Start deep in Discovery

You know how to draw a few boxes and arrows, so dig even deeper into the process and logic of user experience, and solve the big problems, one sketch at a time.

Learn the Logic

Dig Deep

Before you start mocking up screens in Balsamiq Wireframes, take some time to discover the key information that will drive your design strategy.

Stakeholder Interviews

This is the first step towards synthesizing the vision for the product, how it aligns with the overall business goals, and how success (and failure) will be measured. You can use these interview questions as a base to work from.

Customer Research

Next it’s time to meet the customers. User research can be detailed and exhaustive, or quick and dirty, or any level in between. The first trick to getting to good results is sourcing and screening the right participants. Try these sourcing, screening and recruiting tips from Dana Chisnell.

The second trick is to ask the right questions. Don’t confine your research to just interviews, use a combination of research tactics. Here are a few options:

  • story mapping
  • tasks
  • participation
  • demonstration
  • role playing
  • exercises
  • homework
  • logging
  • stimuli

Learn more from Steve Portigal.

Expert Tip: Record these sessions and/or have a partner take notes so you can focus on listening and building rapport with the interviewee.

Build Consensus

From your user research, you can construct personas and a journey map. These tools are your secret weapon for building consensus within your team.


Personas are focused, concise user models that your team will use for decision making. Here’s a sample persona template made in Balsamiq. If you are skeptical about developing personas, take a look at this article, Personas: Dead Yet?, by Everett McKay.

Customer Journey Maps

Journey maps can provide depth to your personas by illustrating the customer’s current path with your product or service. They are useful if you are (re)designing a single application, but essential if you’re creating on a cross platform experience. Get started with this journey map template made in Balsamiq.

Alignment Meeting

More often than not, deep digging will uncover additional opportunities for improving your customer’s experience. But it can also highlight a disconnect between the stakeholders’ vision and the customer’s needs. Although this can be a difficult conversation to have, now is the time get aligned on who and what you are designing for. The outcome should be:

Expert Tip: A “sexy user experience” or “better than the competition” are not quantifiable project objectives- keep working.

See Examples

Restaurant UX

Let’s take a look at a real project. Adam Weisberg owns a couple of fast-casual Japanese restaurants in Austin, Texas. His customers place an order at the counter, and pick up the food when their name is called. This works great, except when the lines get too long.

Adam was in California when he stumbled upon Stacked, a sandwich shop that offers iPad ordering. Inspired by the vision of “no lines”, Adam decided to launch his own tablet based menus.

Zen Personas
Zen Customer Journey Map


Adam hired me to design his iPad application. I initially met with him and his investors at the restaurant to determine the scope of the project and the objectives:

  1. reduce the wait time for customers to place an order
  2. increase customer spending by encouraging multiple courses
  3. create a unique dining experience

I noticed that there was a disconnect between Adam’s vision and the stakeholders’. Adam wanted to create the coolest experience ever, with all the bells and whistles, while the investors envisioned launching a minimum viable product, then adding incremental improvements.

The burden was on my team to find out what the customers would consider a “viable” menu system. I knew observation and research was the fastest way to get these answers, and fortunately for me, I was in just the right place to start collecting information.

Quick & Dirty Research

Adam and his team provided us with the current analytics: average spend, dining time, size of parties. Then I went with some guerrilla research tactics and interviewed customers while they waited. After the interviews, I pulled in my team and we quickly sketched up a journey map and the personas.

The Map Leads the Way

Next time we met with the team, we brought our research findings. The journey map reinforced some assumptions, but also brought to light other areas where technology could improve the customer experience. We reviewed the personas and ranked the user types by priority. By the end of the meeting we had consensus on who we were designing for and our overarching design principles.

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