Designing Facility Art
We set out to make discovering artist exhibitions easier and connect those with similar cultural interests in a genuine way.
An Initial Idea — The Opportunity with Facility
Facility is about art, more specifically it’s a way to help connect a community of burgeoning artists with people who want to experience the local art scene. Facility provides an avenue for these connections to happen by evolving the word of mouth nature of discovering art exhibitions and making the experience of discovery socially driven in the digital world. A few months ago upon hearing about an electric artist opening reception in the Mission District through a good friend, I tried looking up the artist and venue to no avail. Eventually in a roundabout way I was able to locate the the opening reception. The event itself was amazing, yet the crowd was small and later by talking with the artist I learned that she wish the crowd and attendance were larger. So I took inspiration from the opportunity to connect the community with the artist and by focusing on the idea of word of mouth I attempted to scale this out into the digital realm.
In designing Facility I tried to find solutions for the areas of opportunity I gathered based on the feedback of artists and those wishing to find receptions and exhibitions: make discovery of new artists and shows easy, find a way to give distinction to local events as well as known international exhibitions, and make the tool socially driven so planning and information flows easilily between friends, artists, and the community itself!
Scaling an idea into the digital realm
It’s always a challenge when designing for scale. With Facility this meant designing and testing the edge cases for ios and android versions. I chose to omit the web component, in Facility’s case this helps direct Facility to assume the role of a digital social tool that lives completely in phone.
Art is social
One of the first challenges that presented itself was turning the idea of word of mouth into its digital equivalent. I wanted a level of user interaction that was similar to the other digital tools that do this well: periscope and instagram.
Liking and giving appreciation is almost universal among social apps and Facility takes great advantage of this. Facility however, hides the amount of likes a particular event receives to soften the hierarchy of popularity based on likes. This is done to give equal weight to smaller exhibitions and larger exhibitions. The user posting the event can see how many likes their event gets in order to gauge how receptive their audience is. As a socially driven tool user interactions are key to giving context to the experience of different users, in this case the context is how different types of users experience the like function.
Microinteractions provides the user feedback at each point in the experience. Facility makes use of microinteractions to inform the user by using gestural cues in tandem with text based cues. Questions such as: what happens when the user does this and what will be key for providing the user with the necessary information to perform an action were challenges along the way.
When the user makes a decision to commit to an event I wanted to remove as much friction as possible from the process in order to make the experience smooth.
Searching for events is a key highlight of Facility, in this case the experience flows easily from screen to screen with the least friction possible. It allows for searching a local area based on specific user’s interest inputs.
Designing for the user means to provide feedback through every step of the experience. In this case the feedback is explicit as the user has an option of zooming back to the top as soon as they scroll.
Testing the visual look and experience of each part in the process
One of the most important areas of the experience is where the user gains detailed information about the exhibition event. This happens right before the user performs an action. Learning new information ultimately leads the user to make a decision to perform the call to action. I like to call this action potential. This is where user decision on action leads to conversion and it is a subtle dance between information, call to action, and micro interaction.
Displaying the information effectively and intuitively was also a challenge. I went through many different iterations of presenting the event information while also giving consideration to the photographs. Great photographs can convey as much information as text can, however in realizing not every user is going to post great photographs for their event I solved for this by allowing text to give equal weight in terms of displaying information. From utilizing a 3:4 to portrait to full screen the design naturally gravitated towards using a 3:4 to clearly define the information while also providing a sense of the event with the photographs.
The process to design an experience to discover exciting new art exhibitions while also providing artists the opportunity to promote their art was fraught with challenges that taught me valuable insights along the way.
Design for the user
Google has this great user experience motto that underlies all their user experience where: “Design for the User and everything will follow”, and that held true for Facility as well. For a product that lives exclusively in the social sphere it was extremely important for me to do the research and talk to potential users. Not everyone is going to be receptive to the pervasiveness of technology entering the local art scene, because of that Facility needs to be an extension of the artist’s promotional workflow rather than an aggregator of events. Every time a difficult challenge arose the answer usually was found by considering the user and anticipating their needs.
Fail often and early
One important lesson I learned was that failing often gave me lots of context and insight to move on to the next iteration. It was important to hash out ideas and see if they held up to the greater concept of making a digital tool based on word of mouth. I learned that failing is a great way to key in on the conditions that causes the failure and to gain perspective on the possible solutions ahead. For example the design of the event information went through many iterations using display sizes of 4:3 and portrait before finally gravitating towards square, which seemed like the natural approach. It was through trying different ideas and failing with the early prototypes that the natural path to good user experience started to open.