEE the difference.

To illustrate this, I want to describe two case studies from my students’ last year. It just so happens both are about the customer journey map. In the first, my student was trying to identify what to prioritize and fix in a redesign for (which is a totally “easy” thing to do.) In all her interactions with users, she kept getting bogged down by the big-ness of the problem. It was just all too much to scope into a two-week project. She didn’t know what to do.

Maybe it was too much to ask to create a persona and user journey for how people navigate for current project scope, but it is something that happens on a real client project. And so the question really was what could she create with the research she had? In this case, she could create a user journey for the experience of talking to people about their experience with it. And it was when she finally shifted the information into that story, that her project priorities became clear. Her UX design became about content design rather than flow.

In another example, a team of students was working for a real startup in search of more customer segments. Out of all the information that the founder gave them, it was that he did not want to target the real estate market. It was a red ocean — they were being served by competitors. However, in the course of two weeks of research, his current and hypothesized customer segments weren’t providing enough data for my students to securely recommend them as potential markets. When I sat down with the team, it was clear all their concrete research came from real estate — it was the most easily accessible user segment to access. But all that information was sitting in folders because they had been told to avoid it. That’s when I asked them to do a customer journey map anyway on it. And that’s when they had their breakthrough. They figured out an opportunity gap for their founder in a market with a lot of potential buyers who would want his product as it currently existed. All they had to do was lay the information out and see the difference.

Sidenote: I’m doing this currently in my personal growth. Last year, a friend recommended I do a customer journey map of my life to help me decide on my next step. And I’ve been doing that. But instead of doing just one, I’ve been making multiple ones — of my professional journey, my creative journey, my romantic journey, etc and etc. In seeing all of these maps together, I’m finding out some interesting things that I might not have discovered if I only did one.

Juxtapositions Help You Choose Your Tools

Finally, I recently pitched for a research project, and in the RFP, the potential client wanted to know my experience in doing and choosing qualitative and quantitative research tactics. Overall, I said that I like to do a mix because that’s the best way to validate and solidify any recommendations. And I realized I do that because of juxtapositions — when I have different variations of information, that helps me identify opportunities better. Because when I compare them, I trust what I see more.

For example, in my recent post on the discovery phase, I wrote about a wearable prototype I made. I specifically did qualitative on-site interviews while following up with surveys. The immediate feedback as juxtaposed to the 2–3 day feedback was very insightful.

I even do this when writing interviews. I’ll break up open-ended questions with close-ended questions. And interesting enough, that’s actually a tactic we even discussed for the current research project I’m on.

So there you have it — juxtapositions! Very useful. What do you think?

Sarah Dzida

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UX Strategist + Creative Storyteller