Build Something Better: The Real Value of a Scalable Discovery Process

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

If your company has adopted Facebook’s “move fast and break things” approach to product development, you may be used to sidelining user research in favor of learning through failure.

In Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research, however, she suggests user research and learning through failure don’t have to be at odds with one another. Instead, you can conduct just enough research to learn plenty of helpful information about your users and take big risks to roll products out quickly.

At Backpack, we embrace the user research process in the design discovery phase, but we also recognize that laying a strategic foundation for your product should be scalable. You can do as much or as little research as you want and still get a lot out of the process.

If you truly want to embrace human-centered design and make your head of marketing happy, here’s what a targeted discovery process can do for you.

How Targeted UXR Eases Tensions Between Product and Marketing

Our clients are savvier than ever about targeted UX research, or UXR, and its value in product development. But we still run up against inherent tensions between product development and the business requirements of a product.

“Of course, we want to find out what our users want,” this line of thinking goes, “but we also want them to buy this product.” Companies aren’t always equipped—or willing—to change direction based on the results of UX research.

The tension between product development and marketing might never go away. But the process of targeted UX research during the design discovery phase will shed light on your users and pay off in dividends. Even though you’ve signed up for early user experience deliverables like site maps, wireframes, and prototypes, you’re really getting a deep dive into your user’s pain points. UXR unlocks the potential of your product, impresses your key stakeholders, and helps you plan for future products.

Want vs. Need: The Immediate ROI of UXR

Early UXR is about more than uncovering a user’s desired features. It’s the moment you and your team discover what your users really need. What are your desired outcomes for each persona? What are their pain points? How can you meet your customers where they already are?

Using these questions to guide your UXR leads to human-centered design. You’ll hone in on pain points associated with a user’s day-to-day experience instead of addressing what you think your product might solve.

As you validate your assumptions through qualitative interviews with a handful of users, you’ll uncover a narrative that makes existing user data more meaningful. In this way, UXR drives customer engagement once your product rolls out to market. It will affect your decision-making process for future product development, too.

In addition to the inherent value of understanding your users, there’s big ROI for investing in this process early in the product planning phase. UXR gives your design team insight into the nuances of your market before they begin designing product features and workflow. Because of this, your designers will offer more targeted, innovative solutions that get to the heart of your user’s primary challenges and create a more delightful UX.

Invest in Better Solutions for Your Target Market with Backpack’s Scalable Discovery Process

As a specialized UX and design team with deep experience in edTech, Backpack has a unique approach to collecting and synthesizing data. When you invest in a better research process, you invest in better answers. What did your competitors do? What do analytics suggest are the best solutions for your users?

By developing targeted research into specific edTech personas, we shorten your development cycle. This provides you with more robust data than marketing or user testing baselines and helps you to minimize risk as you develop your product. We also recognize that you may not have time — or resources — to conduct in-depth UXR. That’s why we’ve scaled our discovery process to include robust options for your timeline and budget.

Our scalable discovery process includes:

A competitive audit
We look at other products in the same space from a UX standpoint. What will your users expect from a product like yours?

How to scale it
In-depth: When you have more time for UXR and want to deepen your competitive audit, we’ll take the time to review 10 direct competitors, as well as tangentially related products or companies. We look at product messaging, onboarding tactics, ease-of-use, analytics, speeds of site, feature offerings, as well as product look and feel.

Targeted: We can also develop a more narrow field with client direction and focus on two to three competitors. Even reviewing a short list of competitor links as a group helps product owners get in the right mindset during development.

A tech audit
We look at analytics and user flows for your existing product before moving forward with a redesign. What does your user data tell us about how to improve UX?

How to scale it
In-depth: We’ll paint a vivid picture of user behavior by developing use cases, creating diagrams and flow charts, using heat map screens, and cross-referencing our findings with user engagement data.

Targeted: Clients also find value in reviewing sorted analytics to determine the top five user pain points. Where does your data indicate that users are falling off in the experience? What are the most important features to review? Are these features getting the right amount traffic?

An accessibility audit
We follow best practices around color contrasts, navigation, screen reader-friendly text, fonts, and audio/visual interfaces. How will making your product accessible give you more opportunities to reach new users or narrow the focus of your design direction?

How to scale it
In-depth: Depending on your needs, we’ll bring in an accessibility expert for white glove service, including a meticulous review of site for feature optimization. This includes testing for color blindness and the overall contrast of your site for other visual impairments.

Targeted: We review the visual styles of a site, making sure they will pass accessibility tests. Are you following best practices from a front-end development standpoint?

User surveys
We ask users about competitive products and features. Where do you want to put your emphasis so you have a competitive advantage?

How to scale it
In-depth: We’ll help you survey tens of thousands of users to ensure a 10% response rate. We design user surveys carefully in order to find significant correlations between demographics and behavioral attitudes or opinions. Cross-data correlations are always more significant when you have a bigger data set.

Targeted: We’ll help you determine how many users you need to survey for your quantitative data to be statistically significant and develop a short survey of 10 questions. Even basic answers from users can give you actionable data in a short period of time.

Stakeholder discovery
We conduct in-depth qualitative research with your product stakeholders. By connecting this process to data, we show stakeholders the tangible value of discovery.

How to scale it:
In-depth: We’ll coordinate discovery sessions with your internal stakeholders, including staff involved in content management, community engagement, sales, and marketing. We can also conduct external stakeholder interviews to determine the views of your primary persona, any resonant personas, and product buyers.

Targeted: We can also easily work with product owners and staff members who have the editorial vision for your products. To narrow your external discovery, we’ll collect anecdotal evidence from relevant users. Even after chatting with just a few people who fit the parameters of your primary persona, we’ll start to see patterns we can apply to your product design.

Taken together, this scalable design discovery phase creates a three-dimensional model of where you are right now in product development. With a robust model in place, we determine how best to apply our knowledge to your product design. Whether you have time to conduct in-depth UXR or need to narrow your field of inquiry to more targeted forms of research, you’ll find out more about your users, their expectations, and their needs.

Case Study: How NSGRA Responded to a “Hidden” Pain Point through Discovery

Scholastic’s Next Step Guided Reading Assessment (NSGRA) software helps teachers determine student reading levels and develop targeted next steps in their instructional plans. As Backpack led discovery for the product’s redesign, we were surprised by the findings of our user surveys — and used the results to better serve the needs of Scholastic’s primary users.

Before its redesign, NSGRA recommended that teachers use the software three times per year to facilitate benchmark reading assessments. By asking questions about teacher technology and frequency of use, we discovered many teachers used the product much more often — about five times per year. Teachers used reports to group their classrooms by reading level throughout the year. They also depended on NSGRA’s reporting during parent-teacher conferences to discuss individual student outcomes.

Because many teachers were generating assessment reports more frequently, the process for entering student assessment data needed to be easier for teachers to use. If we hadn’t asked teachers about their technology use during initial discovery, we would have never uncovered this “hidden” opportunity. Armed with this new perspective, we were able to make more effective UX recommendations to Scholastic throughout the product’s redesign. After all, whenever user behaviors don’t match up with a product’s technology, it’s a chance to identify ways to simplify or improve product features.

Central to the redesigned experience is a new workflow for teachers to enter student assessment data. We created a parity with the offline assessment forms, facilitated quick data entry, and established clear visual indications of where the user was in the process. Teachers can now effortlessly personalize their instruction for learners needing additional attention. Administrators can also easily discover and address class-wide performance trends.

When “Just Enough” UXR Provides Sizable ROI

Whether you have room in your budget for a lengthy discovery process or targeted user research, scaling UXR to your needs pays off in dividends. You’ll discover more about your user’s pain points, deliver an experience that effectively solves their problems, and inform development for your future products, too.

Don’t just “move fast and break things.” Conduct just enough UXR to uncover meaningful insights about your users and take calculated risks that deliver bigger returns on your investments.

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