What is a Design Sprint? | Day 1: Empathize

September 15, 2021

Day 1: Empathize

In this article, we will take a deeper dive into the first stage of a design sprint. You will learn how to conduct preliminary user research and identify the target user for your service or product. This is part 2 of 6 of the “What is a Design Sprint?” series. 

Not in the right section? Use our directory to get to the right spot:

  1. Summary of a design sprint.
  2. Define the long term goal.
  3. Ideate on the best solution.
  4. Prototype the solution.
  5. Test the prototype with users. 

Conduct User Research

Before creating a product or service, it is important to research what users actually want, need, and how they will use it. Jumping straight into product creation will have you and your team guessing on what users want, wasting money and time. By avoiding this step, you would also design a solution with the bias of what a user “should” do when using the product or service. Instead, the product should be designed with the user in mind from the very beginning of the project.

Icon of 2 people working together on a project

First, you need to start by defining your research question. It should be specific enough to help focus your research. An example of a specific question for building out a legal practice management tool would be “What do attorneys want in a practice management product?”. The next step is choosing the research method. It can be as simple as sending out surveys to existing clients to get feedback on a current or future product or service. On the other hand, it can be as extensive as hiring a research firm to be more thorough. Once you have your research results, the goal is to sort out any customer feedback into trends and problems. You can use any of these trends and problems identified by the research to create a solution. For a more detailed explanation of user research, check out our User Research blog post

Identify the User

Once you select a problem to solve or a trend to act on, now is the time to focus on a type or group of users. It is vital to the success of the project to understand who the users are. It is also important to map out a user’s experience using the service or product. There are different ways to do this process: Empathy Mapping, Customer Journey Mapping, and Swim Lane Diagram

An empathy map that asks you to think about your users and who they are, what they need to do, what they see, what they say, what they do now, what they hear, and what they think and feel.
Empathy map canvas

Empathy Mapping focuses on identifying key themes and issues affecting users based on their quotes, actions, behaviors, and feelings captured throughout user research and expert interviews. A Customer Journey Map focuses on the end to end experience a customer would face when interacting with the product or service, and a Swim Lane Diagram combines both concepts, creating a visualization of problems that exist within each step of the customer journey.

Although these three processes are different, they all look into a specific user, also known as a “persona.” If you expect to see multiple users for services, such as self-represented litigants and lawyers, each user requires their own map or diagram to illustrate different issues and opportunities that are unique to them. Where to start the journey map depends on whether the product or service is new. If it is new, it is worth exploring a certain use case and how the customer uses the product or service for that use case. 

A "user persona" showing details about the prospective user, such as their age, motivations, personality, and a short bio
Xtensio: User Persona Template

For example, if the new product is a practice management product (like Clio or MyCase), exploring how a lawyer performs client billing with the practice management product is one way to start the map. However, if the product or service already exists, the journey map or diagram begins at a later stage, usually when the customer is first introduced to the product, when they are searching for the product, or when they are onboarding or setting up an account. An example for this stage would be how a lawyer finds your practice management software.

In Summary…

Conducting user research and focusing on a group of users for your service or product is essential before proceeding to the next stage. By performing user testing first, you can ensure you are centering the project on the user’s wants and needs, saving your team’s time and your organization’s money. You can identify your user by a user persona. To find the user’s specific problems and opportunities, use Empathy mapping, Customer Journey Mapping, or a Swim Lane Diagram. Once these are identified, you and your team will have a unified goal to work towards for a specific user.

Next Steps

If you are interested in the details of the next stage, continue reading with the next blog post in our series, the second stage of the design sprint: define the long term goal.

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