Six different personas were created as a result of the research.


In compliance with NDAs, some confidential information has been generalized or omitted.
All info below is my own, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the company.


Custom Ink is an e-commerce company providing an extensive and searchable catalog of promo products, allowing customers to design and customize them within a proprietary design lab platform.

Over the last 2-3 years, there was a significant shift in customer segments for the organization. Previously, smaller, diverse groups of buyers (e.g., family reunions, school groups, etc.) were driving core business, but a shift in 2021 showed top sales from larger organizations, such as tech companies, colleges and universities, and healthcare institutions.


The reason for the shift was unclear. Was it due to the pandemic, or a general shift? How were Customers In Large Organizations (CILOs) approaching their budgets for promotional products and why?

In order to identify opportunities, unlock market share and improve both current and new working relationships, we aimed to find out:

  • What purpose does custom gear serve CILOs?
  • How do CILOs approach the discovery process?
  • What essential characteristics do they look for in custom gear partners, and how do they evaluate competitive offerings?
  • What are any industry-specific requirements and/or constraints?


With such a broad and expansive group of
stakeholders, our initial research questions
were purposefully simple and few. As the
interviews continued, we were able to be
more nimble with our follow-up questions
based on the participants’ responses.


To better understand the underlying promotional product needs of CILOs and the ways those needs drive how they discover, select, and maintain their ongoing relationships with partners/vendors.


6 UX Designers (including myself)

2 UX Directors (high-level sponsors of the work)

Weekly check-ins for alignment with the Strategic Development Team (Strat Dev), who conducted their own (largely quantitative) research to contribute to the work.

NOTE: Due to the nature of the project, all team members participated in the full process of the research. Please keep reading to hear more about it.

We wanted to ensure that we were using enough data from different sources when crafting the personas.


Participants included both current as well as prospective/target customers, and were screened through UserInterviews.com based on promotional product needs, annual spend and competitors used.

  • 3 separate verticals: B2B, Education (K-12 and higher ed), Healthcare
  • 28 participants total: 12 current customers, 16 prospective customers

Interviews were 1 hour, with an internal post-interview debrief. They were conducted remotely through Google Meet and UserTesting.com.

Participants were incentivized with either Amazon gift card or company voucher.

Scope and direction adjustments were made along the way to realign with changes in direction from the Strat Dev Team.

We delivered quarterly progress reports to our larger stakeholders, with a proposed completion by the end of the year, in order to maximize the impact for planning in the new year, but still allowing us ample time to screen candidates, conduct interviews, debrief and make pivots as needed.

This project was conducted “extracurricularly” alongside other roadmapped project work.



  • Screen potential participants using screeners set-up in UserInterviews.com
  • Establish and prepare recruitment incentives and participant compensation
  • Establish paired research methodology with two UX team members (more on that below – keep reading!)
  • Review and select qualified participants
  • Send out invitations, confirmations, and reminder emails
We used UserInterviews.com to recruit and schedule.


  • Develop study and field guides to ensure the interviews would meet the study objectives and stay “on script”
  • Create a database of “nuggets” with custom filters and tags to enable flexibility with finding and exporting observations
  • Create session tracker to manage: interview schedule status, compensation status, session date/time, researcher assignments
  • Utilize UserTesting.com to process session recordings and transcripts (for interview clips and quotes)


We established live streaming in Slack for team members and stakeholders to observe interviews.

Interviews were conducted using Google Meet in pair research methodology (first and second research roles):

  • First researcher “drives” the bulk of the conversation
  • Second researcher “navigates” (capturing time-stamped observations, keeping track of interview script, etc.)
  • After initial questions researchers flip roles for second to ask follow-up questions/clarifications or catch missed opportunities
  • Short, post-interview debrief where high-level learnings are shared/documented and participants are plotted in Behavioral Pattern Mapping variables (see below)


It became clear that the Strat Dev Team was
becoming a moving target in terms of their focus
and the quantitative data they were collecting.

Our team had crafted a very clear, solid research
plan based on the initial intent of the project. To keep
all qualitative data on even ground, we stayed our
course, knowing that we would need to align our
data with the diverse findings of the other team.


Individual themes emerged. We also found that they followed the entirety of the customers’ journeys (and hooray for alliteration!).

Each theme was further split into sub-themes, used as tags for filtering when looking for specific nuggets that would support research questions. Synthesized learnings drawn from tightly coupled nuggets formed Insights Reports.


Participant behavior was mapped across 19 different variables ranging from “Customer Support Preference” to “Distribution Method Sophistication.”

Using Behavioral Pattern Mapping (BPM) personas were formed from customers who clustered similarly across all variables,

After each interview, we mapped each participant across 19 different variables in the Behavioral Pattern Mapping schema.
We then looked for “clusters” of participants across all 19 variables. People who often clustered together became the basis of a persona.

Nuggets were scored based on the quality, magnitude, and frequency of experience and were grouped by BPM clusters and mapped to personas.

Using median scores across themes, the ebbs and flows of experiences came into view via Quality of Experience (QoE) Scores.

QoE scores were calculated based on the tagged observations. Each theme had a score that was mapped out visually for each persona.


1,780 minutes of video footage

1,184 individual observations

652 “nuggets” (metadata and evidence enriched insights) with audio and video clips from recorded interviews

The custom research database in Notion provided a standardized template for UX research processes moving forward.

Six finalized personas within the originally scoped verticals.

Using the collected data we were able to “answer” all original research questions in the form of insights for future product improvements. These ranged across the entire customer funnel from product selection to distribution and fulfillment.

A repository database (affectionately called The Nugget Database) was created in Notion to capture observations during interviews as well as tagged to help determine themes.


The final output of the project would reach expansively across the organization and be utilized by different groups for different purposes including:

  • Executive Leadership for quarterly roadmapping
  • Product Managers for product messaging and feature prioritization
  • Sales Teams for targeted customer pitches and sales battlecards
  • Marketing Team for web navigation and landing page content
  • Merchandising Teams for product list pages (PLPs) and product description page (PDPs) organization


  • Socialize the work among stakeholders
  • Evangelize these research and data processes for future studies
  • Put personas into action by using them as tools when writing UX briefs, facilitating workshops, and executing designs


Based on Strat Dev’s ask, we delved deeper into determining customers’ need for uniforms. Across the board (and with the healthcare vertical specifically) we found no qualitative data to suggest that this was a priority for our interviewees. 

Since the datasets did not align, this was a point where we needed to come back to the drawing board, and re-evaluate and tweak the script we were using during the interviews.

This also led to further definition of the term “uniforming” to be more specific, both to vertical (healthcare vs. B2B) and in terms of use case. Uniforms could mean: hospital scrubs, branded polos for employees, specific trade show/event wear, branded apparel for new employees, etc. Once this was determined we were able to get more targeted info to pass on to stakeholders.

Each of the 6 personas had an “intro” and a Quality of Experience (QoE) slide that showed the full journey through each of the themes.