Designing a Mobile App as a Complete UX Beginner in 3 Days: Moments

My classmate Joe brought me a problem commonly faced by modern Americans: the experience of being with that one friend or family member who insists on taking many, many photos over a prolonged period of time. Wouldn’t it be great, he said, if there was an app that resulted in the photographer having the desired photos, without the tedious time spent posing to take them?

Challenge

I was challenged to research the needs and desires of people who frequently take many photos of friends and families, and design a solution that had the same end result — they have nice photos of their loved ones — while eliminated the irksomeness the photographer’s subjects experienced during the process.

Opportunity

The need to document every significant moment with photographs is a trait, or perhaps even compulsion, found in many people. The family and friends of obsessive photo-takers often suffer through long periods of time spent posing and taking photos that are ultimately turn out to be unremarkable and banal. The opportunity to create an app to reduce this tension for both parties — the photographer and the photographed — was an opportunity to reduce anxiety, stress and wasted time, as well as potentially reduce feelings of ill will between people who care about each other.

My Role

UX Research, iOS Design

Constraints

3 days. This was also my very first UX project; I was a complete beginner, and after a day spent learning about the design process, I spent 3 days learning and immediately applying what I had learned to this project.

Process

stakeholder interview | personas + ideation |check-in| sketching + wireframes | prototype + test

Discover

I prepared interview questions for my classmate Joe, and after our interview returned to him frequently throughout the next two days to ask him follow up questions about his mom’s frequent photo taking. I spent time reflecting and writing notes about a member of my own family who documents every present her children open and hug shared between relatives with dozens of photos. I created an affinity map and began to search for themes among what I had learned.

I already understood the role of the participant: I find being photographed for long periods of time by a friend or family member who insists on multiple shots and poses to be quite aggravating. But what about the photographer? As I got deeper into the need to take photos, some patterns emerged from my tiny sample: the need feel in control of the process, the desire for creativity and artistic expression through photography, and the love for one’s family being represented through having photos of them. Every human needs to feel in control of their lives, and the more I viewed obsessive photo taking through this lens (pun intended) the more I empathized with this point of view. I realized this app would need to deliver what the photographer needs; not just nice family photos, but control and creative expression.

For the particular person I was designing for (Joe’s mom), there were a few other key insights: she does not spend money extravagantly, and saving is important to her. She’s unlikely to spend money purchasing an app. Also, she’s comfortable with her iPhone, but not high tech enough to try to learn how to use the timer setting on her Nikon camera. This added two more qualifications for the app I was going to create: it needed to be free, and it needed to be simple.

Key Design Insights

This app will:

  • result in the photos the photographer wants
  • allow for the photographer’s creative expression
  • allow the photographer to control the experience
  • be free
  • be low-tech and simple

Ideas and Iterations

I practiced the very difficult design step of getting ideas on paper without judgement or immediate dismissal. Most of my original ideas were completely unrealistic (a photo-taking drone that followed you around was particularly impractical), but I suspended my inner critic and sketched them out. Afterwards, I realized the value of this activity — going through the designs I knew wouldn’t work and explaining to myself exactly why they wouldn’t work helped me further pinpoint my requirements, and one of the other ideas, which originally seemed overly simple and bears little resemblance to the final product, inspired the project’s ultimate direction.

One idea involved creating an app that was connected to a small camera that was placed on the tabletop. The user would set the app to have the camera take pictures when it detected certain sounds: excited conversation, loud laughter, cheering, etc. I wrote this idea off as another one that was too complicated; I didn’t like the idea of needing another piece of technology for this app to work. After talking the ideas out with the class instructor, I realized: why not just use the iPhone as the camera?

Development

Realizing the iPhone was both the app and the camera was the tipping point. I sketched out a user flow to think through how the app would work, debated the merits of using the standard camera lens or the forward facing lens with a classmate, and tested out the idea as much as I could with my own phone’s camera. A quick storyboard sketch finalized the concept.

Delivery

I created a storyboard to show how the app works. Two notes about the features: first, the “send to computer” option is unnecessary in the age of clouds and multiple device syncing, but my research made it clear that many people find these concepts too complicated, and might prefer a direct “send to computer” button. Secondly, if some of the screens remind you of an iPhone’s camera features or Instagram, it’s because they’re supposed to — again, creating a simple app was important, and so I decided to borrow from existing iPhone features and photo apps that people are already familiar with.

Screen 1: User opens the app. The forward facing camera opens, the user aims it the photo subject and presses Start.
Screen 2: The camera automatically takes 5 photos when the sound receiver detects an increase in volume (such as a burst of laughter). The session’s time and number of photos are recorded at the bottom of the frame and the session is named with the date and location at the top of the frame. The user presses the Stop button to end the session.
Screen 3: The user scrolls through the photos taken during the session, and can tap a photo to edit it and share to social media or send to computer. The user can also use the Select button to delete photos and send others to her computer.
Screen 4: The user selects a photo and uses the icons below the frame to edit it.
Screen 5: The user can add a caption, tag people, add a place, and then share the photo to various social media sites and/or send the photo to their computer. Completing the action takes the user back to the photo gallery shown in screen 3 to continue to edit, move, and send her photos.

Revisiting the Problem

My goal was to design a mobile app that allowed a frequent photographer to take many pictures in a simple, low-tech, free way that did not interrupt time spent with the photo’s subjects. Moments achieves this by taking photos in real time as the event unfolds, with no posing or time dedicated explicitly to taking photos required. Also, the project aimed to allow the photographer to control the process and express creativity. Moments gives the photographer control by allowing them to set the specifics of the camera’s position to its subjects and allows for creativity with a multitude of photo editing possibilities. The photographer knows she will have many much-desired photos, relieving her stress, and her friends and family know they do not have to spend time posing for photos during every visit, relieving their stress. Mission accomplished.

Learnings

Understand, then seek solutions. It’s difficult to suspend the tendency to immediately problem solve before fully understanding the problem. I found that part of the design process involves being comfortable with not knowing the answers; in fact, this stage of not knowing is a necessary element of design. Only by shutting down the part of the brain that’s shouting out answers can we engage in a truly exploratory process of finding insights from information and dreaming up wildly unrealistic ideas that ultimately lead to a practical solution.

Reflection

This project got me eager to start more in-depth research, and if I could do it again I’d try to find more frequent photo takers to interview; I hope that in our next project we’re able to increase our sample size to get at more in-depth findings. I’m curious about how to synthesize the amount of data that goes into true UX projects, as well as methods that designers use to keep themselves organized rather than drowning in information. I’ve begun using Medium to explore the writings of established UX Designers to try to get a jump on this area of learning.

This was the first design project I’ve ever worked on, and the process of creating the Moments app was a blast. UX design is even more intriguing and creative that I thought, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into these concepts.

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