eCommerce/EdTech, Mobile App, Early-Stage Startup in Stealth

Quick 2-minute version of case study

Role: I worked as a UX researcher on a globally distributed, cross-functional team with a UX designer, UX writer, and the client, the CEO and founder of an early-stage startup in stealth mode. In addition to research and design work, I facilitated a majority of communication with the client and took notes during meetings.

Introduction: The CEO/founder, as an experienced entrepreneur, had strong ideas of which UX deliverables they wanted, which included competitive research, hybrid user stories, and annotated wireframes. As a team, we agreed each of us would produce each deliverable, then take turns compiling the results for delivery and presentation.

Goal: Create a compelling eCommerce experience


  • Time: 40 hours apiece for each designer, across four weeks total
  • Budget: $0
  • Distance/time zones: The client was based in the UK, in GMT. The designers were based in three other time zones, GMT-8, GMT-9, and GMT+1. 

Outcome: We delivered the requested deliverables on time. Regarding the final deliverable, the client said, paraphrasing slightly:

Tools: Figma, Figjam, Doodle (meeting scheduler), Zoom, Google Docs, Adobe

Project Plan
Our work on the project was constrained to 40 hours apiece over four weeks. We checked in via email as needed and held weekly virtual meetings as a group, splitting time between presenting our work and fleshing out our next deliverable. We organized the project weeks by each deliverable, focusing on discovery the first two weeks and designing the latter two.

Week 1. Competitive Research
Week 2. Hybrid User Stories
Week 3. Wireframes
Week 4. Iteration on Wireframes with Annotations

Week 1. Competitive Research
In order to surface unique insight, each designer studied the primary competitor the client requested we study. Additionally, we each selected one to three other competitors to research. We documented our research through screen shots and a framework of what worked, what didn’t work, and a summary of the apparent business model. I then compiled our research into a cohesive report with summaries of each competitor, extrapolating and adding research on what might incentivize users, and including the research with screenshots. One of the other designers on the team said the compiled report I created was “intimidatingly good-looking.” The client felt the research surfaced valuable insights.

Screenshot of Competitor Research of Duolingo’s shop

Week 2. Hybrid User Stories
The next week, we focused on creating what I’ve called hybrid user stories. Rather than one-sentence user stories, the client wanted visual/text flows that answered key questions related to the eCommerce aspects of the product. In a Figjam session, we designers brainstormed which questions we would each work on. Designer #2 combined and exported our hybrid user stories into one document as the deliverable. As we presented that week’s discovery to the client, we received feedback that some of the research had gone too broad to provide significant value. The client provided clarity as to how we could provide value related to the nascent product, and it led to a more focused approach in the following weeks.

Screenshot of a hybrid user story/flow

Week 3. Wireframes
Week three, we each developed wireframes, at varying levels of fidelity, aimed at representing unique value props for the eCommerce aspects of the product. Designer #3 then discussed the ideas with myself and designer #2 individually to clarify points of confusion. Designer #3 compiled our results into a set of lo-fi wireframes and, at my suggestion, included an addenda of the ideas that he wasn’t certain how to fit into his vision of the wireframes, but that we agreed still provided value to the client. The client was pleased with the deliverable and asked us to iterate on the wireframes the following week.

Week 4. Iteration on Wireframes with Annotations
In the final week, Designer #3 and I refined the lo-fi wireframes, incorporating feedback from the client. I tightened up the alignment across all screens and added annotations for a majority of the wireframes, using a digital sticky note format and arrows to make clear what was being addressed, with a focus on how the various features added value related to retention, engagement, and community. The client was enthusiastic about the simplicity, clarity, and effectiveness of the final deliverable, which we provided in Figma and PDF formats.

Screenshot of lo-fi wireframes with annotations via sticky notes


  1. During discovery, take advantage of varying stakeholders’ perspectives to surface a broad range of unique insights across a particular element of research.
  2. Connect the value proposition to the design in both design and presentation so that it’s clear to the client. This allows the client to share it efficiently with other stakeholders.
  3. Keep a consistent aesthetic across deliverables to deliver a unified product.
  4. Even (and perhaps especially) when the client states that they want you as a designer to think blue-sky, remember to remain narrowly focused on the brief and the unique value proposition you can provide.
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