How we improved our study builder using design thinking

Join us for an in-depth look into the the changes we’ve made to our Study Builder.

Thanks to our brand new Winter 2019 release it’s never been easier to create and monitor UX studies. With new enhancements to the UserZoom Builder, you can write and launch UX studies simply and efficiently, and get to your valuable UX insights so much quicker than before.

Of course, as you’d expect from a company whose very DNA consists of user research insight, we didn’t just arrive at these improvements in a vacuum – oh no, we are UserZoom and we will hear the voice of our users!

And we achieved this through the discipline of Design Thinking – an iterative, human-centred approach to product development.

So come with us as we lift the lid on the cookie jar of our Winter Release, delve around for the sweet treats, then get our hands slapped away because we’re rude and didn’t ask permission and now we have to sit quietly and learn all about design thinking and how it helped UserZoom make improvements to a core feature of its platform.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a discipline that uses a designer’s creative sensibility and working methods to match your users’ needs, thereby solving product issues or making improvements using both user research and innovation.

In our article how to get executive buy-in for design thinking, Sean Van Tyne describes design thinking as an, “iterative process that will help you define who it is you’re designing your solution for, exploring those ideas and manifesting them.” Design thinking is essentially a way to innovate and solve problems by using an “artist’s approach.”

There are many frameworks out there to help your own design thinking, for instance this diagram from NN/g which we refer to in our own design thinking workshop.

This six-step framework can be distilled into the following summaries:

  • Empathize: Conduct research in order to develop knowledge about what your users do, say, think and feel.
  • Define: Combine all your research and observe where your users’ problems exist.
  • Ideate: Brainstorm a range of crazy, creative ideas that address the unmet user needs identified in the define phase.
  • Prototype: Build real, tactile representations for a subset of your ideas.
  • Test: Return to your users for feedback. Ask yourself ‘Does this solution meet users’ needs?’ and ‘Has it improved how they feel, think, or do their tasks?’
  • Implement: Put the vision into effect. Ensure that your solution is materialized and touches the lives of your end users.

Design Thinking doesn’t end with implementing and launching your product; it’s not just iterative, but also cyclical. You may have started with an MVP (minimum viable product), but next comes your 1.0, then a 1.5, or a ‘Winter Release’ if you will.

Van Tyne describes this as a ‘learning loop’, where you continuously go back to understanding who your customers are, exploring new ideas, materializing these ideas and learning something new every time.

How did we use Design Thinking to improve the Study Builder?

Let’s take a look at how our Product Manager, Sarah Tannehill, Head of Design, Anna Barba, and their team worked through the design thinking framework, step-by-step.


The very first stage of the process is empathizing and truly understanding our users. This involved conducting remote moderated sessions with our customers, where they shared their screens with us to show us how they create studies on the platform, while we asked in-depth questions to uncover any unmet needs or requirements they may have.

Some of these questions were not just about how they actually create studies with UserZoom, but how they create studies in general. We don’t just want to focus on what a UserZoom customer is doing today, but what are the opportunities that we can grow into for future iterations.

Other data looked at included our pool of feature requests from customers, which is a large area of input where customers say, “it would be really nice if I could have XYZ.” We reviewed this data and categorized each request by theme. We use Pendo for behavioral analytics, regularly visit and talk with customers, run usability tests on our current experience, concept test new ideas, and work with our Product Marketing team to capture competitive intel.

Using all this data, we created a customer journey that flows from when a request comes in from a business all the way through to reporting our insights from the research and sharing that with the organization.

Visualizing this journey is a really helpful tool to share with stakeholders and executives and get them on the same page, as this helps with buy-in.

The empathize stage is where the research and product teams gather and discover problems – this is also where the data suggested a focus for our efforts – through Sarah’s research we discovered that many of UserZoom’s customers spend most of their time on the Study Builder pages when creating a UX study – therefore the priority of this particular project would be on the ‘Script to Build’ stage.

As well as saving our customer’s time, this is also a place where we can implement some major changes within the product. Perhaps other areas like ‘Concept to Script’ can be tackled through training initiatives, such as our forthcoming UserZoom Academy.


For this step, Sarah gathered all the available data – consisting of information on UserZoom customers who are experiencing challenges, information on what personas we’re targeting, usage data such as clicks on different pages within UserZoom, market trends and competitive data – then based on all of this, she was able to prioritize within the customer journey a starting point for change. This led to pinpointing the top challenges within our Study Builder, like helping our customers to reuse study components, or manage stakeholder input..

These challenges are prioritized by frequency of occurrence, severity and criticality. The point of having these problems laid out ready for the workshop is to avoid everyone sifting through all of this data together and wasting time.

These challenges also formed the foundation for the ideation stage of the design thinking workshop…


One of the first internal challenges we needed to address from an organizational point of view, is how remote our teams are from one another – you may have the same issue if you’re organization operates internationally across multiple time-zones.

Our design, product and engineering teams are in different locations, which typically goes against what you’d normally expect from design thinking, where activities are done in person – everyone gets in one room with a whiteboard and plasters the other wall with post-it notes. We had to figure out a way to do all this remotely.

The design thinking workshop run by Sarah and Anna consisted of people across multiple teams – product, research and design – brought together over video-conferencing software (we use Zoom). In the session, Sarah discussed her research, the customer journey, and how she arrived at the top challenges – this all helped contextualize the next important step – ideation. They achieved this remotely by using a product called RealTimeBoard to do some ‘virtual’ affinity diagramming. The team spent 20 minutes writing down different solutions based on the problems presented.

Then each person in the workshop had to share back their solutions, creating individual columns for each theme. The next person who followed would either create brand new categories, or layer their sticky notes underneath similar ideas within the same theme. The point of this is to find common themes in different solutions based on all of the data that had been gathered. We also get our creative juices flowing, and uncover new ideas we may not have considered before.

Design thinking works to tease out opportunities and themes in a collaborative and free thinking setting, not achievable by oneself.


The next phase is design concepting, where the design team went away with all of this information and started to create a future vision for how studies are built in UserZoom; a blue sky plan using free thinking to come up with brand new, innovative concepts.

The team sketch concept designs using Invision, which is particularly helpful because a product manager can come in and comment on designs in real-time. It’s also handy for usability testing, so once they had these concepts or prototypes they could test them immediately in front of customers.


The design team crafted a concept, where every feature proposed was driven by the top challenges that were surfaced through the aggregated data – such as feature requests, quarterly surveys, usability testing, analytics, etc.

This concept was tested with users with varying levels of expertise with UserZoom, using remote moderated usability testing. The design team listened in on each of the moderated calls so that they could hear the feedback unfold in real time.

At the end, each of the features were graded with an A, B, C, or F, to measure how well they solve the initial top challenges. Those with lower grades were iterated upon, and retested again, until the letter grade was raised to an ‘A’. Now we had our ideal experience. Then we worked with development to analyze and investigate the necessary steps to evolve our current experience into our optimal experience.


This brings up bang up to date with UserZoom’s Winter 2019 release.

Now that our enhancements to the Study Builder are live, Sarah, Anna, and the team will go back to the design thinking process – gather feedback, run an idea meeting, solve for user needs, create concepts, test them with customers using Userzoom, iterate, launch, then go back to the empathy stage and begin the cycle all over again – this will allow us to launch further improvements and iterations to the Study Builder later this year.

As Sarah says, “The Winter Release is the first phase of this project. The design thinking exercise helped to provide a guiding light or end goal, for us to work towards; we know we need to build this today, to get to our goal, tomorrow. We are now in a position to evolve UserZoom to support the growth and democratization of user research in the enterprise”