My Journey with User Research
Starling Minds is a company driven to create products that help boost people’s mental resilience to stress and break the stigma towards mental health. As their user experience designer, I had a hand in designing and creating their digital products. One of the things that excited me the most about this job was the abundance potential of user research, such as user surveys, interviews, and observation studies.
In order to design something meaningful, I needed to understand the people I was designing these solutions for. I needed to understand what problems they had in their lives. Integrating user research techniques into the design process is a career goal of mine so I was quite fortunate to be a part of many projects at Starling Minds.
Due to the nature of my NDA, I can not speak in detail as to what the projects were. However, I will talk about what I have learnt based on the research techniques I have conducted.
- May 2018 – July 2019
- Mental Health
- Desktop App
- Mobile App
- User Researcher
- Experience Designer
User personas evolved as the data on our users became richer and richer. Starting out, we created user personas based on user surveys and other existing information we have collected. From this data, we were able to uncover a few distinct personas. Due to the nature of my NDA, I cannot divulge details about the personas other than they helped inform my design work. When designing features or content I would refer back to the personas we collected and ask questions such as:
“Would these personas appreciate this feature?”
“Does this help accomplish these persona’s goals?”
“How would these personas interact with this feature?”
Competitive Analysis is one of my favourite techniques to engage in because it allows me to explore the current space and discover the experiences that other applications have implemented. Furthermore, with resources such as Product Hunt, Betalist, and app recommendations from the Apple and Play Store, I was able to find upcoming applications that provided new and unique experiences to become inspired by.
I used a persona to interact with our competitors’ products. This gave the team insight into how our persona would feel and think while using their products. The persona allowed us to evaluate which experiences were promising or frustrating. This information guided the design process by giving the team a strong foundation of what we could use and what we could avoid doing.
Fly on the Wall Observation Studies
A fly on the wall observation study is where the researcher unobtrusively gathers information by watching and listening without direct engagement with the people being observed.
We conducted many fly on the wall observation studies with clinical psychologists, in order to understand the process of therapy. From these studies we gathered some key insights. With my NDA, I am unable to share what key insights we have uncovered.
A few of the pivotal insights allowed me to improve our existing user personas. By assigning more data points, I was able to create more depth and doing so enhanced our understanding of the persona’s way of thinking, the issues they are burdened with, and the emotions that they experience, which further helped the team grasp how a group of people would think and feel if they were to interact with the product.
In order to craft a new product, the team needed to understand the characteristics of the user experience from the older product such as what appealed or didn’t appeal to people. There were distinct questions we wanted data for, therefore, I created a quantitative survey to uncover any patterns. The data from these surveys, gave great insight into a few patterns. These patterns gave more guidance in designing features and content for Starling Minds’ products.
As the product continued through the design stages, we needed to design the information architecture. Since we had an existing user base, we decided on utilizing them for a card sort study, then a tree test. This would allow us to understand how our current users structure content in their minds.
I thought a card sort study would be a great way to understand how Starling’s diverse user group organized information. I hoped that the following questions would be answered with a card sort:
“Did everyone group content the same way?”
“What types of content do people want to see on x page?”
“What do people value more and will group together?”
The results of the card sort study was a great data dive. It was fascinating how the different card items were grouped together. This allowed the team to understand that these groups were important and should be easy to find. I would go into further details into the card sort and how it bled into the design process, however, with my NDA, I can not.
By designing and organizing this study, I was able to learn some new things such as research study design and study participant recruitment. I also learned to consider moderating future studies, which would provide a better experience for both parties. When conducting a moderated card sort study, the study’s facilitator could handle any questions and concerns the participant has in a controlled manner. Overall, the card sort study was an excellent learning opportunity, and the results of the card sort were incredibly insightful. It allowed the team to design a navigation system based on the data collected.
From the results of the card sort, the team designed two navigation options. In order to evaluate our assumptions of the design, we conducted a tree test. The tree test helped evaluate which option was the most effective for our users. Once the results were analyzed, we reorganized items that had no discoverability. After reorganizing the structure around, we were more confident about the organization of the product itself and had the data to support our changes. Looking back on this procedure, I realized that it would have been appropriate to conduct another test to reassure our assumptions.
A usability study was designed to evaluate a few new features. The study was broken down into four sections. Each section had a series of activities for the study participants to carry out. Along with a follow-up questionnaire to gather further insights into what the participant thought about their experience. The study would evaluate and test our assumptions, and allow us to solve any issues that were found using the study.
Recruitment emails were sent out, pilot studies were conducted, and external people were scheduled to participate in the study. However, before the study was conducted, the study was put on hold. Seeing how the outcomes of the study were fundamental to the design process, this hold in the study taught me that the team needed to communicate more effectively the importance of the study. Hence, we took this as a learning opportunity to work on getting everyone on board during each step of the progress.
Key Takeaways and Reflections
Conducting user research supported the design of new features and products at Starling Minds. There were countless learning opportunities that each research technique has provided. I have learnt many things from my time here. I learned to an online research platform’s usability when designing remote studies. By acknowledging and predicting how well people can use the remote study’s platform I can decide whether or not to moderated the study. Any friction caused by the platform could affect the participants’ overall experience. This takeaway derived from my experience with the card sort.
With these research studies, the team was able to test assumptions they had about the users. This leads to an increase in understanding of users and drove refinements in design. Confidence behind design decisions grew as it was backed up by gathered data. My time at Starling has given me excellent experience in designing and deploying user research studies, which helped drive important design decisions made about Starling’s products.
If you would like to chat more on what I learned throughout this process, connect with me through email at [email protected].