User research


Helping independent designers connect with international manufacturers

March, 2020 - till present
METHOD & TOOLSHuman-centered design method;
Miro, Figma, Zoom
User researcher
Visual designer
User experience designer
Jeff Rosen 
Carol Chen


The global economy we have today allows for the exchange of goods and services from a variety of industires across international borders. Due to the ease of communicating this business across such distances, many small-scale companies or independent entrepeneurs are able to connect and work with clients in almost any other country despite potentially lacking significant scale or capital.

Independent designers who have a vision for a product they wish to create and sell to consumers have a world’s worth of manufacturers to whom they can connect and commission to turn that product idea into a tangible item, but much more goes into the process of making this connection and even finding the manufacturers in the first place than just having the idea of something to make. 


Design Challenge

How might we help small-scale and independent designers connect with trustworthy international manufacturers while overcoming any issues in communicating with them that they may face?

Research questions

Through our research, we wish to learn:

  1. What did the process look like for how designers found or attempted to find manufacturers?

  2. What values and heuristics do designers consider when deciding on a manufacturer?

  3. What differences and similarities are there between communicating with international manufacturers versus domestic ones?

  4. What tools, platforms or services have designers used or heard of to help facilitate the process of connecting with manufacturers?

Primary research

Expert interview

We interviewed four experts in related fields to broaden our understanding of the problem space and hear about it from different perspectives.

Semi-structured interview

We conducted semi-strucutured interviews to learn about the process of how designers found international manufacturers, the pain points they’ve experienced in this process and possible opportunity spaces for improving it. 

Jouney mapping

We asked participants to describe their experience when finding an international manufactuer. 

Card sorting

We asked participants to rank a number of values and logistical factors they might consider when identifying manufacturers with whom they’d want to work, from what was most important to them to what was least.

<Jouney mapping activity>

<Card sorting activity>


We imported our notes into a Miro board and used sticky notes to make sense of the data. We first identified some common themes, then synthesized the most significant supporting takeaways from them into our main insights. When forming and solidifying these insights, we made sure to constantly be considering how they could direct our design and possibly uncover potential opportunity spaces.

Insight #1
Despite many designers being willing to help others in the same industry develop their businesses, the competitive nature of many industries makes them afraid to share too much of their manufacturers' information with others.

"I think there is an overall feeling that if someone has a good manufacturer, and then they share it, and then they're flooded with new orders, then the quality is going to go down.” - P6

“We have a very tight knit community of artists on Instagram… And so the way that I found my first manufacturer was actually by talking to friends who had made pins already and finding out where they had been made. But they were like fellow small business owners.”  - P7

Insight #2
Existing online sourcing platforms appear untrustworthy because of their lack of information transparency and weak-designed online presence, and due to this it can be hard for designers and manufacturers to build initial trust.

"It's just sort of really difficult to gauge the authenticity of what's going on because that often manufacturers will take pictures from other people's work. And it's not something that there's a lot of transparency about.” - P6

"So many of the people are actually not manufacturers and they are like … agencies but pretending to be manufacturers so they give you a shit price.” - P8

Insight #3
Designers face difficulty understanding product cycle and much more about the manufacturing process, and risk being taken advantage of because of it.

"With factories, they tend to want much more information about what that texture do you want on the pin, how thick is the pin… and all of these things that someone who's coming into it … they might not know that that's a decision you need to make.” - P6

"Some fabricator because they know you are a beginner or the starter in the design area so they just don't tell you the truth like how to make a project both looks good and with a very nice cost. For example, something can be made in very basic technology and probably cost $100 but they just tell you that it is difficult for this shape, the shape is really good, and they're just gonna increase the estimate costs.” - P5

Insight #4
Aside from speaking different languages, designers can face a number of barriers in the process of communicating their design to manufacturers and ensuring that their vision for their design is understood correctly.

"It's hard even just to another native English speaker to explain why that color yellow isn't the right color yellow. And then you have the language barrier. On top of that you kind of have to come up with some creative solutions.” - P11

User journey map

We synthesized our findings from primary & secondary research into this journey map which helped to give us a better overview of the problem space.

Opportunity spaces

Utilize community & personal network
Allow for designers to communicate with others in their or similar fields to discover manufacturers, determine their credibility and make connections, all without providing so much information that they risk damaging their own business.

Integrate face-to-face communication dynamics online to build trust
Introduce some level of personal connection between designers and manufacturers to remove some amount of anonymity and enable stronger initial trust building.

Build learning models & provide informative resources
Provide the necessary guidance, instruction and resources needed by designers to fully understand the process of having their design produced.

Overcome non language-based communication barriers
Identify information that need to be communiated between designers and manufacturers, and construct a method or framework for translating this information between both parties to help align their understandings of the product’s specifics.


We are currently working on ideation.
More information coming up soon!