Case Study: Designing A Social Networking App

This week I finished my first paid contract as a UX Designer. It has been an incredible experience, and I have become a stronger designer as a result of this work. As I am still under an NDA, I can’t go into detail about the project, but here are some highlights.

The Opportunity

Myself and fellow GA grad Jennifer L. Smith were approached by the client to design a prototype of his app concept, which could then be presented to investors. We were given three weeks to complete two phases of design. Phase 1 covered user research and competitor analysis. Phase 2 covered ideation, wire-framing, prototyping, usability testing and visual design.

Research Phase

We completed five user interviews from our target user group, questioning them about their current social networking habits. There were quite a few interesting trends here, in particular how popular Facebook Groups was for finding online communities. As it is free to use and most people are already on Facebook, users found this an extremely easy way to meet new people online, though they felt the interface and search function were lacking.

There was also the perception among users that Facebook profiles showed a person’s true identity more than any other social media platform. This was largely because profiles are associated with family and friends, making it difficult to put on a fake persona. Viewing Facebook profiles to judge a person’s character and authenticate them was a strong trend in these interviews.

After mapping these findings, we were able to create a journey map, user flow and persona for our ideal user.

Prototyping and Testing

Taking forward our findings from the user interviews and competitor analysis, Jennifer and I began designing the screens we would be producing. Due to the compressed timeline we were only looking at one user flow, but we were aiming to show as much of the app’s functionality as possible to give investors a real sense of the finished product.

We produced a Low-Fi prototype on Balsamiq, before moving to Sketch for the Mid-Fi and final Mocks, and completed five usability tests for each iteration.

One of the biggest tasks was to give users a sense of confidence and security when using the app. As with all social networking platforms they would be asked to provide personal information and interact with people they did not know. A lot of the usability testing was focused on how comfortable the users felt when using the app, particularly when filling out their profile.

We found that users often had an emotional response when being asked for information they believed they should not have to disclose. Alienating users at this early stage was a real risk, and we spent a lot of time ensuring that there was nothing objectionable in the early screens.

Visual Design

After discussing visual design with the client, our intention was to keep the interface streamlined, with minimal text. There were several screens that had a lot of information to convey and we relied on icons to take the place of text where possible. This required a lot of usability testing to ensure that users understood the meaning of the icons.

When selecting colour, our main goal was to find a colour that was not already associated to a major app. We went with a bold coral and kept the rest of the app in white, black and grey so that it looked fun, but still polished.

We produced a style guide, site map and annotated wireframes, as well as a presentation deck detailing the UX process that could be used in presentations to investors.

Final Thoughts

The biggest challenge I found within this project was to maintain my voice as a designer when working with a client who (rightfully) had a strong vision of how his app should look and function. There were times where I felt we were missing opportunities to be led by user insights, but finding that balance between making the client happy and producing what you believe is an optimised product is an inevitable part of the process. Learning which battles are worth fighting will be an ongoing lesson for me as a designer.

Overall, I am proud of the product, and what Jennifer and I were able to achieve in the timeframe.