Contact me: Download my resume: design / research

Autodesk ReCap: capturing the customer journey

What this is about

The Autodesk ReCap team wanted to understand the usefulness of a mobile solution amongst a random set of customers, while capturing their broader workflows, or “data stories.”*

*understanding how they moved from the reality capture process through registration, computing, and on to their final deliverable.

The setting

Autodesk University: an annual >10,000-person trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Autodesk’s Experience Design team has a dedicated pavilion for customer research activities.

Early (ROUGH) sketch: capturing our industries, technologies, and functions, in a left-to-right flow.

A garishly multicolored digital sketch that attempted to convey a left-to-right flow, with various types of pertinent information that we wanted to capture from our users.

Yarn-and-pin-board digital mockup: printed prompts on the board, proposed interactions

A digital mockup of a yarn-and-pin board. This again captured a left-to-right flow, and incorporated playful background imagery, along with digital sketches of what a user interaction would look like (pretend sticky-notes and other annotations the user might use).

Getting closer: design for a foam-core-mounted board with subtler background prompts

Honing in on the final design: a visually simpler board, using a 2-tone color palette, but using text prompts instead of distracting imagery.

Prototyping thought process

Within the context of a left-to-right flow, I tried going big again:

  • digital drag-and-drop exercise? something tangible?
  • peg board, piggybacking off what the AutoCAD team had done a couple of years prior? or something lighter-weight?
    (lighter-weight, due to budget concerns and general logistics of transporting the board from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas.)
  • yarn board (laying out individual options to see where the lines would run) or something more freeform?
    (yarn and pin board, using icon cards of customer industries and our app’s features. freeform could possibly get too chaotic.)
  • granularity: focus on what tools they use within ReCap, or take a step back?
    (try to capture as much detail as possible, hence creating cards of in-app features, in case they decided to use them.)

The final design

Ultimately, this was the final product I landed on, with feedback from my manager and fellow designers. We stripped away all the distracting background text, trusting our users to get the flow and ourselves to provide help where needed.

The intent was to mount it on foam core to allow for easy interactivity, and to laminate it for durability.

Validating the prototype

I did a quick yarn-and-pin prototype test with non-UX colleagues in the office. It seemed to go okay, minus some logistics with the yarn.

So I went out, printed and laminated the boards, and printed and produced all the cards.

Then I tested the final product. And things derailed quickly.
Rather than use the yarn or cards…my colleagues reached for whiteboard markers and started to write on the laminated poster.

At first I was dismayed. But then I was amazed. It was turning into a brilliant whiteboarding facilitation activity. So, I ran with it.

At the conference

How it went (a quick rundown)

Our research spot, set up and ready to go.
Our research spot, set up and ready to go.

We got a prime spot right at the entrance of the Idea Exchange/VOC pavilion. Hundreds of people passed our activity.

We had at least 2 people at our station during our time slots. I facilitated nearly all the sessions and the other attendee took notes.

  • 8 customers from 3 countries
  • Session lengths: 30-60 minutes (if they wanted to keep talking, we happily let them)
  • Industries: architecture, engineering, national railways, public utilities
  • 100% whiteboarding, 0% icon cards or yarn or sticky notes


Our position at the front of the pavilion put us in view of our division’s head of UX research. She was so enthralled by how successful our activity was—from the design of the whiteboard poster to how well I facilitated—that she asked to take one of our whiteboards back to the San Francisco HQ office to display as an example of successful user research.

Action shots (the fun stuff)

A participant in action.
A participant in action.
A very productive end result. I had to start writing when the participant was hesitant to do so, but after we broke the ice, she took the pen and jumped in herself.
A very productive end result. I had to start writing when the participant was hesitant to do so, but after we broke the ice, she took the pen and jumped in herself.
Our first participant posing with his board.
A board with a fun cloud illustration and lots of swooping arrows.
A board with a fun cloud illustration and lots of swooping arrows.


We gathered a rich and varied body of data. I spent a full week after AU trying out multiple synthesis formats. (Only now am I recognizing the parallels between my synthesis explorations and my actual activity explorations…!)

  • another digital yarn-and-pin board, using icons and labels to indicate major outcomes
  • a purely visual, iconographic study, focusing on images for technologies and tools used
  • The winner: color-coded text tables in PowerPoint. (Sometimes simplest is best.)

Part of why PowerPoint won was that presenting my results to our leadership team involved a multinational screen-share. This was by far the easiest format to create AND peruse AND refer back to later.

Synthesis slide of the reality capture technology used by each customer in our study
What reality capture technology is used, who uses it, and how.
Synthesis slide of the customers' entrypoints into the Autodesk ecosystem, and their next steps
Capturing customers’ overall workflows. This was by far the most difficult and messy, because no two had the same number of steps or outcomes, so how to present them was a major challenge.
Synthesis slide of the various software and hardware tools they used throughout their workflow
A list of tools used during each stage of the reality capture process.
Synthesis slide of salient and interesting data points gathered during the research sessions
Experiences and observations that didn’t fit neatly anywhere else.

At the share-out

It couldn’t have gone better. I’d introduce a slide, let the group sit in silence as they absorbed it, and a marvelous conversation would spring forth from the assembled managers and stakeholders. My team was already very pro-design, but this was beautifully received.

Leadership would refer to these results for months, and—most importantly—they did organically impact strategic product decisions going forward.