Nicole So
Nicole So
Jul 10 · 12 min read
Doodle I did of my breakfast, a week before UXDI!

As a new student of UX Design Immersive (started 4/22/19) at General Assembly, I know all too well how time can be both your best friend and your best frenemy all rolled up into a questionable burrito.

The conclusion of my first big UX project gave me all of the feels as I struggled to redesign a feature in an existing app that is supposed to help busy GA students like myself communicate to the members of the outside world that we care about consistently.

Images earth (core) and connectivity from

Before jumping into the project, I thought it would be important to take the time to establish the core reasons and the WHYs of mobile apps being a universally chosen medium through a topic map.

Communication topic map

Communication is very important, it’s a big part of coexisting in society and relationships. It’s not a coincidence that communication stems from community. Mobile apps have adapted to be the most universally used medium of communication and there are technological advances every day as our options to communicate grow with society.

If you look at the very core, we are humanizing the communication process as much as possible with the tech medium. With that said, UX Design is becoming more and more favorable and a growing need in the industry as the users are every day people like you and I - which brings us to the beginning of the designing process.

Discovery : Nothing like a cup of user research and interviews to start the quest!

Kicking off the first half of the double diamond of the UX process, and to make sure I’m designing the right thing, I needed some real users to interview to gauge my problem space and insight with the current situation and what better place than to start right outside the UX classroom to a common room filled with time athletes. #GuerrillaInterviewingTime #thatmeansyougouptostrangers

My favorite line to go to during user interviews: “Can you tell me more about that?”

As you can see, interviewing went swimmingly and I knew exactly what I was doing for my first time interviewing fellow GA students. As a generally curious creature myself, the style in which you inquire was definitely an interesting and different mindset as suggestive or direct questions were forbidden.

I did 5 interviews — 2 identified as she/her, 1 as he/she/her, 2 he/him and all between 25–39 age range. Most had settled for shutting off their phones cold turkey during class, some didn’t have the patience to come back to a slew of texts and would go unanswered for days at a time while the rest just had so many notifications on different social apps to keep up with which was also a hassle to maintain. 4/5 had family out of town that used WhatsApp and group chats — among that ratio, one was straight from London.

Most of my interviewees were very EMPATHETIC though and understood what kinds of awkward UX puberty stages I was going through. Some of them even gave me some tips on how to ask questions with just the right amount of direction without steering too much — I was very grateful for this.

I got even more insight just listening to the interview recording I did on Otter (a useful yet spelling challenged recording app).

I appreciate that empathy is one of the main mantras for UX’ing because the world definitely needs more sense of community and empathy for sure #UXingyourlife.

Synthesis : Affinity mapping — trendy data confetti?

I remember I only had 15–20 minutes to do all of this because the GA studio was closing at 10pm. It was a very stressful period of time trying to speed up the magical process while not having a clue on how to group them.

Affinity mapping is to Platform 9 and 3/4 as GA is to Hogwarts.

It’s actually pretty awesome because affinity mapping, from the surface, is such a regular every day task that you can dismiss very easily as some kind of a organizational tactic that you spruce up with colorful post its but there’s some witchcraft involved here.

You jot down some keywords or quotes from all of that raw data you just unlocked from users (different colored post its for different users), stick it all on a wall, re-stick them in similar topics with others and then take a step back to admire your organized mess.

Now this is where the magic happens, if you stare at that wall of post its with snippets of information on it long enough (you can go crazy looking at it for a while but it reaps the benefits of answers) and truly believe in its scattered form, they start revealing different path options — a path to enlightenment, answers, better fitting categories/grouping and thus the gateway to the Hogwarts express, Platform 9 and 3/4.

I admit I was a skeptic at first, like what are a bunch of festive post its going to do for me, but I saw its powers at work. Like a mystical waterfall hidden in the forest, I slowly saw the layers underneath the surface trickle into unexpected trends that influenced how I grouped within the mapping.

The prominent groups I noticed were about long distance relationships with family and friends, group chats, multiple app usage management and time related pain points. iMessage and WhatsApp was also the most used apps within my user interviewees.

As a glasses wearer with the prescription negative 7 and up (or should I say down), I felt I got some pair of mental glasses after this process and also felt like a modern day detective.

Note: I guess Diagon Alley is another appropriate analogy.

Another note: You can tell affinity mapping is my favorite so far.

Personas and Problem statement(s) to the rescue!

The whole concept that you are essentially designing for the users and your feelings, desires and solutions are as useful as bringing an emergency umbrella out on a sunny day was a very new thing for me. Opinions that you think are very common sense isn’t the case and you are constantly surprised by how users continue to challenge the obvious.

Over the course of 2 weeks into the UXDI program at GA, I’ve definitely come to realize that maybe having the entire journey be up to the users isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I figure at the end of the day if you make an unsatisfactory product, you can blame most of that outcome on your users since you let them steer. The users wanted it and they got it, no harm done to your ego and takes the pressure off, that’s the most important thing right?

So leading up to all of this is the persona I made, the representative and model user for all of my users who I call Jessica. Jessica identifies with she/her and over the course of the project she became one of my best friends.

Hi Jessica!

I admit, this was a very challenging process for me and I think it was because I didn’t have a strong scenario to branch off of. Also, I was thinking of the chart applying to Jessica’s life in general and not regarding the scenario only so I had stuff like “graduate GA successfully” or “practice yoga” as one of her goals initially.

Some edits happened to Jessica’s guide/criteria when I ran into problems in the later stages which I will elaborate on later. So, using her profile as my control group of sorts I cooked up a nice problem statement to support Jessica.

This was one of my earlier versions of my problem statement as I was still hoping to solve for multiple app usage, long distance friends and family group chats and time related pain points.

Again, it was only when I got to the second double diamond that I realized (from the help of one of my two very amazing UX professors) I essentially had problem statement featuritis and that I need to choose ONE rabbit hole to explore not multiple.

So this was the final version and I decided to go mainly with TIME (I know, surprise surprise!) I learned pretty quickly in the later stages how important it is to have a strong problem statement. Strong problem statement leads to a stronger persona which in tandem leads to a stronger product aka designing the right thing leading into designing the thing right.

Ideation : Low Fidelity Paper Sketches and Mid Fidelity Wireframes - time to build that prototype of sandwich.

After much exposure to user data, I was ready to sketch out my lo-fi paper prototypes and then test it out to my user groups. As a person that studied 2D animation, I appreciated the act of going back to the basic tools of creativity - paper, pen/pencil and scissors.

Going back to the colorful results from affinity mapping, most of my users had iPhones so iMessage was a very prominent app and medium of choice of communication. Also, since time was a key component and consistency of communication was needed I started to think of something along the lines of automation, cruise control, temporary placeholders, etc.

During the very early stages of sketching, I was actually stuck on the look of the main iMessage interface. I didn’t know how group messages were represented in the icon cluster to the left of the message previews since I’ve never had a group chat that exceeded two other people besides me. I found out that it still shows up as clusters of two regardless of the amount of people)

Left image: thinking that this could become a real problem with 10 plus people…

I guess I never thought of this aspect of design and then got me thinking what else do I as a user not see to appreciate design or feature decisions when using a product?

Before performing any user testing I painted a scenario and assigned a simple task in order to successfully test out the feature.

I would say one of the most challenging aspects of the ideation stage (besides the fact that this is the only area you can’t help them with and you have to keep all of the juicy secrets of the app yourself) was actually choosing the right icon to represent your task and placement. It’s definitely not good at all if they can’t even step inside the door let alone find the door.

It’s very obvious to me where the icon is since I not only designed it but made sense to me. I had hoped the logic would translate to the users as well but I found it very interesting they stuck to the edges when finding something.

It goes to show you that we are conditioned to believe that you are able to find anything significant either at the top left or right edge (i.e. save option).When designing the interface I didn’t think of this and placed it in the middle.

I even wanted to just write “Set Status” and have that be a tappable link out of desperation of resolving the find-ability issue but one of my later users informed me that people generally like to see icons more.

The version all the way to the right was what I settled on based on user feedback and observations

3 concept layouts for Status page

When you finally make it past the door, the main page for my Status screen slides over and you are ready to set the time and the auto message.

Lots of users have said it was too convoluted and some didn’t like too many redirects to separate pages such as a completely new page just to set the time frames.

iMessage Paper Sketch 1
iMessage Paper Sketch 2 & 3

So this is what I came up with based on iterations after iterations. I tried to make it a little interactive so it could give users an idea of how it pans out (and also to save myself some time and template sheets).There was definitely a pattern after a while as to why it wasn’t the ideal app they would use. More functions meant more TIME so I kept it as simple as possible.

With my new findings and all of the major changes implemented, I fleshed out my mid-fi wireframes on Sketch and annotated the individual pages.

Mid-Fi wireframes 1
Mid-Fi wireframes 2
Mid-Fi wireframes 3
Mid-Fi wireframes 4

I had one of my classmates actually take a look at some of my wireframes before I went and did another round of usability testing and she said a very interesting observation.

She thought ‘Set Message’ was just another way of saying ‘Set Auto Response’, almost like a subtitle, and failed to tap on that for more options.

After that feedback, I realized that most of my users did always tap on the time function first before setting a message. Some even caught themselves at the very end after staring at the page for a minute longer that there was indeed another place to customize.

Delivering the goods!

I can honestly say that throughout the experience I’ve never had to remind myself time and time again about what the problem actually is about anything else besides my own sanity before UX Design came into my life.

That being said, I made sure to remind Jessica and myself that this is why and how we are doing this through the re-designing of iMessage with the Auto Response feature.

Auto Response Customization FINAL (for now)

Users are now able to find the feature but the icon translation definitely needs more work if some just tap on it out of curiosity and needs to guess that’s where they need to tap in order to complete the task.

Auto Response Customization FINAL (for now)

Key lesson I learned here regarding time and customization is that some people think they have the time for more customization and want more accessories within the app but they actually don’t. It’s ultimately not up to you though to make that call because as UX designer you have to listen to what your users want to a degree.

They want the actual task to be fast but they want the option of exploring more. No one wants to feel like they only have one option and I think most people don’t like the idea of “default”. It was conflicting information for me with this project as most users expressed that they have no time yet they want the option of doing more on apps such as being able to send different custom messages to certain people and having the option to not apply the auto feature at all to some. Interesting findings indeed.

TL;DR - It was my very first UX project, nearly died both physically and emotionally and I need to choose a better icon to represent my feature because not everyone taps on it for the right reasons!

Check out my iMessage re-designing a feature app!

Nicole So

Written by

Nicole So

A professional doodler, foodie and UX/UI designer.

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