Back to top
drawing of product roadmap and mvp

You have a killer idea for a new app, but how do you turn it into something people will love? By understanding the who, what, and why of the app you’re building, getting company stakeholders on board, and having a clear plan of action, you can create a successful app. Of course, it’s easy to run into walls along the way, so start by conducting user research and outlining a product roadmap.

Users are No. 1 when you create a product, so you need to do your homework. Understanding their motivations, goals, and mindset is critical to building something they will find valuable. Research is key to building this understanding. To conduct user research, you can:

  • Interview your customers
  • Record user sessions and analyze them (with permission)

Then comes the product roadmap. Product roadmaps are visual representations of your product’s development and should feature a few basic elements, including:

  • A vision or set of high-level goals
  • Themes for your initiatives and product
  • In-progress work, upcoming work, and planned future work

But how does it all come together? Journey with us to learn why user research is critical to developing a winning app and discover how Detroit Labs completes user research to set clients up for success.

Tactical vs. strategic engagements

Raise your hand if this sounds like you:

  • “I know what I want from my software project.”
  • “I have no idea what I want from my software project.”

These reflect the different types of project engagement we see at Detroit Labs—tactical (I know what I want) and strategic (I have no idea). Although they are at two ends of the planning stage, both can benefit from user research to crystallize what the end product could look like. Let’s look at each to understand further:

Tactical engagement

In a tactical engagement, a client has a specific problem they wish to solve with an app. This can be anything from lead conversion and distribution to internal safety steps from various departments. Here, research needs to surround experience to ensure the app fills the intended gap.

At a high level, this might take the form of UX research focused on interviewing end users and noting patterns of behavior, pain points, or workarounds. Often, a client can bring the majority of the research to the table—but there are also times when additional user research may be needed to achieve the best possible outcome. The power of UX research here is validating (or invalidating) user assumptions while gathering valuable information and insights to inform the product roadmap.

Strategic engagement

A strategic engagement can be more complicated simply because the statement of work is unclear. This type of client needs guidance to define what they want to accomplish, meaning research is necessary to build knowledge, understanding, and insights to influence the direction of the solution. The better the research, the clearer your decision-making process for the product roadmap and MVP will be later on. Additionally, there will be a much smaller chance of the solution falling flat.

The first step here is to create several potential personas for the app. Researchers need to come in and put their noses to the grindstone. Otherwise, the design team won’t know who they’re designing for.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to start from scratch. In these cases, clients often have “proto personas” in mind based on high-level assumptions about how someone will use the app. Of course, proto personas aren’t enough to base an app on because they often lump different types of users with different needs under one umbrella. In reality, these personas likely have unique needs and ideal app solutions.

How Detroit Labs approaches user research

At Detroit Labs, we trust in user research and product roadmaps because these processes help establish a clear path forward for app builds. We continually leverage research throughout the process to build insights and inform decisions that affect our partners and their users. As a result of our research, our collective input informs the development of a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be user-tested and refined over time.

On a deeper level, our process relies on an intricate partnership between research and design to set our clients up for a successful app build.

Research and design

Our process includes conducting research and synthesizing it to build YOUR app accordingly. We intentionally embed research and design together, allowing designers to listen to and participate in ongoing research while simultaneously using that information to design the user experience.

Again, a major tool for user research is interviewing users. Once we interview potential users, we follow up with a mini synthesis session to go over notes, helping design and development move forward with their tasks.
Your research process always uses secondary research—research you’ve already invested—plus our primary research to reveal actionable insights. Once our team completes its research, the lead researcher produces a complete report. We call this process “Socializing the Insights.”

his report contains valuable information about your project’s needs, allowing you to determine the best course of action. It’s also a guidepost for your Detroit Labs project team, helping:

  • Guide user experience design
  • Inform development
  • Maintain alignment among everyone involved

User research for decision-making

When you build an app, you need to understand how users currently do something so that your product functions similarly (or better). You want to build something familiar and intuitive. So remember the tried-and-true acronym: KIS (keep it simple).

Change management

Change management is exactly what it sounds like: Contending with situations in which people have to change how they do things. (Spoiler alert: They might not be happy about it.) If your app requires people to move too far away from what they’re comfortable with, it’s more likely to fail.

Risk mitigation

You need to know that your idea has merit and a chance of success, so you have to consider the professional and monetary risks of building your app. If you develop something without understanding how it will be used, the risk of failure increases.

Research provides the opportunity to ask and answer important questions, such as:

  • What platforms are we going to build for?
  • Are users global?
  • What languages need to be supported?
  • How will each persona use it differently from another?

With these details, you’ll be positioned to create a successful product with a frictionless user experience.

Start your app build with user research

Developing a product roadmap or successful app doesn’t happen overnight. You need a finger on the pulse of what people want and need, so start with user research! By interviewing potential users and stakeholders, you set your product up to delight customers and meet their needs. Detailed user research opens the door to creating a solid roadmap and making confident decisions about the direction of your new app.

Ready to take the next step and create your new product? Check out our checklist, What to Expect When Building Your App, and get in touch to take the first steps!

Graphic CTA for What to Expect When Building Your App Worksheet