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PicCollage Subscribers' Collaging Experience: Lifecycle, Mixed-Methods Research to Deepen Engagement and Usage


As a new researcher in the company, I conducted end-to-end research throughout the product lifecycle within a multidisciplinary team, where I led problem exploration to the implementation of multiple features. For this case study, I’ll focus on generative research during problem exploration & definition. 


The company wanted to build new features to boost subscriber engagement. However, there was a lack of understanding of subscribers’ drivers and barriers, making it difficult to generate feature ideas grounded on user needs. Therefore, the UXR function proposed to conduct user research to identify factors impacting subscriber engagement to inform ideation & prioritization.


To explore the problem space, I conducted diary study to get a contextual understanding of how subscribers interacted with the app, followed by 1-1 interviews to get a deeper understanding of those interactions. To define which problems to prioritize, I conducted a survey to measure the impact and severity of multiple items. 


Research findings prompted the Product team to pivot priorities to address subscribers’ top pain points identified in these studies. In the following year, 6 key items were translated to features on the product roadmap and launched, despite initial pushback regarding one feature that required high engineering effort. As a result, monthly in-app engagement among subscribers increased significantly. The positive experience of receiving both qualitative and quantitative data encouraged the company to change how they prioritize strategic decisions, which led to the expansion of UXR support from 1 to 4 functions and the implementation of an in-app mechanism for continuously collecting user feedback.


Product introduction

PicCollage​ is a photo-editing and collaging app with 14M monthly active customers worldwide.

Subscribers who’ve purchased the subscription plan would have unlimited access to a variety of backgrounds, stickers, fonts, templates. Throughout this presentation, I’ll refer to these options as "content."

2. Project background & challenge

Project background

Business Goal

With the steady growth of subscribers since the subscription plan was launched in late 2018, the company wanted to retain them in the long term by adding new features/functions to boost subscribers’ monthly in-app engagement, which is the number of collages created (This is an important metric because it's related to subscription renewal).


The team aimed to build new features that would enhance subscribers’ experience creating collages. However, ux research wasn’t involved in creating the subscription plan. As a result, there was a lack of understanding of subscribers’ experience with PicCollage and factors impacting engagement, which made it difficult for the team to generate feature ideas that they feel confident about. 

Therefore, the UXR function saw it as an opportunity for user research to be involved earlier in the product development cycle and proposed to understand subscriber engagement to inspire new feature ideas.

3. Collaboration & timeline

Collaboration & timeline

The proposal got approved and I joined the project. There were 3 main people on this team, including me:

  • UX researcher: I was responsible for planning and executing research from the point of defining the research question based on the research goal, selecting research methods considering the resources and timeline, to recruiting, execution, synthesis, and planning follow-up studies. 

  • UX lead: the person who initiated the project and was responsible for coordinating different functions, resources, and overseeing the timeline

  • Data scientist: helped with analyzing subscribers’ usage data so we could see if there are any interesting patterns for qualitative research to dig deeper into


Besides that, Product designers and PMs were representatives from their functions to provide input regularly.

4.Planning & scoping

Planning & scoping


Getting the context

Once we kicked off the project, I started getting more context by looking at past research findings. Next, I conducted stakeholder interviews and found out that my stakeholder had different priorities. To establish shared priorities and guide the research direction, I invited stakeholders to attend a brain-writing workshop where they wrote down questions they had and the decisions they expected to make. Afterward, I identified common themes in the responses and worked with the core project team to define the research questions accordingly.

Research question

​The overarching research goal was to investigate subscribers’ drivers and barriers to creating collages. More specifically, 2 main topics emerged among stakeholders:


First assumption & research question:
Many stakeholders had the assumption that the key JTBD for creating collages was for social connection purposes (e.g. birthday cards), so they wanted to focus on the connection JTBD. However, other members speculated that other JTBD might be important as well, such as business or education. Therefore, we wanted to find out:

  "What are the main JTBD and do they impact subscribers' motivation to create collages?"

Second assumption & research question:

The team believed that a major barrier to creating collages for subscribers was not seeing the paid content they wanted to use. However, at that time we had little understanding of subscribers’ goals and pain points associated with paid content. Therefore, the 2nd research question aimed to uncover:

   “How does the paid content help subscribers achieve their goals? What are the barriers to using them?”

5.Method selection for problem exploration

Method selection for exploration

In this phase, I aimed to help the team get an in-depth understanding of subscribers’ drivers and barriers to creating collages. To get a broader understanding, I recruited 15 subscribers with a mixture of feature usage, use case, age, and subscription length.

Diary study

The whole process consisted of a 40-minute pre-study interview and at least 2 entries within 14 days. For each entry, the participants submitted (1) a screen recording of the editing process and (2) answered a few prompts.

  • WHY: I chose diary study to understand how participants collage in their natural environment when they have a genuine need. While the actual collaging process is messy and iterative, it was difficult to see those rich details in a scheduled session because participants’ had a lower standard when creating collages for demonstration purposes. Additionally, the longitudinal aspect would enable me to collect information from multiple collaging activities to see if there are any patterns.

  • HOW: For each entry, participants would include a screen-recording of their collaging process, which would allow me to understand their workflows and observe any friction they encountered. Furthermore, they’ll answer 4 prompts that would help us understand their goals for this collage, the tools used, and what they liked and disliked about the experience.


  • WHY: The goal of the follow-up interview was to further investigate the barriers that the participants encountered and to delve into behaviors we wanted to learn more about.

  • HOW: I used the diary entries as probes to remind participants about what happened. When they talked about their experiences, I asked them to share their screen with me to show me the challenges they encountered and what their expectations were.  

6. Presentation & stakeholder buy-in

Presentation & Stakeholder buy-in

Framed the insights to get buy-in from leadership to investigate other JTBDs

  • Different from the assumption made by some stakeholders, the business JTBD was equally important as the social connection JTBD in motivating subscribers to create collages. 

  • However, this insight got some push-back from an executive, and I later found out that he was concerned that PicCollage didn’t have a competitive advantage for serving the business JTBD. Therefore, when presenting findings to leadership
    I focused on the competitive advantage that PicCollage had as a mobile-first platform across all types of JTBD.

  • This approach gained better buy-in from leadership, which led to 2 research projects aimed at understanding users’ unmet needs for both connection & business purposes

Proposed to conduct quantitative research to understand the magnitude of the user problem 

  • Unlike what the team believed in, the most critical barrier to using paid content wasn’t its appeal for users, but the low customizability of the backgrounds, stickers, and templates (e.g. not being able to change templates’ canvas size or edit the pre-written text). 

  • Even though template’s low customizability was a major pain point for the subscribers, this project initially was deprioritized due to its high engineering effort. As I knew that the team leaned on quantitative data to make strategic decisions, I proposed to conduct a survey to measure the size of the problem to make a more informed decision. 

7. Method selection for feature prioritization

Method selection for feature prioritization

  •  WHY: The primary goal was to help the team size and compare the impact that multiple projects have on users’ experience 

  • HOW: Each project on the right was aiming to remove a pain point. In the survey, I asked the respondents to rate if they have experienced each problem, and if so, how serious the problem was. ​

  • OUTCOME: We received 662 responses from subscribers, and the project was prioritized based on the number of subscribers impacted (impact) and how serious this problem was (severity). 
    After the presentation, multiple PMs decided to prioritize this project over other items they originally planned to work on.

8. Impact


Product impact

  • Survey results informed feature prioritization and research findings were translated into 6 product features that were launched in the following 2 quarters

Business impact

  • Subscribers' monthly in-app engagement increased by 10+% 

Organization impact

  • UX Research expanded the number of functions we supported from 1 to 4 (expanded from Design to PM, Marketing, and Content Creation).

  • Led to further research in business and connection JTBD

  • Implemented an in-app mechanism for continuously collecting user feedback through online surveys.

9. Reflection


  • Diary study: there was 1 participant who wasn't engaged 3 days after starting the diary study, so we weren't able to get quality data despite putting a lot of effort in trying to engage her. Next time, I'll give participants the option to opt out and just participate in the interview. 

  • Stakeholder management: I've learned the importance of understanding the cause of the push-back on the research findings. If I've gained my stakeholders' trust, it will be even better that I could understand why they were making certain assumptions in the first place. 

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