10 quick and dirty steps for understanding the progression of user research before design

Today I chimed in on a UX introductory group's discussion on Facebook regarding where to start for personas and where to go from there. I was first trying to provide advice on how to help pull out a research participant's current journey as a method to see what their goals are, their problems, their motivations, their behaviours, etc. However, someone asked me if I use a different process than getting a persona written and going off into design. 

I've always quite liked this UX approach phase diagram by  peepaldesign  for its simultaneous simplicity and level of detail

I've always quite liked this UX approach phase diagram by peepaldesign for its simultaneous simplicity and level of detail

The following was my in-haste attempt to reply and explain how there is so, so much more that should be done before actually trying to design anything on paper, least of all digitally.

  1. Capture and agree what your problem hypothesis is for what existing business or customer problem you think may be worth solving or what new product/service you could make to fill a gap in the market.
  2. Go observe real people. Interview them too, but remember, what people say and what they actually do are often quite different. Watch them again after that until you have enough to draft up some personas per each unique goal you've seen.
  3. Map out the customers' current journey; you don't need anything fancier than just lots and lots of Post-it notes, markers, and wall (or floor) space.
  4. Identify opportunities and/or pains along the mapped journey that'd most benefit the customer and business if solved. If you're using Lean Canvases for your business cases, then follow that model and write down the top 3 pains and opportunities you see
  5. Have a good look at what competitors are doing locally and worldwide to see if this problem space is worth diving into and check for sharks! As in, determine how blood red of an ocean this market is before spending more money; how many others are swimming here, vying for a bite?
  6. Setup a team workshop and "ideate". Have the meeting members all try to get into the perspectives of a persona assigned to them. Once they seem to be thinking from the customer's point of view and not their own, creatively challenge them to come up with any and every idea you all can think of to solve those customer's problems. Imagine that money and time weren't an issue to keep them thinking on a grander scale. Once again, you don't really need anything more than Post-its and markers.
  7. Collectively vote on the new ideas to narrow them down to a small, feasible list that could provide immediate value to the customer if completed
  8. Map out what this new, ideal future journey would look like for the customer if they had these new products/services in their lives. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again you really need nothing more than Post-its and pens. When you look at this journey, how do you think each of your personas would act and feel if they were going on this ideal journey? If it seems okay, then continue on. 
  9. NOW you can get on to designing how those journey tasks and steps may actually be realised, how they'll interact, and so forth using whatever design tool you prefer (e.g. Balsamiq, Sketch, InVision, etc)
  10. Don't forget to start testing again! Go meet some new potential customers and try to see if they find value in these new solutions as well as testing the usability of what you're making, especially in the prototype stage before any actual code is written.