A fellow researcher and I were interested in how Independent Visual Artist financially support themselves, specifically how they use the Internet for financial support. Having close relationships with various Independent Artists allowed us to create an exploratory research plan to answer our problem statement; "how can the Internet be used to better financially support independent visual artists?"

My Role

As a UX Researcher, I investigated user pain points to gather contextual information to support our system design. My colleague and I started by creating a survey, conducting interviews, creating an affinity diagram and user flow models. Next, we crafted user personas and storyboards. Then, we created our prototype, a flow chart of it, and performed cognitive walkthroughs to gain insight about out design. 

Key Methods

  • Literature Review

  • Surveys

  • Interviews

  • Affinity diagram

  • User flow model

  • Personas

  • Storyboards

  • Prototype

  • Cognitive walkthroughs


We learned that networking locally and word-of-mouth marketing are highly effective for artists generating sales. We also learned that using social media is very efficient for creating awareness and networking, and can be efficient for generating sales. Self-marketing, management, and targeted audience research appeared to be significant obstacles for Independent Artists.

"Forming relationships and building bonds with different artists expand my network."

"I network proactively in my available surrounding community."

"All my bookings happen through social media."

"I would rather be the maker than promote myself."

The Process

Research Design


In designing the research plan ​​​we approached the problem space by performing a literature review and defining goals that we would like to accomplish. The goals set for the study were to 1) understand the pain points independent visual artists face, 2) understand how independent artists use the Internet, and 3) gauge the level of interest the artists have for using a web-based platform to expose their work. 

After the goals for the study were defined, we created an online survey consisting of 16 questions that were aligned to our three goals, in addition to collecting demographic information. The survey was created via Google Forms, with password encryption and protection and circulated to the artists we knew. Seven completed surveys allowed us to draw insight into the desires of the artists. 


Based on the survey results, we created an interview script to gather deep rich information the survey couldn't capture. The interview script we created for the artists had three overarching domains; 1) the character of their work and who it is for 2) what they are doing to reach their targeted audience, and 3) Internet usage and behavior. All seven participants were contacted for follow-up interviews. The interviews took place both in-person and remotely. Two participants were chosen for contextual inquiries to learn the process of how they generate business for their art, as well as how they expose their work on the Internet. All interviews were recorded using a microphone and transcribed for data synthesis. 

Interviews Script

Affinity Diagram

After the interviews were transcribed, we performed open coding analysis to synthesize the raw data and draw significant insights. We learned how artists create sales as well as the major pain points they face. 

"Retaining an audience is incredibly difficult online unless you can put something up every day."


"It's hard to focus on my work and parent."


"I don't know how to promote myself."

Flow Models

The contextual inquiries allowed us opportunities for us to learn the process of how the artists expose their work in the world as well as on the Internet. We transformed what we learned into a flow model for a better visual of their working process and social interactions.


The synthesized data and flow models allowed us to create user personas. Our insights revealed two distinct groups of users. My research colleague created the persona, Maia, while I created the persona, Kevin. 


To highlight the user's current context, goals, pain points and hypothesized reaction to our proposed solution, we created storyboards for each persona using the raw data collected.

Flow chart


Synthesizing all the data collected allowed us to make informed decisions for our prototype. As a team, we decided to design a website that would embody the natural processes of how the artists in our study currently generate business. Since networking locally and word-of-mouth marketing were the two primary factors found for creating sales, were prioritized to use geolocation and social proof as the core functions of the prototype. After the prototype was complete, a flowchart was created to outline the page navigation.

Cognitive Walkthroughs

To evaluate the visibility, effectiveness, efficiency, and usability of the system, four cognitive walkthroughs were conducted. We learned that although the usability of our proposed system was not perfect, the aboutness of it was clear. The prototype performed exactly how the artist expected it to.

© 2019 by Tyreek Houston.

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