Design Process — Researching

Part II — Market Research Survey & User Persona

This design process series covers the exact design process we use every day at SetDev.io. It’s a culmination of a six-year journey, bootstrapping a software engineering consulting agency as the sole designer. All deliverables discussed are attached as Sketch files for your convenience.

Part II of this design series shifts the focus from creating an internal guide for all stakeholders, to now combing through potential user markets to clearly identify prospective users & their needs. This module, like the previous one, contains two separate deliverables:

  1. Market Research Survey
  2. User Personas

While you’ve likely heard of these deliverables before, it’s worth explaining their purpose & order within this particular process.

As stated in the opening piece, all product design iterations are simply experiments — which is why we spent the majority of our time detailing the experiment & ensuring that all stakeholders start on the same page. Like all experiments, the idea is to extrapolate meaningful results from independent variables by reducing as many assumptions as possible. The largest error-prone assumptions made in product design often stem from designing for the wrong audience. The core assumption addressed in this module, therefore, addresses the following key assumption:

Who Is The Intended Audience(s) of This Product?

Product design is not graphic design. The metric of success here is not any visual or aesthetic milestone, but rather a perfect user-product fit. In order to increase the likelihood of this success, we first need to clarify the left side of the equation, the user, by carefully portraying the ideal prospective user. How do we accomplish this?

By gathering information on prospective users through first, the Market Research Survey, then later compiling all findings into User Personas.

A Word On Client Feedback & Validation…

Undoubtedly one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from launching countless client & personal projects is that the fastest way to guarantee failure is by not discussing the product with potential users.

Discussed the idea & shared the mockups with a single person before putting down that deposit? Best of luck. Communicated design & prototype iterations with a group of ten? You might have solved a need for one of those early adopters — but realistically these are overly-optimistic friends & family. But now, say you sat down individually with one hundred people. First, researching their needs beforehand. Then, iterating through design interfaces directly from their feedback. And finally, unobtrusively observing as they interact with a polished Invision demo? The odds are now significantly more in your favor that you’ll design something that people need.

Client validation is the lifeblood of a successful.

Want the shortcut answer for designing a product that people need? Sit down & review every deliverable in this process with one hundred prospective customers. Discussing deliverables with potential users is uncomfortable, assuredly, but it beats the awkwardness of a launch with zero downloads by miles.

Luckily, these client touches are neither concentrated in a single deliverable nor require a single cohort of prospective customers; great arguments exist for permutations of different-sized cohorts & customer-interacting deliverables. Currently, this design process embeds two deliverables that require feedback from potential customers. The first of these deliverables, the Market Research Survey, is seen in this module; the second, Invision Interviews, appears in the final module (V), Validating.

Market Research Survey & Report

The Market Research Survey is a standard, digital survey that serves two core purposes. First, it’s used to confirm (or correct) the largest assumptions made in the previous Project Vision deliverable — anything from the core problem to intended KPI. Second, it’s used to identify common behavioral/product, demographic & psychographic trends among likely potential users. These findings are then compiled into meaningful examples of potential users in the following deliverable, the User Personas.

Plenty of survey-making tools exist that are more than capable of designing a sufficient draft, such as Google Forms or Monkeysurvey. The most important part of the survey-making process, however, comes from the question selection. Instead of covering the multiple, complex principles involving survey questions that likely merit their own series, I’ll keep this section concise & helpful. Below is an internal question bank template that’ll serve as a solid jump-off point for your curation:

I do not recommend copy-pasting all of these questions for a single survey. It’s well researched that the longer a survey, the less accurate the results. Prioritize by the largest assumptions made & front-load those questions early-on in the survey .A maximum of ten questions is a good rule of thumb. The goal here is to have at least five prospective users fill the survey out; I usually try to reach a minimum of twenty-five survey responses. Again, the point of this deliverable is to extract meaningful patterns that’ll make up the bulk of the following deliverable.

User Personas

The second & final deliverable in this module, the User Persona is a fictional representation of the ideal user or customer. A persona is generally based on the trends identified in the Market Research survey. This includes, but is not limited to the demographics, needs, goals, & observed behavior patterns of your target audience. Some, but not all products will require multiple User Personas. Facebook Product Designer, Geunbae “GB” Lee, wrote a phenomenal post on the why & how of user personas that included a link to multiple user persona sketch templates. The User Persona example below comes from that same template linked throughout this piece:

Feel free to iterate off of these templates with your own version. Apart from stating very clear user-goals, the only other fixed part of this deliverable is the “About” section. It functions as a qualitative introduction to our prospective customer that invites us to see things through their world by detailing it out. This in-depth summary is absolutely necessary as it flows right into the first deliverable of the next module, the User Journey Map.

In Closing

With Module numero dos out of the way, we’ve now double-checked the assumptions made in Module I, conducted marketing research through the Market Research Survey, & compiled all findings into the ideal prospective customer through the User Persona. Take a moment to realize that we’re two modules & an entire four deliverables into this design process, yet we haven’t designed a single actual mockup view, greyscale or high-fidelity.

Stakeholder communication & early customer validation, the focus of Module I & II respectively, are two key principles of product design worth exploring before beginning a single iteration of the actual product. The next module, Mapping, is when we’ll leverage these previous deliverables to start translating our vision, goals, & principles to an actual app form.