Design Thinking for Data Scientists — Need-finding Planning

Problem space

Mailboxes are one of the most actively used iPhone apps in the world. It comes as a default with the phone. It was integrated since the first generation iPhone and is considered to be a mature app. Nevertheless, the “all inboxes” interface of mailboxes is less than ideal as a modern cell phone app interface. It is intuitive to understand but lacks the affordance one would expect with the advancement of Artificial Intelligent (AI).

User type

Needfinding plan 1: participant observation

I normally start need-finding with naturalistic observation. In this project, I did start from here and formed the idea of tackling this specific part of the mailboxes interface. I see people checking their emails on the train, in the queue waiting for a lunch order, during meetings, in between keystroke, walking in the hallway, and even in the bathroom. I see them half concentrating on something else and scanning through their screen. I see their facial expression changes. I know checking email is something they do very often and not completely hassle-free. But I can’t really closely observe them and nail down the pain points. This is such a private activity, I can’t get enough information by just naturalistic observation. So I think the first step for me is to try it out myself.

Needfinding plan 2: interviews

Needfinding plan 3: think aloud and post-event protocols

At one point, simply asking users to talk about “checking emails” is not going to be enough. I would like to observe them doing the tasks and ask them to think aloud.

  • Ask them to check emails with different contexts. To think aloud, I will ask them to audio record their thoughts. For post-event protocols, I will conduct 20 minutes interview as soon as they finish the task while the circumstance allows.
  • I will collect all the data and perform my analysis to help inspire my design to solve the true user problem.


In the above sessions, I described my 3 plans for need-finding. I believe they will give me a good starting point to design a better “all inboxes” interface to truly bring users closer to the task and make the user interface less visible. These 3 plans have a natural flow according to the sequence I presented them. I briefly explained the logic of the flow. But they don’t have to be executed strictly sequentially. A large part of them can be paralleled to save time, although some level of sequence would provide insights from one to the other.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store