Helping Emerge Knowledge uncover deep user insights and set a course to a better user experience

  • Client

    Emerge Knowledge Design

  • Role

    UX Researcher & Consultant

  • Period


Waste and recycling data management isn’t glamorous. But for Re‑TRAC Connect’s passionate product team, making it easier for communities and organizations to track and share their data is at the heart of their vision for a sustainable future.

Emerge Knowledge wanted to create a better experience for the people using Re‑TRAC Connect to report their waste and recycling data. The team understood that this was essential to serve their current North American client base as well as expand successfully to new geographic markets. They were primed and ready to go, but they needed a partner in Caribou to guide them forward through a user experience research and discovery phase.

At the end of the project, which included deep qualitative and quantitive research and several hands-on workshops, Emerge Knowledge’s product team was left with a deeper empathy for Re‑TRAC Connect’s users and clear insights into how they could craft a better experience.

Experience mapping workshop with the Emerge Knowledge team.
Experience mapping workshop with the Emerge Knowledge team.

Setting the stage

Ahead of the project, we had to get a clear understanding of what the team hoped to achieve. In pre-project and kickoff meetings, we heard that the team was committed to creating a better user experience for a specific audience that uses their software.

They needed to gain a thorough understanding of their users, so they could make confident decisions about where to direct their resources for the greatest impact. It was going to be a very collaborative process.

The challenge was broad but clear: discover how to create a better experience for thousands of Re‑TRAC Connect users.

We asked:

  • How can we reach out and learn from an audience spread out across North America?
  • How can we develop a shared understanding of the existing user experience among every member of the product team, from developers to the President?
  • How can we get every member in the product team involved and create a shared sense of ownership in the project and its findings?
  • How can we help the team learn and internalize the process of discovery to guide them in future projects?


Our discovery phase was divided into several distinct steps: first, we needed to build our own understanding of Re-TRAC Connect, while exploring existing artifacts and knowledge. Then, we needed to identify directions for new research. Armed with our findings, we could then identify themes and make decisions.

Step 1: Build our understanding

The Emerge team had a lot of great data contained in existing artifacts such as analytics data, customer feedback, and institutional knowledge.

We created a framework for capturing and sharing insights from these existing artifacts—and for future research—among the whole team, and worked together to turn an overwhelming amount of information into clear statements of truth.

Using Google Docs for collaborating and collecting insights
Using Google Docs for collaborating and collecting insights

Exercises such as a whole-team journey mapping workshop helped the cross-disciplinary team walk through the existing experience, identifying gaps, pain points, and key emotional moments along the way.

Step 2: Expand our understanding

Based on our findings, we identified our top questions and gaps in our knowledge. We then came up with an action plan for performing new research, including:

  • A user survey to collect quantitative and qualitative feedback directly from users.
  • Stakeholder interviews with team members at every level of the organization to understand their role, understanding, and vision for Re-TRAC Connect.
  • A series of one-on-one user interviews with real users across the continent.

Step 3: Define

Everything we learned helped the team create user personas to build a deeper sense of empathy for their users. A themes workshop brought the team together to draw themes out of the insights we’d gathered in our framework document. These themes were then transformed into clear, actionable “How Might We” statements.


As the team’s discovery phase drew to a close, the team defined 7 design challenge statements that would shape the upcoming design phase. Based on the research and activities performed throughout the project, they were confident focusing their resources on these design challenges would lead to a real, positive impact to improve the user experience.

The team also gained:

  • A deeper understanding of their product and their users. Through a new perspective and thorough research, we helped the team uncover new insights and ideas around their product’s experience.
  • User interviewing and research skills. We worked closely with members of the product team throughout the project to help them learn, improve, and build confidence in their ability to plan and perform future user interviews.

Originally published on in collaboration with Quinn Keast.