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


As a new researcher in the company, I conducted research throughout the product lifecycle within a multidisciplinary team. I led problem exploration and definition; and conducted iterative research for multiple features. For this case study, I’ll focus on problem exploration & definition. 


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


To explore the problem space, I conducted diary study to get a contextual understanding of how subscribers interacted with the app, followed by 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. 


I presented a list of subscribers’ top pain points; among them, 6 items were translated to features on the product roadmap and were launched in the following year. Moreover, a feature that required high engineering effort was initially pushed back by the PM team. To tailor my suggestion to how the team makes strategic decisions, I leaned on quantitative data to portray the magnitude and severity of the user problem and eventually got buy-in from the entire PM team.


Product introduction

PicCollage​ is a photo-editing and collaging app with 14M monthly active customers worldwide. It helps users decorate their photos and videos with stickers, backgrounds, texts, templates, and more. 

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

Ever since the subscription plan was launched in late 2018, subscription fees had become the company’s major source of revenue. With the steady growth of incoming subscribers, 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 data has shown that the more collages the subscribers created, the more likely they were to renew their subscription plan and the value they got out of the app.


The team aimed to build new features that would enhance subscribers’ experience creating collages. However, in the past, ux research was only involved during the evaluative phase to inform tactical design decisions and wasn’t involved in creating the subscription plan. Therefore, 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, shortly before I joined the company, the only UXR at that time saw it as an opportunity for user research to be involved earlier in the product development cycle and proposed to understand subscriber engagement through user research to inspire new feature ideas.

3. Collaboration & timeline

Collaboration & timeline

The proposal got approved after I joined the company, and I joined the project as the UX researcher. There were 3 main people on this team, including:

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

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

  • 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. 


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

4.Planning & scoping

Planning & scoping


Getting the context

As I was new to the company, I started getting more context by looking at past research findings and exploring existing data. I realized information about subscribers was scattered, so I worked with the data analyst to put together a doc of key information about the subscribers from multiple sources, including a recent survey, customer support tickets, and analytics data. This document enabled the team to align on our knowledge gaps. 

Once we kicked off the project, I conducted stakeholder interviews and found out that the research findings were expected to inform multiple disciplines’ decisions. Since the questions that different stakeholders were asking varied, I wanted to find shared priorities to inform the research direction. Therefore, I invited members from multiple functions to attend a brain-writing workshop to fill out a worksheet with questions they had for subscribers and the decisions they were trying to make with this information. I grouped similar responses together and shared the patterns with the core project team to align on the research questions .

Research question

​The overarching research goal was to investigate subscribers’ drivers and barriers to creating collages. And 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, because many users would create collages for their loved ones and post on social media or print out physical gift cards. Therefore, these stakeholders wanted to focus on encouraging and serving the connection JTBD. However, other members speculated that other JTBD they’ve observed 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:

There were many questions related to subscribers’ content preference, because 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 asked,
“How do 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. I employed diary study and 1-1 interview 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 included a screen recording of the editing process and answered a few questions.

  • WHY: First, diary study will allow us to learn about the barriers that users encountered during the collaging process in their natural environment when they have an actual need. While the actual collaging process is often messy and iterative, based on past experiences, it was difficult to see those rich details in a scheduled session because participants’ standards for the output were different when they created collages for demonstration purposes versus for a real need. Second, the longitudinal aspect would enable me to collect information from multiple collaging experiences to see if there are any patterns.

  • HOW: For each entry, participants would include a screen-recording of their end-to-end collaging process, which would allow me to understand their workflows and observe any friction they encountered. Furthermore, they’ll include 3 responses that would help us understand their goals for this collage, the reason they chose certain features to accomplish this goal, and the pain points they experienced.


  • WHY: The goal of the follow-up interview was to further investigate the barriers that the participants encountered and to delve deeper into any actions or responses that the core team and I didn’t fully understand.

  • 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 got better buy-in from leadership, which led to 2 dedicated research projects focused on understanding users’ unmet needs for both connection purposes and business ones, respectively

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 wasn’t prioritized because it would require a lot of engineering effort compared to other projects the team wanted to work on. 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 help the team 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 multiples projects have on users’ experience 

  • HOW: Each project on the right was aiming to remove a barrier that subscribers had when using PicCollage. In the survey, I asked the respondents to rate if they have experienced each problem, and if so, how serious each problem was based on how likely they would cancel their subscription if this problem persisted. ​

  • 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). 

  • IMPACT: When presenting findings to the product team, I created diagrams to visualize the impact and severity of this issue, and supplemented them with video snippets collected from the diary study.
    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 6 product features 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).

  • Further research in business and connection JTBD

  • Both the Marketing team and the Content Creation team incorporated multiple JTBDs into their planning strategies

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. 

bottom of page