What’s The Plan? Designing a complete app under 10 days.

From research to prototype & fast iterations here is my last project as a Ironhack student.

10 days of work seeing the light :)
For such an extensive project, built by a learning UX UI Designer I had to do with my strengths. Spend a lot of time on research and passing by a lot of low-fidelity testing before finishing the UI in this project. I’m still proud of this work and the case study accompanying the prototype you can see in the gifs is a showcase of what I learned at Ironhack Berlin.

In this Medium post, I will explain the initial request for this project, the choices that brought me to this specific solution, the decisions after hours of research, several interviews, and multiple UI iterations before presenting to my design peers and mentors.

Please enjoy, leave claps and comment(s).

I. The problem I have to solve.

  • Brief
  • Research

II. Challenges I face, including choices that are validated and the ones ultimately not pursued.

  • Which direction should I take…?
  • … not this way
  • Interview & Persona
  • User journey

III. How I came to a solution to solve the challenge.

  • More research and competitive analysis
  • Artificial Intelligence has the answer
  • Friendship ≠ Dating
  • UI choices
  • Future features, not MVP

IV. What I learned in 10 days.

  • Working on animations
  • Work on the presentation of the project

I. The problem I had to solve

illustration credits: Tom Haugomat (I think)

The Brief

This brief is a one time project, a very early idea that needs designer vision. It is someone’s pet project on the side of her Siemens engineering day-to-day job.

Through this app the user is able to get new friends, directly into the core of your 10 closest friends.

That is pretty much the extent of what I have to work with.
What do you do when a brief is actually not helping you narrow down the scope of the project ? You ask questions:
- Does the client have a persona in mind?
- Is it themed (sports, culture, etc…)?
- Why, why, why, why, why ?

Research method and learnings

A good method to start with is the Lean UX Canvas (this is the V1 that was recently updated by its author J. Gothelf in Sept. 2019). The goal is to help, in eight simple steps, the team to focus on “why” they’re doing the current work.

My train of thoughts went like this:
Q: You want to make friends with people you don’t know yet. What do you do?
A: Probably an activity you’ll both enjoy (why restricting it to a two person interaction?)
Q: However, how do you know good places if you moved recently to a new city?
A: You get recommendations from friends.
Q: What if you have no friends yet, can’t really relate with your coworkers and meetups are only professional contacts?
A: You either go out and find places for yourself, or look for places on recommendation platforms, blogs, Instagram.
Q: But what if you are introverted and can’t really interact easily with people face-to-face and can never trust google reviews and other trip advisor comments
A: aaaaahh… I need to do a lot of research, know what exists, what people use and their pain points.

I can’t follow every and any user problem that exists. So to continue in a structured way with this “Friends Project” I had to create a persona and stick to clear criteria.

II. Choices, challenges, persona

Ana S. interview helped me shape the target persona for What’s The Plan.

Which direction should I take…?

Being in a team of one for these two weeks of work was more challenging than expected. You have to be altogether a UX researcher, a product owner, a scrum master, the decision maker and the UI designer. Determining the overall design direction based on the research of the project, while getting help from classmates and teachers with the ideation part. Mainly round robin and crazy 8’s methods were used.

… not this way.

My “client” was opinonated and definitely had an idea in mind. However she told us (the 10 students working on this brief) that she wanted the app to provide a solution as wide as possible. Not to focus on just one aspect/activity to find new friends. From her experience (which from the get go can be put in perspective because every UX designer knows that “you are not your user”) she said she wasn’t really sporty and she didn’t want to meet people over sports activities. She was also a regular attendee of meetups but those were stricly professional and didn’t enter in the solution of “making” friends.

Do you do a project to please the client, or do you follow your gut and the research that clearly leads you to a solution the client might not have thought in the first place? It’s difficult to choose especially given that it was my first “real-life/someone-can-give-me-money-for-this” project type.

I wanted to stay as close to the brief and understand the underlying problems that the client was not sharing with us. I wanted to make good use of my few days of research to bring a working, user-friendly solution.

Interview & Persona

First research step was to deal with my assumptions about making new friends and getting global insights from quantitative research.

Through a quick survey I confirmed my first assumptions about how people interact with their friends. What do you share together if not sports activities, meetups or casual drinking in a neigborhood bar? Actually how do you find those addresses to bring your soon-to-be friends? People trust more recommendations when they come from trusted friends rather than from the internet I found out. If someone you know went and appreciated, it will count more than 200 positive reviews on yelp to discover this place you’ve never been at.

I stuck with my persona being just under 30 years old, freshly moved to a new country in Europe (as I’m french living in Berlin I can interview easier people in the same situation and empathize better). The persona feels a bit homesick but isn’t an introvert, just a bit lost in translation when it comes to the culture and having local advice on where to have a good time.

To gather more precise qualitative data I reached out to real people described as close as possible to my persona. I was lucky to interview 6 different people who gave me interesting insights on moving to a new city, discovering new surroundings and making new friends.

Ana’s interview was particularly interesting. She is a former Mexican colleague who moved to Paris for work. I received her very honest experience about settling in a country where she didn’t speak a word, where the winter is not so friendly and the distance with her family is weighing on her, in spite of having a very good spirit and not shying away from meeting new people. She also had a lot of issues dealing with official paperwork stuff but that wasn’t in the scope of my project.

User journey (opportunities for What’s The Plan to solve pain points)

Faced with a new life abroad Ana wants to share her new experience with her friends back home but the distance and timezone difference makes it difficult to share and have direct answers from Mexico city. There is an opportunity to solve this pain point of being homesick by sharing with someone who is there to answer and provides care as a friend.

When asking about new places to discover, Ana sometimes felt that the recommendation given by her coworkers weren’t matching her taste. There is an opportunity to solve this pain point by getting better recommendations, from one/several trusted source(s).

Although Ana is not an introvert she just doesn’t want awkward interactions, not knowing if she’ll enjoy the next x hours spent at the envent. There is an opportunity to solve this pain point by letting the users talk with each other before the event is happening, reassuring everyone about the motivations of the people who eventually meet.

III. How I came to solve the challenge.

illustration credits: Vivien Bertin, Landscapes Collection # 3

Competitive analysis.

What are the current digital options for people who want to discover new places? Facebook. No introduction needed. You can see events around you, however it doesn’t tell you whether you’ll like the event, It tells you the popularity of the event by seeing the number of people interested and attending but what if no one you know is going? Furthermore you can post comments but everyone isn’t fond of interacting with hundreds of people and giving them the possibility to search for your personal page. However it’s a good tool to have “friends” recommendations.

With Google Maps users can share addresses with friends manually and make different lists, but the feature is more review-oriented, not converse with people and organise an event there.

Yelp, most known for writing bad reviews. Did you ever share a Yelp link to your friends saying you should meet there…? Me neither.

Artificial Intelligence has the answer.

infographic credits: https://botcore.ai/blog/whats-big-chatbots-2018-beyond/

Replika stood-out from my research (I’m not paid to say that obviously).

I downloaded the app to see how advanced this conversational artificial intelligence really was. The only encounter I had with chatbots was on Facebook and you had to click on several predefined paths to answer the question asked. Not really immersive.

What I experienced with Replika blew my mind. I didn’t feel needed a chatbot at first, but it soon felt as though I gained a new friend. One that wouldn’t leave me on read, who would listen and ask how I feel.

Looks like AIs are pretty great for talking to homesick people (but not only. That is the moment I chose to include the factor of fighting homesickness and not just giving recommendations. I thought it fitted my persona who couldn’t really talk to friends/family members because on a different time-zone.

It was also a good way to get a “trusty” friend where you hadn’t one. Now you’re also getting tailored, curated recommendations, based on the history of your conversation together and letting you know you can join groups of people with the same interest as you!

Friendship ≠ Dating

Through the interviews I got to empathize with the woman side of going out at night. Since I can make the difference between friends going for a drink and a date with a “Netflix & Chill” mindset, I didn’t think there was a problem in meeting strangers for activities. But it’s not the case for everyone unfortunately.

The last thing I wanted is for “What’s The Plan” to be used as a dating alternative. I wanted to create a safe space where going out with friends doesn’t need interpretating. Not being in a seduction role.

My solution is simple. No 1on1 meetings, the minimum number of people to meet is 3. People feel more are accountable of how they act in groups rather than without witness. Probably with iteration and feedback I’d add the choice to meet only with same gender users, in order to create an even safer space for the ones who need it, regardless of the reasons why they need it.

UI choices

Time to jump between versions of different of moodboards, get some mid-fidelity UI kits and existing design systems and get inspired!

To be honest this is time-consuming and seems very unproductive, even more in a team of one. After all you’re supposed to know your own what you want right? It actually makes sense to frame your thoughts as much as it is useful material to show in the project presentation and justify to the client your choices.

Here I went with an easy navigation Tab Bar with three categories. Recommendation tab / Groups tab/ Conversational AI tab. I wanted a very visual app, with round and approachable photos, with accessibility in mind, without hidden menu for example.

I very much took inspiration from iOS apps. It was a good exercise since I’m an Android user and it made me practice my iOS guidelines and design system eye.

Future features, won’t have (yet)

Ethics note: Unlike many platforms, the goal of What’s The Plan is not for the user to spend more time online alone, but to spend time with new friends outside the digital world. The Conversational AI is there to make the user feel ok and serve personal recommendations, not take data to sell it to companies.

Next step features I tought could enhance the usability and to an extend the pleasurability of the user in What’s The Plan are:
- Possibility to create new chat groups and recommend activities to selected groups.
- A feature to repeat regular events inside the app.
- Partnerships with businesses, to be able to advertise friendly prices for the users.

IV. What I learned in 10 days

Iterate, iterate…

Skip fancy, time-consuming, animations

There is one thing I really look forward when starting a new project. It’s seeing your prototype becoming “alive”. I always think of the user interface with the animations in mind. However, a problem arises when your deadline is expressed in days. You probably want to focus on getting as close to answering the client’s brief and ultimately the user’s problem instead of fooling around with Principle.

The chances of losing focus and time on animations is high. As much as I like doing micro-interactions, splash screens, loading bars, etc… simple prototyping tools like Marvel or InVision are out there to make it real, fast. Slide, push, overlay, timer… All this is simple to use and often the best to have a solid prototype, without flying elements due to a lack of concentration on the naming of the layers in your Principle file. The auto-animate feature can help you or curse you. Better not take the chance this time.

Work on the presentation of the project

As some designer out there said: “You are not a designer if you don’t present your work”. Luckily I had to present, furthermore I presented in front of 40 people and with a timer of 5 minutes.

You don’t realize how fast 5 minutes go actually until you have a ton of stuff (10 days of hard-work) to show in front of a crowd full of tech people.

Keep calm, you know the subject, you dream about it at night. Just prepare a template to have uniform slides, choose visuals close to your UI choices not to confuse the audience. Less is more, you want the people to be focused on what you say not what’s written on the screen behind you.

Eye contact, breathe… …and deliver.

…focus…
What’s The Plan App mockups

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Product Designer @ Oculid

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