Research Walls: A low tech way of communicating the user journey to cross-functional teams

At the start of most large projects, I put together a quick Research Wall. Basically, I carve out a physical space and start organizing all the user artifacts (social media profiles, websites, images, menus, seating charts, etc) I can find and start to map out a user journey.

These walls help me quickly immerse myself into the world of the user. They also help me ask more meaningful questions when I talk to actual users later in the process. And if a project doesn’t have time for in-depth user research, these walls get you much closer to the user than doing nothing at all.

Parts of the Research Wall (adjust as needed for your particular project)

  • All user problems you are trying to solve with the project.
  • What you think you already know about users. Put any paragraphs in business docs/requirements, any assumptions, persona info, etc.
  • Actual users. If you can get a list of current users, google them. If you can’t get a list, simply google your product and see who is talking about it. Then gather as much as you can about FIVE users of your product. Look at their Facebook, Linkedin, etc and form a quick story about each.
  • Data/Content from your digital user investigation. Take any real data, pictures, anecdotes, etc and put on the wall. This is the stuff that makes these 5 people real.
  • Define the problem for each user and how they currently solve it. Is your solution better? Worse?
  • The user journey. Document step by step how each user would get to each step. If they have to google something to get to step 2, google it and put the results on the wall. ┬áIf they need an email code to go to step 3, find out how long the email takes to get to the user and try to get a copy of the email or find out who is going to write it and put it on the wall.
  • Any areas that you can’t quickly get info or artifacts or any questions you have, put on post-its.
  • Identify any gaps or issues you see.

When all this information is shown in one place, it quickly highlights:

  • Gaps that the system might be able to bridge.
  • Situations that we might not have thought about before.
  • Both how the user accomplishes the task TODAY and how they will accomplish the task once the project is delivered.
  • The world the system will exist in.

The best part of Research Walls is that since it’s a bunch of random stuff organized into a story based on real users and all in one small place, it’s easy to talk to team members and discuss the impacts of decisions. Research Walls really foster conversations.

Even though they are physical spaces, they can be easily shared via webex and other conferencing tools simply by pointing a camera at them at any point in the conversation.