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Using Strategic UX Research to Inform Product Decision

"Supposing is good, but finding out is better."- Mark Twain

The project overview

BAWSE, the abbreviated form of Braving ADHD within Supportive Ecosystem is a mental health startup who designed virtual co-working spaces and communities to help post-secondary students and young adults living with ADHD to achieve their goals. With a noble vision in mind, the startup was backed and supported by Startup Edmonton, University of Alberta Health Hub, Innovate Edmonton and Alberta Catalyzer. The aim was to build a platform that would add values to the lives of the young students and early professionals. The mobile app aimed to create a safe community and discussion space. Users can come to the platform, meet like-minded peers, create communities where they can safely share their thoughts and seek others’ suggestions to handle challenging situations. They can also gain confident and productivity by joining co-working spaces and focusing on their goals.

My role

I was the Product Design lead in the team overseeing all digital design strategies and making compelling user experiences in the platform. I conducted user research sessions empathically to gather requirements and identify opportunities. I also led the Design team to oversee the quality, creativity and delivery of the product features. In my capacity, I drove cross-functional meetings from design perspective and advocated for the brand’s customers, championing human-centric approaches and design thinking. As a lead designer in an early-stage startup, I contributed to everything from product roadmap to crafting delightful micro-interactions. I collaborated with the  teams on all levels of the product development process, from early needs discovery, to roadmapping, defining metrics,  gathering feedback from customers, and more. I also designed the design system so that reusable components can be built which will allow for a faster iterative design process.

My approach

As designers, we keep our target users first and centre. Target users are the people whose needs and preferences we want to understand and ultimately meet. User research can help us understand the motivations behind user behaviors and uncover problems that need solving. By not spending any time on research and basing design decisions on assumptions, we may risk not meeting your users' needs effectively and efficiently.

In this project, I decided to conduct, not just user research but strategic UX research. Strategic UX research is how organizations connect their long-term direction and strategy to customers’ and users’ deepest needs. Strategic UX research is about translating the user needs into product/service goals. The insights and understanding gained, set the business’s direction, determine where to invest, and focus the organization’s long-term and short-term directions on efforts that dramatically improve those experiences.

The process

UX research needs to offer value and serve business purpose in a demonstrable way. So research strategy works best when its aligned with business strategy. In this project, I established key research objectives, and identified activities required to gather insights required to achieve those objectives. 

I started with user interviews with a clear objective to learn about the users, their experiences, what they need, value and desire. This startup was part of the Alberta catalyzer and mentorship programs, so I started connecting with people within the community. We first conducted a ADHD connect event to create a database of people who we could reach out to. There were some very generous and interested individuals who signed up to be interviewed. While 1:1 interviews were a great opportunity for me to get a first hand learning about the users, I conducted in-person and remote field studies to understand them better. 

In-person field study

Sessions with target audience (me behind the camera)

The moderated in-person discovery research were extremely helpful in gathering foundational data about the users. It also helped us validate our assumptions. With a clear objective of finding how the users behave under certain circumstances and to learn more from there, activities were planned accordingly.

The remote sessions were more observational, where I was a "fly on the wall". I joined several social media channels for ADHD support and observed the posts, communications, interactions within those channels. This method created a natural flow for me to learn the users' vocabularies, their mental model and discover their interactions and common workarounds.

Persona workshop

Persona creation workshop in progress

I took back the data collected from the user research sessions to the team. It was interesting to see that users performed exceptionally well when placed in groups and how they connected with strangers. As we were analyzing the research data, we had a strong feeling that virtual co-working or co-studying sessions may be helpful to the users. But we had to make sure that the product market fit is done and validated. In my capacity as the lead designer, I strategized ways that can help me test the concept. 

To start with, I started building the Bawse social communities. Utilizing the database that was created for user research purposes, I reached out to potential users to be part of these communities. I also started working on marketing collaterals and publishing them in social channels to generate leads. 

Social media post
Social media post 1

Marketing collaterals

These efforts helped in an organic growth but we needed more users to test the concepts. I suggested panel events with ADHD coaches, experts and mental health practitioners. Users respond positively when they find value in something. the panel events needed buy-in from the stakeholders as being a startup, there was budget constraint. I worked with the team to plan and coordinate virtual panel events with minimal costs. 

Panel event

The event was a success, so much so that the we organized a follow up virtual session with just potential users to re-observe their attitudes and interactional behaviors. This led to my next research strategy where I planned a card sorting activity with some users for the information architecture.


Working on user flows

Based on my learnings from the sessions, I wanted to test a prototype. But there wasn't a design ready that I could test in such a short time. So, I came up with a plan.  I took advantage of an existing platform and tried to simulate how the product would look like. I created channels, giving the feel of hubs in the product. 

Product simulation

Product simulation in an existing platform

Invitations were sent out to community users and we started onboarding them. It was an exciting moment to watch people use the channels and interact. To test the concept of virtual co-working sessions, we started organizing zoom and google meet events and posted the external links in dedicated channels. This research process was a tremendous help to understand the experience the users would desire from our product. 

My learnings
  • Thinking out of the box when you have limited resources

  • Thinking of ways of how users would experience your future product

  • Building a community of potential users before the product launch is beneficial. You can test your concepts and people love to provide feedback.

  • Innovating plans to apply user-centred approaches in design thinking process.

  • Aligning research data with the business goals can result in building better products and services

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