Next App

Ale Segón
May 1 · 11 min read

How to get out of an awkward situation

Some months ago I found myself in one of these extremely bad dates. The guy would just talk about himself and his amazing life, and wouldn’t even let me talk. It took me no more than 5 minutes to know that it had no future. I was so uncomfortable… I couldn’t stop thinking about leaving, about making up some excuse and just pretend I needed to go home or whatever. Luckily, he soon finished his drink and I took the opportunity to finish the date. We said goodbye and said we’ll meet up again.

Tips from pros

When I explained the situation to my friends they told me they had all been through similar situations. They had faked calls or just pretend to feel sick or had a family emergency, but at that moment, I had no idea how to get out of such awkward moment.

I decided to talk to other people, to make sure that was not just a common pattern between my friends. The craziest thing was that people starting telling me about weird moments of all kind. It was not only about dates, but it was also about family events, about never-ending meetings and unwanted encounters… they told me about how they felt and how they ended them, faking calls or emergencies is a lot more usual than I initially thought.

I wished I had told one of my friends to call me during the date just so I can decide whether to make up and excuse or not… I will be ready next time. And from this experience, “Next” idea was born.

My first findings

I started doing some desktop research, trying to find the “fake call apps” some of the friends told me about. There were tones! For both Android and iOS, with different features and levels of customisation, but the main idea was the same; receiving a call whenever you need it.

“I’d rather make up and excuse to leave and never talk to him again than tell them I don’t like him”

Finding people to talk about similar situations was easy. Contrary to what I initially thought, people do want to explain these crazy dates and moments, and explaining how they managed to get out of those, was their “proudest moment”. Some of the insights I got were that lying is not easy for everyone. For some people, just pretending to get a call is a huge deal, and they have no idea how to improvise whenever you take a call with no caller. As I asked them how they will like to solve it otherwise, some said receiving a written message would be better, so they have “a visual proof”.

I ended up gathering information from 82 different people. Most of them started as casual conversations and ended with stories about the craziest situations, with all kind of evasion plans and the most unbelievable excuses.

“I once said my sister was in labour and I had to leave. As soon as I said it I remembered I just talked about my family and mentioned I was an only child”

What’s the real need

Ok, so I had a lot of fun while researching and interviewing people, but it was time to gather all the insights and try to define what the real need was. As most of the people were behaving the same way, it was easy to separate the information in groups according to four categories; Kind of awkward situations, How they escape from such situations, What problems they have and How would they like to customise the fake calls or excuses.

Affinity diagram based on the survey and interviews findings

I also noticed that even if most of the interviewees had situations related with dates, there was also a significant group who had similar problems at work. It was mostly sales man and women who had to go to visit clients or who had thousands of meetings, most of which ended with non-related conversations about the clients lives.

“I spend half of my working hours talking with grannies. I can’t just avoid them, they are clients, but most of the times they just come because they’re bored”

-Alvaro, LaCaixa sales man.

User Persona and defining the problem

Problem statement. Stating the problem in a single sentence helps you to focus on the main objective during the process and don’t get lost while prototyping on side topics or broad solutions.
Personas are a deliverable which helps us summarise and communicate findings from user research, embodying those findings in a representative user which other stakeholders can empathise with as well. User personas should reflect user needs that will translate into product decisions.

Defining a persona is key to the development of the project since it helps describe demographics, behaviours, and attitudes. It’s also very helpful during brainstorming, communicating and helping to build empathy.

In this case, creating Jane helped me a lot to understand how someone in her situation will be using the app. What are her needs and what problems she can have while using it. One of the main take-aways from Jane creation was that I got to think about what will happen if you are not sure you will need an excuse, or when will you need it, but yet, you want to make sure you’ll have it if you want it. From this specific problem I could define a feature that allowed the user to set up a mode which, instead of scheduling the excuse, will activate by motion. So if she feels she needs it, she will shake her phone and with some delay, the excuse will come.

Heroes definition

It was very interesting to see how people defined such calls or lifeguards messages. It really surprised me, but about 7 people who I interviewed called them “Heroes”. I decided to give a bit of credit to these people and call the different possible actions on the app heroes as well, so you can choose which of these heroes will save you and how.

As people had very clear how they would like to get such calls and messages, I could rapidly sketch a features diagram to understand what customisation level I needed to consider before starting to sketch my first screens.

I defined three different kind of heroes; Call, Message (which lately was divided in message and email) and Calendar Event.

First flow diagram. Simplicity is key since this needs to ease the user’s experience.

Depending on the hero the user is choosing, the settings to define will be different, but I could define a list of seven different settings to set up in order to know what the complexity of the flow could be like.

Prototype, test, prototype, test, prototype, test…

After defining the App Map and with a clear user flow, I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the screens to look like. I wanted to focus on simplicity as the main definer, so I started by creating a simple screen with the four different heroes from which the user will choose and start defining the settings.

First screens sketch. Define hero > Set up > Hero saves you

Since all settings were similar within the different heroes, I started testing with just one, so I could focus on users’ expectations and reactions, rather than smaller details such as if they would like to add their own voice or use a pre-defined one. I got very useful insights about some actions, but almost everyone defined it as very simple and logic, so I kept on working on the flow to further develop it but without changing it much.

Jumping in to mid-fi prototyping made it easier to create the whole flow. Since I was using a very simple structure, I could repeat the same patterns and just modify some setting details on the hero page. This way, I was able to make a whole flow and let the user explore the different screens without limiting it to a specific flow.

The following images show the evolution from the mid fidelity prototype to the first hi-fi prototype and then final screens, where I introduced colours, typography treatment and icons.

The main change on the main screens was about how the different heroes were displayed. As testers mentioned, it was easier for them to understand every screen as a list, so they always expected the same navigation. I also had to add a title to the page so that the users knew what they were expected to do.

Regarding the hero page, the most significant change over the three prototypes is the placement of the tab. Since the users were relating the set up of a hero as “an alarm” they were expecting the display to be like an alarm app. So the time had to be the first thing to set up and after it, the other details. Because of this reason, I moved the tab to the top part of the screen. Other details that changed were the date feature, which users didn’t find relevant, and how to save the information, which started being a big button in the bottom part of the screen and finally was moved to the right top corner as in the iOS Alarm app.

“Your history” page is the screen where all your past and active heroes are displayed. The main functionality of this screen is to show you what you have set up, but also lets you access to your previous heroes and repeat them so you don’t have to set up the details again. The thing with this screen is that since I was using different colours for each hero, when I had them all mixed and together in a long list like your past heroes, it looked a bit overwhelming. Users said they liked that the colour had a meaning and it was easy for them to understand what information they were relating to, but the screen wasn’t looking good. When designing the last version, I explored different variations and ended up by adding the hero colour to the icon instead of the whole row, so the user could still see it but the whole screen had a more clear and clean look.

The last designed screen was the profile. I knew I wanted to have a profile section because users mentioned that they wanted to know how much they were using the app.

The profile on the first prototype had the information about the your usage and a picture and name for the user, as well as a link to your active actions on “Your history” screen, but users said they would like to have more personal information and active actions was already clear that was gonna be in History. So I redefined this screen and started playing with levels, so that the user had different milestones based on its app usage. This screen really engaged with testers, and it evolved until the final screen which has a timeline where the user can see when he achieved certain level and the level name.

Final prototype

I animated my last screens on InVision in order to do a last test with a high-fi prototype.

Check the prototype here ->

Quick reminder, the app has to be for both Android and iOS.

Ok, panic. I’ve been sketching and designing by looking at applications with similar navigations, and testing the different prototypes as they evolved and changed. But I realised I’ve been only looking iOS apps… and most of my testers were iOS users.

So I asked a friend for an Android device and start exploring the equivalent apps, and surprise, they were quite similar. I have to recognise I was expecting a lot more differences, but at the end it was just about native assets such as keyboards, time pickers, toggles… but the overall look and navigation was very similar. So I started adapting my screens trying to maintain as much similarities but keeping the consistency within the different system specifications.

I started by changing the typography and icons and adding some shadows, which were the most obvious and significant changes, as well as the tabs structure, which is completely different. After that, I adjusted some placements, such as the page title, which is differently placed depending on the system. After some more details adjustments, I could compare both versions and see that although I could maintain the navigation and overall look, and although at first sight it looked the same, there were lots of details that made the difference and would make both systems’ users enjoy at the most the experience.

Example of the differences between an Android screen and an iOS screen.

Learning and next steps

The main learning from this project is how easy and fun can research get to be when you identify with the topic and are able to dig deep into user stories and experiences. I’m normally more comfortable working on the ideation and prototyping process, but this time I really enjoyed the emphasise part.

I also learned a lot about the different platforms and its guidelines, and how to design an app that even if having its own style and branding, can adapt to different design systems. I also noticed how important having is to be updated on how design is evolving and which are the elements used among the different apps and digital products, so as a designer, you know the resources you have and can explore as much possibilities as possible.

The next step for this project is to refine some design details that weren’t tested until the last prototype and that still, can be improved. Also working on copywriting, which is very useful if you want to make sure your users will be sure about what they are expected to do but keeping it as simple as possible.

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