Case Study

Salmon for User Research

Jan 2020 - Aug 2020

Design Lead


Mural, Figma,, React


About Salmon

Salmon is a collaborative research synthesis tool for user researchers.

Project background

  • This project was a part of my Capstone project at CMU, where a team of students work with a client to design a solution from a broad, conceptual idea.
  • My team worked with Honda R&D Americas.
  • Various organizations at Honda facilitates innovation by partnering up with students.
  • Our goal was to design a tool to boost these efforts to embrace Design Thinking and facilitate innovation.

Users, stakeholders, & their needs

    Honda (Sponsor company)

  • wants to know if the students' research is credible.
  • wants actionable outcome and the business value.
  • wants to know the quantitative value of the data.

    Design Thinking instructor

  • wants to help students find deep insights.
  • wants to help students see the patterns in the interview results and find the unmet customer needs.

    Student researchers

  • juggles a lot of different tools for the research - Otter, handwritten notes, Notes app, and both physical and digital whiteboards.
  • after the project has been handed off, it's hard for the new team to access the data or see why they came to the conclusion.

How do researchers do their work?

We conducted numerous interviews to gain a deep understanding in user researchers and Design Thinking practitioners' workflows.

Observing Design Thinking classes
Observing how researchers synthesize qualitative data

We mapped out the stages they go through and the tasks they do in each stage.


Where’s the tool for synthesizing qualitative data?

We identified the area that has the most friction and ambiguity in the User Reserachers' workflow. We then conducted extensive competitive analyses to find the need that is not being met by the existing tools.

A lot of existing tools aim to help user researchers organize research. There are also many tools that allow tagging in transcripts.

However, they often lack integration with other tools or don't allow moving, clustering, and playing with the data — which is a crucial process for generating ideas and insights.


Building, testing, narrowing, and building again

How will it work?

I drew very early wireframes based on the user journey and jobs that needed to be done.

Then I generated an early proofs of concept of annotating data and synthesizing them in a virtual whiteboard.

Early concept of gathering data from an interview transcript
Early concept of the synthesis board, using Figma's Auto Layout

Then I prototyped the concepts for the core functionalities of the board. Here's the interaction concept for nested insight groups.

Introducing Salmon

A collaborative research synthesis tool

Find evidence from research

  • Add "evidence" from interview transcripts, videos, documents, and various forms of research.
  • Add the data to the evidence panel and assign tags.

Spawn insights by clustering

  • Drag and drop the evidence to the synthesis board.
  • Generate insights by clustering the evidence together.

The synthesis board keeps the immersive and freeform nature of whiteboard clustering, but removes the hassle of migrating the data into the whiteboard.

See the context around the data

  • Click on the evidence to see the context to see if there was a leading question.
  • See the participant demographics to recall who the interviewee was.
  • Collaboration is key in user research synthesis. The researchers can discuss the piece of evidence with the teammates by adding comments.

Insight overview

  • You can click on the cluster to see the number of unique participants and demographics of the participants.
  • Researchers can generate more accurate insights by associating the insights with a more specific group.
  • Researchers can identify the possible bias in the data.

A comprehensive platform for user research

Generate deliverable drafts

  • Writing reports and slides is a core part of user researchers' workflow.
  • With Salmon, resaearchers can simply drag and drop the insights from the affinity diagrams to generate drafts for the deliverables.
  • Researchers can export the drafts into presentation tools and documentation tools they prefer.
Generate slides for a quick team update.
Generate reports for research handoff - and keep the ability to track the data's source.

Everything in one place

  • Salmon's dashboard keeps all the transcripts, boards and deliverables accessible and organized.
  • Researchers don't have to jump around different tools (Otter, Mural/Miro/FigJam, Powerpoint) to work on a single project.

Branding Salmon

Why "Salmon"?

  • The name "Salmon" was my idea.
  • Salmons find their way back to where they were born to lay eggs, like how our product lets users to go back to the source of the data.
  • We aim to provide an intuitive journey as Salmons instinctively know where to go to find where they came from.

Visual Identity

  • I designed the logo and visual identity for our product.
  • I also made a styleguide for the team to get our product and client deliverables visually aligned.

Researchers' favorite fish

Salmon received great amount of love from professionals, students, and our clients.

Professionals & Students

We would love to have something like this. I would give my arm for this.

Experience Design Manager at a Design Thinking training firm

It makes the unpleasant part of honing and documenting and organizing aggregating data a lot easier.

Honda's Design Thinking program alumni

Can you guys have this made before I start working on our final report for this class?

Human-centered Design Student, aspiring User Researcher

Our clients

The flow of this makes a lot of sense to me. It's rock solid. You guys did an amazing job.

Honda's Design Thinking program instructor

I think this is going to be very useful. I really want to test it. I want it in my hands.

Associate Director at Honda's Innovation Lab
Designed & developed by yours truly