What I’m up to: User Research

Archetypes, journey mapping, and strategy, oh my!

There’s a meme I’ve seen UX Designers share that says “Without doing user research you’re only doing Some UX…which means it SUX. ;)”

Before getting into exactly what I did, I’d like to share with you a quick overview of the different types of activities UX research can take.

Credit to Leah Buley

This is from Leah Buley’s UX Team of One workshop that I attended awhile back. She has a great book which you can learn more about here.

Of course, what research you do depends on what you’re trying to learn or validate, so what did I do?

Getting to know our Field Staff

InterVarsity has Field Staff that lead campus ministry all across the US. I wasn’t part of an InterVarsity chapter in college, and I work at the National Service Center, which is fairly removed from what field staff do. We currently don’t have many bridges to field work so when you ask the average NSC’er what our field staff do, you’ll hear something like, “Talk to students a lot?”

To get background knowledge, there were 3 ways to learn from them that were fairly accessible — some secondary methods, interviews, and time studies.

Secondary Methods

We have an InterVarsity Staff Facebook page where staff ask anything and everything. I spun up an Airtable and started populating the posts that seemed relevant to my project.

This wasn’t as fruitful as I’d hoped — due to the sheer volume of posts, Facebook started shuttering after I’d only gone a few months back. Still — there were some interesting insights I gathered here such as:

  • Staff post on FB when they’re wanting to know if someone else has created something before they go create it
  • FB had a surprisingly high resolution rate — if the post got in front of enough eyeballs. If there was a high volume that day though, it probably wasn’t going to get answered.
  • Another common post type was sticky situations that were pretty unique — not many posts were on things that all staff should all know.

Other than the Staff FB page, there’s not really anywhere that staff congregate nationwide so that was it for the secondary methods.

Journey Mapping

While I wish I could have done the interviews first, I was able to access someone in person pretty early on in this process and journey mapping is way easier in person than on a remote call. If you’re not familiar with journey mapping, I wrote about what a journey map is here based on the mapping experience below.

In a nutshell, they’re made up of a few elements:

  • Who is on the journey
  • What the scenario is
  • What signified the end of the journey
  • What were the milestones of the journey
  • What were the emotions along the way
  • What are the observations along the way

These maps allowed me to get deeper into the nitty gritty of staff life — repeatedly asking “What did you do next? What was the next milestone?” forces you to get those details and yet diagramming years at a time allows you to step back and see the whole picture.


In some ways, I didn’t know what I didn’t know! To get started, I recruited staff through an event we held at the NSC and in a Staff FB post. From there, I split them into 2 sets of staff related to the project: new staff and staff who had worked with volunteers.

The first few interviews were pretty general and gave me a feel for the types of questions I needed to dig into deeper for future interviews. I had questions like:

  • Tell me about yourself — how did you come to InterVarsity?
  • What’s it been like to be on staff? Tell me about your job
  • What have been some high points and low points?

Once I had a better understanding of staff, I could dig into more aspects of staff life that I hadn’t known to ask about. Questions got a little more specific and related to my project:

  • If you wanted to find out [] what would you do? What if you couldn’t find it?
  • How do you normally handle [problem we’re trying to solve]

Data & Science

A tricky piece of research like this is balancing the “science” and the “art” of user research: sample size, keeping interviews the same for comparison, yet allowing interviews to go where the user takes it for the meaty insights.


All told, I had probably close to 15 hours of interviewing. In best practice, everyone involved sits in on these, usually behind a two-way mirror. However, as much as I wish everyone on my project could have sat in on that, these interviews were remote and there isn’t a good way to do that without overwhelming the interviewee.

Building diagrams called archetypes & personas are ways to distill information from these interviews. Archetypes are an aggregate of the data. Personas are a “person” with a “story” based off that same data.

Despite the continued wars of personas vs. archetypes, I’m convinced they work together nicely. :)

Example Archetype

I’m a little loose with my archetypes — if you saw the Staff archetype you’d see that it has several different categories. They’re a different set of people, so of course it would have different information!

This is where the ‘art’ of research can come in (and not just because there’s colors here) — how do I decide what gets included and what isn’t? A few guidelines:

  • Did it show up in about half of the interviews? Put it in
  • Does it relate strongly to the project? Put it in

Personal opinion is tough though — you see, in interviews the opinions really come out. You’ll run into an opinion that if something were changed, only this person would notice. But, there are opinions that if the product is updated to match would change actually be really stellar — no one else had thought of it! So this is where more of the art of discerning relevant data really is strong.

Why do this?

Almost every project you make, you come in with an idea of what it might be, and without user research you might build just that. Between the stories I heard, the distilling into archetypes, the listening to build journey maps, I can much more clearly articulate what staff do and am seeing implications for my project.

I can definitively say through this research, the project in my head has morphed and I’m feeling much more confident that we will be on the right track.

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.