A Bumpy Road on a UX Designer’s First Project

This week was my first week at General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) in Singapore. Here’s my first project and what I learned.

The Task

Envision and design a rudimentary interactive prototype of a news aggregator app (or similar) that applies techniques and skills recently learned in user research, sketching and prototyping, and usability testing.

The Idea

SOURCED is a news aggregator app that allows users to personalize their daily news by extracting pre-existing preferences enabled by the user on other social media apps on their mobile devices.

Research

I interviewed three of my fellow students about their experience of digesting news. I began with these background questions:

  1. Do you digest news in any way?
  2. Is there a specific type of news you digest?
  3. Where do you digest news? What mediums and platforms?

I probed further to understand their pains, pleasures, behaviors, and contexts. This was quite tricky at the beginning. My interviewees were guarded with their answers and many of them had already been interviewed and were tired by the process. By showing empathy, I was able to successfully dig deeper into their underlying convictions.

With these interview findings, I was able to organize their pains, pleasures, behaviors, and contexts into an affinity map, which went through multiple iterations.

1st Iteration: Grouped by Pains, Pleasures, Behaviors, Contexts of ALL users
2nd Iteration: Pains and Pleasures grouped by trends
2nd Iteration: Behaviors by type (cognitive or physical) and Contexts by time, place, and what else they were doing
3rd Iteration: Horizontally by trends
4th Iteration: Elements of their problem

Understanding the User

Through a comprehensive evaluation of their trends (technological or content) and behaviors (physical or cognitive), I was able to extract the key takeaways and derive at a basic understanding of who they intrinsically were, what they wanted, and what they needed. I understood that my users tended to live busy and fast-paced daily lives and required news updates quickly and efficiently. They were highly connected via social media and relied on these platforms to access news updates. They paid attention largely to and sought news that catered to their specialized interests. They often read the news while doing other tasks, such as watching their kids, listening to music, chatting online with friends, and commuting to work. And lastly, they enjoyed reading short and medium-length articles and were highly particular on what they selected to read in-depth.

From these user essences, I developed the persona of “The Busy Multitasker” who during his commute and/or down time between activities, often encountered slow, infrequent, and unreliable updates when accessing news specialized to his interests.

Sketching & Prototyping

The problem of “The Busy Multitasker” was a long and multi-faceted one. Initially, I chose to focus and tackle the “often encountered slow, infrequent, and unreliable updates” part of his problem. I looked to Facebook Notify as an app currently on the market aiming to solve this problem and constructed a task flow of how a user would save a news article to read later.

Facebook Notify “Save Article for Later” Task Flow

Using Facebook Notify’s task flow, I sketched out an incredibly low-fidelity screen-by-screen task flow for the app that I envisioned for my users. I included the option of saving the article for reading while the phone was offline, thus incorporating the “during his commute” part of the problem.

After this, I went back to my research findings and compared the sketching above to their essential pains and problems. I realized that this task flow failed to solve the biggest problem my users had: accessing fast and reliable updates on news specialized to their interests. Here’s a task flow sketch that aims to solve that specific problem.

Satisfied that this task flow was more comprehensive in understanding and solving the problem, I sketched my first prototype and tested it on two subjects.

I made the sketch prototype as low-fidelity as possible, as I wanted to test my users on their interactions with a page with no visible navigation. When tested, I quickly learned that the user needed navigational buttons or were inclined to tap the screen or app logo to go to the next page. As the usability test continued, I would add navigational features to see if it changed their interactions. Almost all of the testers wanted the ability to navigate the app as a guest without signing up and some expected to see some type of newsfeed at the launch of the app. Other suggestions included adding a “Search” function when selecting apps and having text instructions.

With the results of the first usability test, I made changes to the second prototype which I created through POP. I added textual context and a higher fidelity of the app logo and icons. I added the navigation buttons I introduced during the usability test and a function to skip the tutorial, which would take the user to a “locked” newsfeed. Lastly, I added the requirement to select a minimum of 3 apps to sync, a feature borrowed from Facebook Notify.

Using the POP prototype, I did a second round of usability tests with two more subjects. My findings were that users often tap the app icon to proceed to the next page and would avoid at all cost signing up without first exploring the app. Some navigational buttons were not clear (ie: “X” button was interpreted as exiting the app, instead of going back) and they were confused at the “Sign In” page. Some thought selecting a minimum of 3 apps was too much and some didn’t want to determine their setting preferences before seeing the content.

The Pitch and Moving Forward

This was my first foray into the world of user experience design and pitching my app was — well, let’s just say — a little bumpy. Limitations with time being a major factor, I would have liked to dedicate more time on the visual design of my app and my presentation, and on delving into the details of my process.

Regarding further design iterations , I would incorporate the feedback from the usability tests to modify the app’s UI: allow the users to land on the a newsfeed page after launching; navigational icons; language and copy; refine the “Sign In” page; and hide the “Settings” page until the user wants to set them. I would conduct more research into the feasibility of building the app — is it possible for SOURCED to extract information (specifically user’s preferences and history) from a multitude of apps and consolidate it into one newsfeed?

This week was filled with a lot of firsts: first week at General Assembly; first project; first time applying these techniques and skills; first time living in Singapore as an adult; the list goes on. The learning curve was huge and days into this project, I was already experiencing what Carl Richards defined in his NY Times op-ed last month as “The Imposter Syndrome.” Doubts plagued my mind. Could I do this? Did I have a grasp of the assignment and its different components? Could I really conceptualize an app that would solve a user problem? And present it in an engaging way?

Naturally in retrospect, there are a multitude of improvements I would like make it. And even during the its process, I kept coming across ways of improvement that I would’ve liked to incorporate, if it wasn’t for time and pressure. I’m grateful for this learning process. It brings humility and raises a challenge to always be better next time.

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