UX Research: Start Seeing Bears

Research is key to design, but how do you process it all?


Constellations are a way to visualize relationships in the data

Wayfinders didn’t have to process billions of stars to make them useful in navigating the open ocean. Those stars, though deeply beautiful, could be overwhelming to the point of treachery. So our ancestors created a visual shorthand in order to make the stars a useful navigation tool. Constellations.

These named clusters of stars are a kind of shorthand. A way to see relationships in the data so people can orient themselves correctly.

Design is waste when you’re not fixing problems that matter

User experience design teams need clear objectives, driven by good research to inform their feature roadmaps. If teams are not basing their work on known problems, that are prioritized and relevant they’re just making good looking waste. It’s still waste.

Architects and designers need not become researchers to get fluent in the research. They need a meaningful shorthand to process the research, and translate it into the design of a given digital product.

Personas and journey maps are constellations

Personas and journey maps are tools so organizations can understand the raw data. We don’t add fake stars to make constellations prettier and we better not add fiction into our journey maps to make them loved by executives and stakeholders.

Personas are a shorthand way to help teams make sense of the clusters of data. The end goal is not to create a beautiful set of permanent user caricatures. The goal is to turn the data into a shorthand so organizations can solve meaningful problems for people.

Personas have a bad reputation because UX practitioners tend to forget that personas should be living documents that change when you get new data points. Don’t see these constellations as fixed. They’re just not. What once looked like a blurry area will emerge as distinct stars when your optics get better.


To a researcher, your work might look like an end deliverable document, but designers ought to view research as an open conversation. The conversation begins with facts that were previously unorganized. As designers become fluent in the research, an iterative design process enables us to stay open to new facts that can continue to emerge, and with them higher fidelity constellations.


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