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Smitha Prasadh

I'm a user experience designer, trying to do right by the world.

Autodesk ReCap: capturing the customer journey

What this is about

The Autodesk ReCap team wanted to understand the usefulness of a mobile solution amongst a random set of customers, while capturing their broader workflows, or “data stories."

"Data stories," for us, meant understanding how they moved from the reality capture process through registration, computing, and on to their final deliverable.

The setting

Autodesk University: an annual >10,000-person trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Autodesk's Experience Design team has a dedicated pavilion for customer research activities.

The activity

The story of how we devised our activity is a bit uneventful. After weeks of racking our brains, we couldn't identify anything specific to validate. And rooms at the convention center where we could set up equipment to test active prototypes were a hassle to book, especially when we didn't even know what prototype(s) to prepare.

So we zoomed out, and decided to do a broad, overall check-in. It'd been a while since we'd even double-checked that we knew what our customers were doing and what they wanted.

We were also getting into the mobile space, with a partnership with Leica on their then-new BLK360 laser scanner, and we wanted to gauge interest/demand in that kind of mobile solution.

We also found ourself sketching in a left-to-right fashion when talking about how to capture people's workflows, which pointed us to...a left-to-right-oriented activity, where participants literally mapped out their current reality capture workflow.

Early (ROUGH) sketch: capturing our industries, technologies, and functions, in a left-to-right flow.

Quick digital sketch using colors and gradients to illustrate a left-to-right workflow, starting with people from different industries (each getting a different color) on the left, then working across numerous bubbles for main functions the product suite features, then to the final step on the right, 'export.'

Yarn-and-pin-board digital mockup: printed prompts on the board, proposed interactions

A rough digital sketch of a yarn-and-pin board. Across the top are mock-ups of different pinnable notes with names of people's job descriptions/personas, other stakeholders they work with, technology they use to capture data, and so on. There are prompts printed on the board: CAPTURE, PREPARE, SEND, and DONE, with quick descriptions underneath of what each means. And below those are a printed fun pirate-map-style illustration to prompt people to move from left to right, mapping the above cards to the four buckets.

Getting closer: design for a foam-core-mounted board with subtler background prompts

A more visually refined version of the previous board. Across the top it says, 'the flow of reality capture data.' Then there are light-grey prompts scattered across the body that read CAPTURE, PREPARE, SEND, RECEIVE, COLLABORATE, USE, and DONE. There are notes below each of what they could mean. Behind all these are pale blue and grey arrows and dotted lines to suggest movement and flow. Across the bottom is a light grey box that says 'other (anything not covered above)', and a space for the participant to write their job title and their role in the overall workflow.

Prototyping thought process

Within the context of a left-to-right flow, I tried going big again:

  • digital drag-and-drop exercise? something tangible?
  • peg board, piggybacking off what the AutoCAD team had done a couple of years prior? or something lighter-weight?
    (lighter-weight, due to budget concerns and general logistics of transporting the board from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas.)
  • yarn board (laying out individual options to see where the lines would run) or something more freeform?
    (yarn and pin board, using icon cards of customer industries and our app's features. freeform could possibly get too chaotic.)
  • granularity: focus on what tools they use within ReCap, or take a step back?
    (try to capture as much detail as possible, hence creating cards of in-app features, in case they decided to use them.)

The final design

Ultimately, this was the final product I landed on, with feedback from my manager and fellow designers. We stripped away all the distracting background text, trusting our users to get the flow and ourselves to provide help where needed.

An even simpler version of the 3rd board from above. The title still reads, 'the flow of reality capture data,' but there's now a subtitle: 'who? what? where? when? why? how?' All the prompting notes have been removed from the body of the board, so only the prompt titles remain, along with the arrows and dotted lines, and a checkered flag next to 'DONE'.

The intent was to mount it on foam core to allow for easy interactivity, and to laminate it for durability.

Validating the prototype

I did a quick yarn-and-pin prototype test with non-UX colleagues in the office. It seemed to go okay, minus some logistics with the yarn.

So I went out, printed and laminated the boards, and printed and produced all the cards.

Then I tested the final product. And things derailed quickly.

Rather than use the yarn or cards…my colleagues reached for whiteboard markers and started to write on the laminated poster.

At first I was dismayed. But then I was amazed. It was turning into a brilliant whiteboarding facilitation activity. So, I ran with it.

At the conference

Our spot at the Autodesk University Idea Exchange Pavilion. Our laminated 40x30 inch board is mounted onto foam core, which is mounted onto an easel. To the right is a tall table with sticky notes, whiteboard markers, and blue and black printed cards that represented our features and tools. (Also, a cup of iced coffee, my laptop, and a container of breath mints: all important things when doing multiple days of back-to-back customer research sessions. Or just, interacting with people.)

Our research spot, set up and ready to go.

We got a prime spot right at the entrance of the Idea Exchange/VOC pavilion. Hundreds of people passed our activity.

We had at least 2 people at our station during our time slots. I facilitated nearly all the sessions and the other attendee took notes.

How it went (a quick rundown)

  • 8 customers from 3 countries
  • Session lengths: 30-60 minutes (if they wanted to keep talking, we happily let them)
  • Industries: architecture, engineering, national railways, public utilities
  • 100% whiteboarding, 0% icon cards or yarn or sticky notes


Our position at the front of the pavilion put us in view of our division's head of UX research. She was so enthralled by how successful our activity was—from the design of the whiteboard poster to how well I facilitated—that she asked to take one of our whiteboards back to the San Francisco HQ office to display as an example of successful user research.

Action shots (the fun stuff)

A photo from behind as a participant writes on the board with a black whiteboard marker. The sticky notes and cards on the table next to her have gone completely untouched.

A participant in action.

A photo of the whiteboard completely covered in whiteboard notes in 3 different colors, including arrows and bubbles.

A very productive end result. I had to start writing when the participant was hesitant to do so, but after we broke the ice, she took the pen and jumped in herself.

The first participant of the conference standing next to his completed board and smiling for a photo for us.

Our first participant posing with his board.

A photo of the whiteboard covered in notes and arrows, including a cloud with rather tentacular arrows between it and chunks of data. The participant himself used different marker colors to differentiate between the types of notes he was writing.

A participant who was all too happy to embrace the whiteboarding activity; he sketched an actual cloud to illustrate his comments on cloud-based data transfer.


We gathered a rich and varied body of data. I spent a full week after AU trying out multiple synthesis formats. (It wasn't dissimilar to my efforts figuring out the format of the actual activity!)

  • another digital yarn-and-pin board, using icons and labels to indicate major outcomes
  • a purely visual, iconographic study, focusing on images for technologies and tools used
  • The winner: color-coded text tables in PowerPoint. (Sometimes simplest is best.)

Part of why PowerPoint won was that presenting my results to our leadership team involved a multinational screen-share. This was by far the easiest format to create AND peruse AND refer back to later. All the following images are directly from the slide deck.

A table, broken down by particpant, of which laser scanners/capture technology each person uses, who does the scanning, what product they use to do registration, and what file format they ome away with. There are annotations at the bottom for specific use cases and details.

What reality capture technology is used, who uses it, and how.

A dense table, broken down by participant, of what tools they use to register their data, what steps they do next, what technology/format they do it with, what tool they use, and where they go from there.

Capturing customers' overall workflows. This was by far the most difficult and messy area to summarize: no two participants had the same number of steps or outcomes, so how to present this was a major challenge.

Lists of tools that were used during different phases of the reality capture process, and how often they were mentioned for each.

A list of tools used during each stage of the reality capture process.

Observations, experiences, and notes that were important to capture but didn't fit anywhere else. The headers are 'what they use it for,' 'limitations,' 'good,' 'not great,' and 'asks.'

Experiences and observations that didn't fit neatly anywhere else.

At the share-out

It couldn't have gone better. I'd introduce a slide, let the group sit in silence as they absorbed it, and a marvelous conversation would spring forth from the assembled managers and stakeholders. My team was already very pro-design, but this was beautifully received.

Leadership would refer to these results for months, and—most importantly—they did organically impact strategic product decisions going forward.