I’ve omitted confidential information in this case study. All information presented is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of 1–800 Contacts. Protecting their privacy, processes, and customer data is my primary concern.
UX methodologies played a vital role in the design, development, and launch of the ability for consumers to renew their contact lens prescription using the 1–800 Contacts website and native apps.
This case study explores my process, responsibilities, and how team collaboration fueled the launch of this cutting-edge service. I was fortunate to be listed on the design patent as one of the inventors of ExpressExam (design patent pending).
Role: UX Designer
Location: Salt Lake City, UT, United States
Duration: May 2017 — December 2019
I was responsible for the customer journey, interaction design, wireframes, prototypes, micro-interactions, usability tests, and visual design for the native apps (iOS & Android) and responsive web (desktop & mobile web).
Metrics being tracked were the number of exams, order conversion rate involving exams, average order size involving exams.
Many other teams in the organization were involved and I’ll do my best to give them credit where it’s most definitely due. I couldn’t have seen this project through without their expertise, creativity, and direction.
At its core, UX is problem-solving. A hypothesis needs to be made and assumptions should guide initial thoughts towards a solution. At the onset, we hypothesized that:
- Running out of contacts is a frustrating experience
- There are a limited number of services that let you renew your prescription quickly, and still consider the long-term health of your eyes
- If your contact lens prescription expires and you still see clearly, it’s an expensive, time-consuming ordeal to have your prescription renewed
With the ever-present advancements in telemedicine and the different paths our lives take us, the Business Development team moved forward with a bold assertion:
“It’s time to rethink the way people buy vision.”
Know What to Build By Getting to Know Your Customer
The Marketing Research and Business Development teams set out to challenge these assumptions by talking to customers all throughout the United States. Focus groups were conducted, surveys were sent, and many individuals were contacted personally for feedback.
These teams did a stellar job at connecting with customers, gathering research, and synthesizing the data. There was a resounding theme permeating the qualitative and quantitative results which couldn’t be ignored:
- Customers indeed hated running out of contacts
- They found it difficult, and sometimes unnecessary, to schedule an appointment with their eye doctor when their life was already so hectic
- They think contact lenses and exams are expensive and are looking for ways to manage costs
Assumptions challenged and validated — we were confident in the direction we were heading.
Senior Leadership now had a clear insight into the needs of the customers and ignited excitement in their direct reports to design, develop and launch a solution.
We felt aligned with the needs of customers and our findings were in perfect harmony with the long-standing, core mission at 1–800 Contacts:
“[We’re] Changing the way people buy vision, making it simple and affordable.”
We hit the ground running to build something life-changing, safe, and fresh for contact lens wearers.
Enter — ExpressExam.
Letting Empathy Guide the Design
After conducting research and building empathy with the customer base, I was tasked with crafting the story map and bringing the customer journey to life. Basing the stories on goals, I created a narrative flow for the user.
Here’s an example scenario:
“As a contact lens wearer, I need an affordable, convenient way to renew my prescription and order contacts so that I can see my son play at his basketball game this weekend.”
There’s a much deeper purpose and meaning about why customers order contact lenses. Nobody wants to spend hundreds of dollars for a year’s supply of contact lenses… but we do it anyway, right?
Talking to customers directly unveiled their true realities and brought what was once obscure into a clear, genuine understanding.
- They order contacts so they can witness their child’s first steps
- They order contacts to stay safe on the roads while driving
- They order contacts to live a more fulfilling, experience-rich life!
We were determined that we would only be truly satisfied if the design contributed to better life experiences for customers.
Envisioning the Customer Journey through User Story Maps
It was a challenging undertaking to consider the full scope of their journey. This wouldn’t be a separate site or app but integrated seamlessly into the existing experience, which historically had only been used to sell contact lenses. No pressure, right?
I led several discussions to help establish an MVP with Stakeholders, Product Managers, and Product Design.
The user story map provided clear guidance and visibility to the goals and tasks customers would perform. It wasn’t without its flaws. Sticky notes were moved, ideas were challenged, and we all learned how to provide helpful feedback. Referring to it often, the story map gave me, the developers, and product managers a precise look at what the minimum viable product should be.
Pen, Paper & Wireframe Concepts
With user goals defined and an MVP established, sketches in my dot-grid notebook began to breathe life into the user interface. I love this stage of the UX process — ideas are free to flow and aren’t yet subject to style and color.
Pen and paper concepts were transferred to Sketch & Adobe XD for low-fidelity mockups. The teams continued to meet frequently to discuss the customer’s journey, legal constraints, and paths the customer would take to make it through the purchase funnel.
I made it a priority to involve key players early in the process of brainstorming and wireframing. I regularly included Developers, Product Managers, and Stakeholders. It was wonderful to see them get up during meetings, grab a marker, and brainstorm their ideas with the group!
Testing Early and Experimenting Often
During the infant stages of ExpressExam, we involved customers through moderated user testing. We wanted them to test initial concepts for flow, understanding, and usability. These findings were recorded, analyzed, and presented in recap sessions to expand team thinking and inform future iterations.
User testing allowed us to ask questions, observe, listen, and take notes. Participant responses & feedback provided the recipe to ExpressExam’s “secret sauce” of success. Testing with humans often revealed key learnings that served as the catalyst for an improved design.
Involving Developers in Design = Mind Blown
Hands down, the most fascinating stage of this project was watching Software Developers participate in the creation of ExpressExam.
I watched day after day as their creativity blossomed. They were constantly thinking, out of their seats, stretching the limits of device capabilities, and having fun along the way. Their design suggestions were essential to the process.
I knew when I saw the Pythagorean Theorem (a long-forgotten math formula in my pea-sized brain) on the whiteboard that these geniuses knew what they were doing — they weren't going to settle for anything but the best.
Seeing the designs come to life through their engineering prowess was absolutely astounding — They were the magicians of ExpressExam.
Patents, Laws & Regulations
It’s an interesting beast to tackle when there are countless legal requirements and the laws change from state to state in the U.S. so frequently.
We were fortunate to have a skilled Legal Team by our side through the process. As legal advocates, they kept us informed with specific requirements, conditions, doctor input, and criteria to consider as we built ExpressExam. They took the reins when it came to terms, conditions, and legal decorum.
Their involvement was another subtle reminder that I didn’t have, and couldn’t possibly have had all the answers. We needed them for the product to launch successfully. It was another learning stage in the creation of the product.
I’ll refrain from sharing the specifics — it was another ingredient to the secret sauce. However, their feedback proved invaluable and we knew what to do: Wash, rinse, and repeat the UX process through informed iterations and tests.
I created various design concepts for the design patent and iterated on different ways we could astonish and delight our customers with an exceptional, forward-thinking experience.
Taking Ownership of Design Mistakes
As ExpressExam inched closer to a launch date, polish and shine started to work their way into the design.
Then… I made the mistake of going design-rogue.
The designs I delivered weren’t on par with the 1-800 Contacts brand. While the user interface looked pretty, it wasn’t 1–800 Contacts. It wasn’t on-brand and it wasn’t their tone — plain and simple.
That’s when my designs started to get messy and I felt lost, nervous, and unsure of how to proceed. We’d made so much progress and now I was getting hung up on the high-fidelity concepts? Why? I thought the UX process was supposed to fix that.
Thank You Style Guide — Thank You Creative Department.
To my rescue came the seasoned Creative Department. They beautifully & seamlessly injected the company’s tone into the copy. They gave the experience a friendly, personable vibe. It was a painful lesson learned, which was to involve them much earlier in the process.
Utilizing a well-established style guide, we worked together to adhere to the brand guidelines and bring life to the screens in an engaging, smooth way.
With a blend of harmonious color, style, and tone, it now felt right. With a touch of personality, ExpressExam now felt like an experience, rather than steps and tedious tasks to complete.
I was fortunate to be surrounded and guided by their years of experience. Their input and direction were crucial to the end product. I simply worked with the style guide that had been in place for years and it unlocked creative freedom in the design.
That was a rookie mistake I will never make again.
Product Launch & Impact
It’s an exciting time when your creations go live. Launching to the world represents the blood, sweat, and tears everyone poured into the product.
ExpressExam is revolutionizing the way people renew their contact lens prescriptions. It’s giving customers safe, ethical options in a busy, hectic world.
It’s my belief that at 1–800 Contacts, we designed, developed, and launched a product that genuinely meets the needs of customers. The product continues to evolve through research & feedback, all the while making the customer’s life a little bit easier.
1–800 Contacts founder, Jonathan Coon, shared this advice years ago:
“Everything starts with the customer and works backwards from there.”
It’s a Team Effort
My role as UX designer allowed me to interface with nearly every department in the organization. But, that required my own initiative to get up out of my chair and start those conversations. We argued, we agreed on things, and we built something astounding by talking to one another.
This is why I firmly believe:
Design happens when we stand up.
ExpressExam was a team effort. It was a privilege to work on it with such extraordinary talent.
- Business Analysts and Call Center Agents kept us informed. They were on the front lines of customer feedback and provide the means by which the experience improved daily.
- Analytics Team dug in daily to the numbers and delivered key data points and metrics to enhance the experience.
- Developers continued their quest to improve the customer journey, working their hi-tech magic and baking it into the details.
- Product Managers & VPs strategically steered the teams to execute a customer-centered plan.
- Creative and Marketing teams crafted beautiful emails, Facebook ads, Instagram stories, and more to entice, engage and teach the customer about ExpressExam.
These teams embodied one of 1–800 Contacts’ core values, which states:
“We win as a team.”
You can’t help but love your job and the products you build when you march forward with that attitude.
Enough Talk, Try it Yourself
ExpressExam is available online or on one of the 5-star rated apps.
iOS App — 1-800 Contacts
The 1-800 Contacts app is the fastest, easiest, and downright pleasantest (totally a word) way to order contact…
1800 Contacts - Lens Store - Apps on Google Play
The 1-800 CONTACTS app is the fastest, easiest, and most enjoyable way to order contact lenses. Where else can you…
More UX case studies
UX Case Study: Designing a Bike Share App in 5 Days
How to tackle a design challenge on a short timeline.
UX Case Study: Designing the 1–800 Contacts Mobile App
A team of dedicated humans, designing an app used by humans.
UX Case Study: Melaleuca Inc. — The Wellness Company
The five pillars of success as a UX Designer in e-commerce.
I’d love your thoughts, feedback, and impressions as you read through this article. Please consider leaving a comment, following me, and asking any questions you might have. 👏👏👏
Mike Curtis (aka Uncle Mikey) helps amplify people and products through human-centered design. With 20+ years experience in design, marketing, e-commerce, and UX, his passion is helping people & businesses apply their skills to the way they’re experienced by others. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or follow his writing here on Medium.