OpenMic- A Foray Into Design Thinking

Facing The Question: What Is Design Thinking?

When facing the question of “What Is Design Thinking?”, I can think of an unlimited amount of ways that I would have approached this question prior to starting the UXDI course at General Assembly. I found out that it’s one thing to learn the principles of good design (shout out to Dieter Rams) and another thing altogether to actually take any principle that you want and apply it to something tangible. I’ve always been more than a casual observer of “design”, always thinking about it, always trying to find different ways to approach it but never taking the steps to actually attempt to apply it. Design Thinking has a far deeper application structure than I would have ever imagined. I tried to take this structure and properly apply it to my first project.

I was a man of many hats during the process of completing this project. I found myself donning the top hat of project manager, the watch cap of user researcher (Jacques Cousteau of the UX world) and even the hard hat and beret of information architect and interaction designer, respectively. Most importantly, I found myself removing these hats altogether in order to don the role of empathizer.

OpenMic is a project that melded approximately 10 hours of inspiration scattered across three days. It was built from writing instruments, paper, the category of “music” and a bit of love. All of these materials found themselves coming to life as a lo-fi prototype through a wonderful app called Marvel.

OpenMic set out to solve a problem that I thought to find common in the real world — owning the resources necessary to produce and record music is expensive! I assumed that a lot of people love to make music, whether for fun or “professionally” and that many people would love to get their music out into the world but may not have access to the necessary tools required to get going. With this in mind, I recalled many instances where I’ve seen people indulging in great experiences that they may not have everyday access to and this was done through the magic of renting! It brings all the fun of the experience but without the hefty price commitments that come with purchases. Out of this came a solid problem: How might we provide “musicians” with the means to make, produce and record music in an affordable and noncommittal way?

I set out to confirm that this problem was indeed real and conducted 11 user interviews. The questions that I asked were:

  1. Do you consider yourself an avid music listener?
    2. Do you attend any music shows/concerts/events? If so, do they tend to be big or small or does it vary?
    3. Would you say that you enjoy listening to music? If so, how long do you think you’ve enjoyed it rather than just simply listening to it?
    4. Have you done karaoke, did you enjoy it? If so, have you done it for a party or event and would you record it if given the chance?
    5. Have you at any point, made music? Could be from playing an instrument to full on production or recording? If so, how and where have you done it?
    6. Do you think you’d enjoy making music in any form?
    7. When you think of making and recording music “professionally”, do you imagine the process to be difficult or expensive? What do you think some problems would be?
    8. If you suddenly decided that you wanted to start recording music (or if you have), do you think/did you it would be expensive to gather all materials needed: instruments, mixing tools, studio, production, etc.
    9. Would you be more inclined to start doing this (even for fun by yourself or with friends) if the necessary materials/locations were more readily available?
    10. What is your experience with booking apps such as AirBnB or Tentrr? Did you enjoy your experience with either of these or any other booking apps? What are some things that you like/didn’t like?
    11. How much would you be willing to spend for an hour in a specific place? 
    12. Do you like meeting new people?
    13. Do you like networking?
    14. Have you had a past job where you worked on different projects with the same person or same team?
User Interviews

At first, I was definitely aware that I would get important information out of these questions but was not fully aware of what a “leading” question might be, especially when I already had a solution to my problem in mind. My fears were alleviated when people graciously answered all of my questions in full without any extra prodding! Music seemed to be a topic that all of my interviewees enjoyed talking about and my assumptions were confirmed with a resounding “YES”! An interviewee stated that “I am a producer but I can’t operate to the degree that I want to because I cannot afford a soundboard that would take the music I’m working on to the next level”. Another interviewee stated that “I like recording at home with the mic that connects to my computer but I know my tracks could be next level if I had access to an isolation booth”. I immediately thought to myself: I feel both of you. I feel all of you. I want to do something about this. OpenMic is needed and has very important real world implications!

My original concept was composed of what I thought could be an applicable user flow jotted down in my notebook (along with some logo ideas):

Original Sketches

The following sketches formed the basis of my first prototype:

From top left to bottom right, you can find the page flow of OpenMic. The concept here was to take a booking process and emulate it as close to a normal, everyday checkout as possible for something of this nature. It was meant to have an air of familiarity so that the process could be intuitive and have a very accessible level of learnability.

The next step was to run usability tests to see if this flow made sense and if the practical application of this idea was a feasible thing. I also wanted to discover the easiest possible way for someone to get all information needed but still be able to complete the major task of OpenMic in a minimal amount of steps. I did a quick solo dry run, thought it was great, remembered that I wasn’t my user and went out to get the app tested in the real world.

I’ll buy you a drink if you test my prototype!

I asked all 11 of my interviewees to test what came out of their answers to my original questions and 11/11 were successfully able to complete the task at hand! A few offered interface suggestions which I used to clean up ambiguous icons and buttons and add more detail to what was otherwise blank space and thus the final lo-fi prototype of OpenMic was born!

I set out to create an app that could help people have a voice and I wanted to apply my ideas of design principles and design thinking to this project. I learned that I have a lot to refine but if I followed the steps thoroughly: Empathize-Design-Ideate-Prototype-Test, I could truly make something that could make a difference to my user. In my journey, I was happy to find people to call my users, I was happy to find ways to empathize with them, and to get others to empathize as well. I learned that UX is a truly applicable field, one that finds itself centered in every major cornerstone of our daily lives, and by approaching design thinking in a human centered way, things could be much easier! I am excited to continue this UX journey and to provide that open mic. Everyone has something that deserves to be heard and through truly understanding what our users need, we can give them a platform to say those things.