Act 1: Rookie’s First Stab @ UXDI

Background

As my a new student in General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course, what you’ll soon be reading are the processes, story and results from my very first assignment! Project 1 was to create an app designed around an assigned topic – mine was: food. This was also an individual project, so I was the lead on, well… everything! The assignment itself was rather brief and very broad, so I took a few deep breaths and hit the design process running.

Problem Statement

I’m tempted to give you this right off the bat, primarily to provide context, but I didn’t figure the problem out until later in the process. So, to keep consistent with my design flow, stay tuned to learn more on this!

User Research

First things first, I had to talk to some other humans — again and again I have to keep reminding myself that as the designer, I AM NOT THE USER! My initial approach to research “food” was to conduct user interviews. I first developed a set of interview questions as a guide to navigate the soon-to-be conversations. As this was my first attempt at crafting an interview guide, it went alright all things considered, but I kept the questions as open-ended as possible enabling the users to steer the conversation versus me directing the path. GOALS I hoped to learn from these interviews were: understand how users interact with food on a day-to-day; memories of food; how users acquire food/sustenance; what’s a user’s value in food; etc.

I interviewed seven individuals in a few various methods. Five interviews were in-person; four were conducted in a traditional interview setting (quiet room, few distractions, audio recorded for transcription purposes, ranging 10–24 minutes), and the fifth in-person was more guerrilla/in-the-field style interview at the Union Square Farmers Market.

A shot to provide an idea of context from the Union Square Market in Manhattan where I conducted a brief guerrilla interview with a farm stand employee.

I conducted one interview over the phone, and the final one was essentially a “poll” taken from a Facebook status I posted. I summarized my interview guide into four questions, posted it as my Facebook status, and received one direct message with responses; albeit a shorter and not as substantial method, I thought it interesting to include this type of research in my findings. I have to say that the “guerrilla interview” at the farmers market was honestly the most exhilarating because I was in the real world looking to get information from someone who just randomly agreed to start talking with me. It lasted only about 3–4 minutes, and my shorthand was practically illegible but I loved meeting this new user! With all of that said, here are a few high level demographics from my interviews: five females & two males; age span roughly 25–40; of total, only two born outside of US; and five confirmed students. A few particular QUOTES stuck with me:

  • “Basic needs = good cheese!”
  • “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”
  • “I’m quite a particular eater, not concerning the food however, but when it comes to the flavor.”
Methodically conducting interview as part of the initial user research phase (L-R: me; anonymous interviewee [face not shown]).

After the interviews, I then transcribed my recordings and combined them with my chicken-scratch notes, to create documented results. Some pre-synthesized FINDINGS I took away from these interviews included: many preferred (when possible) to eat healthy foods; timing was a constraint on food prep; the concern of over indulgence (personally and nationally) arose; and many ways of getting food (i.e. different shopping methods, etc.).

Rough notes taken while conducting third interview; did not have access to notetaker during this (or any of these) interview. These were eventually typed, and cleaned up!

Synthesis

Right, now I’ve got pages of notes, from multiple hours of recordings/time spent getting to learn who my users are, now I’ve got to synthesize! Using the tactics we were taught in our first week, I created a (what ended up being massive) AFFINITY MAP (i.e. loads of post-it notes mapped out on a wall, each noting an important observation from the interviews written in ALL-CAPS Sharpie). This step actually took longer than I anticipated (which I was surprisingly ok with), but was extremely productive nonetheless, in discovering similarities across the interviews. I then clustered these notes into themes.

Final iteration of affinity map (maybe after the third round of reorganizing…?), categorized into important themes.

As the large clusters came to fruition, it was much easier to visualize and group my findings from the interview. Now I had all the high-level observations (or at least what I deemed the “high-level” points) from my user interviews, sorted by genre. I was able to move the post-it notes around to continue grouping various sections, expanding some while shrinking others, iterating this about three times, and felt really good about my mapped findings after the third iteration (please see photo above). Now, I could clearly see that my early findings from the interviews, were in fact very common. Through my affinity map I was able to better define these findings into clear fields, being: “Healthy/Organic,” “Getting Food (How/Why),” “Timing” & “Expensive Costs/$$$$.” So in a way, I validated my early findings, confirming that these areas are in fact important and reoccurring across the different interviews/users.

From here, I ended up churning out a number of STORYBOARDS highlighting various stories that my user may find themselves going through. The way that I thought of this, was basically creating tiny comics of what could happen to the user relating to these common themes.

Part I of my first storyboard, explaining how/why a user might seek out the app initially.
Part II of my first storyboard, explaining how/why a user might seek out the app initially.

Now, with all of this information outlined through affinity mapping and a handful of storyboards, my next objective was to create a defined PROBLEM STATEMENT (what I mentioned right near the beginning). I’ve now accumulated and validated a substantial amount of information where I feel much more confident in creating an overall problem statement, which includes an: insight, persona or archetype, a user problem, plus an opportunity or goal. So, my first problem statement became:

“When full-time students and working professionals attempt to plan their weekly lunches, there aren’t many affordable yet healthy options.

Not Planned Penny is strapped for cash and too busy with school to plan out an entire week of healthy lunches, thus she unfortunately ends up buying lunch out almost every day! How might we help Penny find a sustainable and cost-prohibitive lunch service to ensure she’s well fed amidst her hectic schedule.”

My goal in creating this problem statement was to explain the overall insight I collected (represented in the first sentence), while creating a basic “persona” (which we hadn’t covered at this point yet) to personify all my users, establishing a common problem that many of the users felt/had, and then providing an opportunity in which I could address the shared (or rather, now, the persona’s) problem.

Designs/Ideation

Next, with an initial problem statement under my belt, plus some storyboards for my new persona/friend “Not Planned Penny,” it was time to get all of this information into the form of a early stage LoFi application — cue PAPER PROTOTYPING!

Here, I started rapidly sketching various app screens that I envisioned would lead a user through this new idea I had brewing. Rather than putting much emphasis on artistic perfection for these screens, I just ran wild with this bit and drew out as many screens as I could. That’s not to say I wasn’t keeping my problem statement in mind, as there was intention behind each sketch I drew, I just wasn’t as concerned about the visual aesthetic being topnotch.

The first go-around of paper prototypes, that I actually put in front of a few people to do basic testing.

Testing/Iterations

I was able to get the paper prototype infront of three users, which was very helpful to hear feedback/frustrations/suggestions on how to enhance the flow of the app. I provided them with a task to complete, which was: they are a busy vegetarian that wants to sign up for the new service, then order 5 meals per week for the next month for home delivery.

Shot of a third volunteer, testing my paper prototype of the app!

I actually put the same paper prototype infront of the first two user testers, to compare their experiences before iterating. My next iteration steps were really quite simple, because the first two testers expressed the same issue: too many screens at start essentially discouraged them from continuing (the process had too many steps)! I then removed a number of of paper “screens” from my prototype before the third test, and I think that kept the third test smoother and resulted in more positive usability results.

A sample of screens I deleted based on feedback from paper prototype testing.

Prototype (digital)

Then after a few user tests with the paper prototypes, plus some required iterating after each of those, I eventually used the magical Marvel App to turn these paper scraps into something surprisingly digital and impressively tangible for a mobile device. Please see a demo of my Marvel prototype, which became titled RootBox, below:

First digital prototype in UXDI — meet “RootBox.”

I was able to get this digital prototype infront of two users, and observe them attempt to walk through the same task I assigned during the paper prototype testing. I was very present as part of this usability testing, yet did my best to not guide/suggest/lead if they got stuck. I acted more as a protor might, available for questions but mainly handsoff.

Next Steps

My next steps after testing the Marvel prototype, would be to iterate the digital prototype based on my most recent feedback, before jumping into additional user testing. Then take my big idea over to GrowNYC and turn it into something real!

User Experience Designer | Connector & Collaborator