Benefits from research methods out of a design sprint

The Almighty Solution

Don’t fool yourself: driving all your [team’s] efforts into creating a one-size-fits-all solution can be costly, tricky and, ultimately, predictably unsuccessful. Rather, if you are working for a small startup or a big and well established company with hundreds of smaller teams, you will frequently face the temptation of creating an almighty super-duper product or feature to solve everyone’s needs in one go — "one ring to rule them all". Big, big trap — to which most of us have fallen before, and will probably face again in the near future. Happy news? Adding research methods, practices and exercises to your toolbelt, even when - by any reason - a design sprint is not the answer, can help you face the Nasty Almighty Solution myth.

Pen or pencil?

An easy metaphor? Working as a designer, you hypothetically had been assigned the task of creating a tool to allow someone to write stuff down on a blank sheet of paper. Easy, right? Well, it depends. One could come up with a pencil as an answer for the problem, while others could bet their coins in a ballpoint pen. Both solutions could fit user’s needs — or none! — if you haven’t asked the right questions. Does the user need to be able to erase what was written before? Or, the opposite, does the writing need to be definitive? Adding some context to it: what’s the scenario — a spaceship in outer space with zero gravity? A windy rooftop somewhere in the desert with no furniture? A comfy office in a city centre? Learning about your user (who they are, what they need) is one of the earliest steps in the understanding process. Don’t hold yourself, don’t be afraid of diving deep — here at Pismo, a fintech company, we spend a lot of time focusing on solutions for financial institutions employees — their roles are so diverse: some will have an analytical position, weighting impact of fee changes, digging into numbers, while others will play strategically along marketing and sales, and, still, some will only have low impact administrative rights, such as updating e-mails, phone numbers and so on. We might be tempted to create a one-size-fits-all solution by building a complex hybrid pencil-pen, to fulfil everyone’s needs. Don't be that kind of hero. Take a step back, gather information and find out WHO you are designing for, increasing the chance of creating something that fits faster and way more accurately.

The WHO

Personas: the main characters that illustrate the needs, goals, thoughts, feelings, opinions, expectations, and pain points of the user;

We can say the persona is the voice of the user. How de we find our voice? First, in every step of your career, asking questions should be like a mantra to you. That being said, remember:

  • Talk to stakeholders;
  • Interview people who are familiar with the problem;
  • Find potential users to give you insights;
  • Explore products that propose to sort out the same problem, learn from what works, what’s missing.

That will be key to develop personas of our users — who they are, what motivates them, and how they experience the problem you have to work on.

A persona profile should include:

  • Picture (photo or drawing)
  • Name
  • Job title
  • Demographics (how old? married? have children? studied at?)
  • Goals and taks
  • Environment
  • Quote

Remember to keep it real, not idealistic: the persona profiles you develop will lead you recruiting the right kind of users to test and validate your solution. Either an InVision prototype or a bunch of real codes to make the experience more believable, it is essential that testers relate close enough to the personas you've envisioned.

The User Journey Map

After developing your personas, you should be ready to create an User Journey Map — or multiple ones, if you have a lot of stakeholders and players involved in your business problem. A Map involves, as name implies, mapping out a user’s journey as they encounter and interact with your product — it can start with the very first introduction to the product, but it can also start with a task the user is already familiar with: searching content, setting up an account and so on.

  1. Define your starting point;
  2. Choose an ending to the timeline / journey;
  3. Break down all steps in between — including descriptions, highlighting pain points along the journey, adding context. That sequence of steps should rule your approach towards the experience you want to provide, the problem you're about to solve, and how you want the user to feel after having contact with your solution.

A personal adventure

Recently, we were assigned to improve a fee setting feature, here at Pismo, which is a small part of what our Platform can do. Believe it or not, some of those routines still rely on Excel spreadsheets to come to live. After talking to stakeholders and interviewing people who had been working with such task closely for more than 15 years, we developed our personas and defined their journeys. A lot of discover came out from it!

  • a mobile solution got out of the table — users access our platform from desktops only (device), from a secure network inside their office (scenario, context);
  • most of our users are in their 30s, wear glasses and spend more then 6 hours a day in front of the screen. Contrast, font sizes and accessibility options became issues;
  • a review process was part of the game for that task, but no previous app covered that up for them — reviewing became an additional step for us too.

Don't make excuses: embrace design!

Everyone loves Nubank and how they’ve been pushing boundaries in the user experience scenario. But not everyone understand this is more an outcome of embracing design and research than thinking of beautiful interfaces. It’s a riper fruit from seeding the value of design across teams, hats and hierarchies. We are only now starting to embrace design here— doing it bravely and with opened arms, though! It doesn’t matter how big of a believer you are in design sprints (and I am one of those), sometimes you won’t have a whole week to spend, sometimes you won’t have enough substance to jump into it — that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from bringing elements of a design sprint into your process, authors of the sprint book even recommend it, and that's how we are trying to move ourselves to the next level.


This article was written to the mesmerizing and beautiful sound of PJ Harvey ❤ If you're a fan, or want to talk a bit more about design challenges, keep in touch.