Creating a user experience

Sofia Garefi in charge of the professional photoshooting

I will be very honest with you. I have never created anything tangible in my life besides paper planes and food.

For quite some time we were thinking with Nadia Sideri (my partner for the past 6 years) to unveil our entrepreneurial character and do something fun. Something that could inspire us and foster our creativity. We spent hours and hours chatting in our living room with the company of red wine. Finally taking into consideration various ideas from friends we made the decision to start Creative Point. We were going to create a meeting space for brainstormings, design sprints, workshops and team activities.

Why call it Creative Point? Because I found the domain FREE!! How rare is that ;)

As a UX designer for the past 7 years I want with this post to take you through a journey full of challenges and excitements while creating my first real user experience.

Start with ways of validating your idea

Of course! From the most bad ass groundbreaking to the simplest idea you need a method of validating it.

Thinking as a UX designer the first question to ask is:

What problem are we solving and what is the size of it. What’s the possible impact if we offer a solution?

Besides being a customer in multiple off-site venues, identifying weaknesses and improvements points we still needed to verify this demand and check the supply. Data are preventing us from our own biases while excited with an idea. That’s why it’s important to collect data before you invest effort and money. One of the easiest validation methods was to investigate the meeting spaces marketplaces. And there are lots of them!

It was easy to grasp the size of this industry just by searching online and looking at the profiles of various companies that act as an agency. Additionally we searched for competitors in Amsterdam and we were very happy to find plenty. Competition is GREAT!

Spacebase and Meetingsbooker have at least 24 Employees on LinkedIn based in Berlin and Dublin. Nice ;)

After we realized that there is a market out there, with fair competition our next step was to size our audience and the decision makers (people that decide when and why to do a team off-site).

To find them we used LinkedIn filtering for people that work in Amsterdam for medium / large companies and apply agile methodology.

Deciding on the Minimum Viable Product

When you imagine a perfect product your imagination can go very wild, and your budget will follow that path as well. This is where the nightmare began, as we were trying to identify the necessary elements in order to have a functional and operational meeting space. Endless discussions and hours of dispute with Nadia. Every single item that we want to add to Creative Point became a topic of argumentation:

  • Change the floor or not
  • Meeting table or multiple tables
  • Dining table or just a chill out area
  • TV or projector
  • Flip charts on wheels or just portable not

This list is sooooo long that I will stop it here. You get the point. After few weeks on the project, the friction was intense. We also had great design consultancy from Irix architects although I was changing my decisions all the time. What can I do? The restless mind of a UX designer…

The friction was created because of lack of input. The project looked simple until we figured out the level of detail that it needs.

Some UX tricks will work on any product not only for the web

Gather feedback from a diverse audience

We need more people Nadia! Before we kill each other in the process, let’s get more people and brainstorm about it.

We created an event calling friends that have attended multiple off-site meetings and brainstormings. We needed to collect feedback for a space that at that moment looked like sh…t!!

Creative Point when I got the keys. I look happy because I haven’t realized what I am getting myself into…

People arrived and we got to work right away. Observing and taking notes from the expressions that my friends were making while imagining the perfect meeting space and thinking out loud. Expressions like:

  • The garden would be amazing
  • I would love to have a chill out sofa here
  • I imagine leaving my jacket, and then this place would call me to drink a coffee
  • Would be great to have a place to drink a coffee as soon as you arrive, without entering the main meeting area
  • I would love to chill with my team and have lunch in this place

My first expression was sh..t again! The feedback is great although completely different from how Nadia and I imagined it. I could even see Nadia’s expression of disappointment that we need to change and rethink how to approach this offsite meeting experience.

We hadn’t bought anything at that point, but we’d spent a decent amount of time researching and bookmarking our favorite things. Delete and start over…

Create a real prototype

How do you prototype a meeting space? The idea comes from my beloved friend and super smart UX designer Pedro Marques. He suggested the concept of cutting big pieces of carton boards(we had some of those there) into the real dimensions, spreading them on the floor pretending it’s the real furniture! I kissed the guy! That’s just brilliant.

We started cutting and putting pieces together and after an hour we could really feel the space. Was incredible to observe that everyone were walking around not even stepping on the carton boards as if they were real furniture.

I actually started believing that we are on the right path to create a cool user experience for our customers.

We ended the initial feedback session with a beer and confidence for our next step!

Create a priority list to breakdown the project

The reason why you need to prioritize is because you don’t have the time to implement everything perfectly and the project will always be bigger than you initially thought. This is where my friend Renato Cesar is a master.

Renato’s being a very diverse professional(worked as an Agile Coach) helped me with his unique skills to prioritize what’s important.

Me: Renato I imagined that in this corner I will put a nice portable furniture to store all the office supplies that you will need when facilitating a meeting.

Renato: Do you know where the office supplies were on the last meeting space that I went?

Me: Where????

Renato: I don’t know! They were somewhere.. Who cares!

Why would you consider the location of the facilitation kit important when agile coaches don’t even remember where they found them?

The project from it’s beginning to be open and bookable is huge. Task prioritization is of the essence to prevent you from driving yourself nuts but also rewarding you for every little step that you accomplish. Trello board was our best friend in prioritizing and assigning the tasks.

Think of the real user experience

This is the most exciting part of the journey. This was the part were you start thinking as a UX designer and who is your customer.

What are the jobs to be done at Creative Point?

Imagine a team of 7 people entering your facilities to do a brainstorming meeting. Now don’t think as the host, but as the customer! While putting on post its all the jobs to be done by a customer, you actually create your product roadmap.

  1. It’s raining outside… I need my umbrella today. Fancy, as soon as I arrived at Creative Point they had a place to put my umbrella.
  2. Where can I leave this backpack? Oh, there it is, right next to the entrance where I can hang my jacket as well. I can even see the cakes and the warm coffee. Looking forward to it!
  3. What a cool concept. They have a map with pins. I will add my pin since I am waiting for the coffee to brew.
  4. ……… at the end you end up with a sketch that represents your customer’s user journey.

What is the best presentation clicker?

Which one would you chose for your customers? Left, center, right?

In a brainstorming meeting, there is a moment that someone kicks off the meeting with a presentation. I know that from experience. Which clicker would you chose? I decided to pick the Kensington(right) with the following arguments

  • Fits your palm with low risk of falling in front of the audience and fits the pocket
  • If the presenter is not familiar with it, the buttons are just four and self explanatory
  • The USB is located in a prominent place preventing dummy search attempts

Thinking of a team that members are not yet familiar those tiny awkward moments can reflect differently on a personality.

This is just one example of many where we had to think as a customer first and understand what’s important for the jobs to be done.

Our customers will use our facilities for an entire day and it needs to easy to use, cozy, interesting, exciting and provide the tools to generate /capture bad ass ideas to launch their products. At the same time a fine balance is needed to prevent distractions in the meeting space.

Launch a BETA version to collect feedback

Our Trello board was very close to completion. This is where we created our kickstart event, inviting some of the smartest people I know for a team off-site. From professionals in Banking, Sports Apparel to Technology our audience was perfectly diverse.

Looks like under construction but we are happy to have made it for the kickstart meeting.

By the time that people arrived, I started observing where they sit, how they move and what particular corner of the meeting space they found interesting.

Everyone enjoyed coffee and breakfast and then Renato Cesar started with the “Game of personalities”. With an agile coaching activity that everyone enjoyed and can reflect upon it. It was important to create an activity that our audience will enjoy and remember. The 1,5 hour session ended with gathering feedback regarding the meeting space.

The feedback was overwhelming and our excitement sky rocketed, finishing the session and knowing our strengths and putting all the improvement points and weaknesses in our Trello board.

I feel blessed to have people that are honest and never hesitate to give constructive feedback. Feedback is gift and that’s why I accepted various types of feedback in that session. Understanding what’s important requires a certain level of humbleness as most likely the feedback will contradict what you considered important.

Don’t neglect the details! They do matter

Nadia Sideri had one of those brilliant ideas to think of all the toiletries essential for women. I would never think about it and never even saw them in the bathroom. Our two female participants saw the toiletries and added them as one of our strengths. That was an easy win when you have a girl like Nadia next to you!

A good user experience is something that you feel without explaining it
We used our strengths to promote ourselves in social media, website etc

Reflecting back to the journey

We would have never made Creative Point as it is now without proactively asking for feedback from experts. We would complete the project but now I know that it’s a great experience for teams to be inspired because it was created based on the user needs.

We used every skill that we developed over the past years to complete this project. Learnings from working in constructions with my father, waiter as a student and then the web industry. Details like tracking events with google analytics, generating leads and even cutting and painting the meeting tables. We wanted to utilize our learnings and make Creative Point a really nice user experience.

Me and Nadia after we almost completed Creative Point project

Reflecting to the past 3 months, even though the journey was sometimes rough, challenging and frustrating I would do it all over again. Among others it was mostly fun, exciting and the greatest reward are the things that we learned.

Sofia Garefi your photos are just amazing. Thank you once again!

photos by Sofia Garefi