Natalie Isaacson
Nov 9, 2019 · 12 min read

New Path for Single Moms: A UX Case Study (Journey)

Setting the Scene

Statistics tell a story — and this story is an unfortunate one.

Odds are that 1 in 4 people were raised by a single mother in the U.S. — and nearly 27% of single moms were jobless the entire year. About one-third were considered poor and food insecure. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018) https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/

With this crisis in mind, my team and I aimed to create a one-stop website resource for the essential needs of unemployed or low-income single mothers to get started on their path to a stable or more sustainable income.

Brief

Help low-income and unemployed single mothers earn a living wage.

Users

Our User would be a low-income or unemployed single mother looking to earn a living wage. Overall we wanted our Users to feel like they have the essential tools to reach their goals by using our product.

Team and Roles

I was on a team with two other designers. My role included collaborating with my team and working as a researcher, surveyor, interviewer, note-taker, analyst, designer, and user-tester. I also helped develop the User Story Map, Site Map, and one-third of the Low-Fidelity Wireframes. I designed, prototyped, and user-tested the High-Fidelity wireframes.

Scope

We had 5 weeks to research, design, prototype, and test this website.

We used the 5 Planes of User Experience for our design process and made sure we kept our design human-centered.

Jesse James Garrett 5 Planes of User Experience

We first collaborated as a team to brainstorm assumptions we had about low-income or unemployed single moms. This process helped generate ideas and areas of opportunity for our product. It also identified areas we needed to explore more with our survey and interview questions.

Survey

Next, we used those assumptions and hypotheses to craft survey questions which we gave to Facebook Mom groups, forums, family, friends, and other connections we had to single moms. After deliberation, we pared down our questions to 9 questions that would give us the insight needed for our end product. We were careful in the way we approached people and the questions we asked due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

The main insights that we gathered from the survey shifted our perspective from our original assumptions. It opened areas of opportunity that we initially thought wouldn’t be helpful for Users. The results were fascinating and gave me inspiration for some ideas, such as giving more education options for different levels of investment and time.

The results showed that 50% were willing to invest 1 year or more in education or job training. Also that they were equally willing to try about anything to bring in more income. There were also multiple massive stressors of being a single mom and they all weighed heavily.

Survey graphs and results with main insights

Interviews

The survey results helped us gain understanding for our users. But the real empathy came as I interviewed three single mothers, heard their stories, and felt the raw emotion of their situation. These moms had been through horrific things, but somehow managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and provide for their kids. They experienced domestic violence, divorce, death of a spouse, suicide of a spouse, disability of a child, mental illness, and financial hardship.

Their comments and stories felt so hard, heavy, and gave the sense that they are in constant survival mode and feel the full weight of the world on their shoulders.

We crafted questions to give us more depth on the intense emotions and experiences that single moms face. Our group interviewed seven single mothers and two recruiters who had interviewed hundreds of people. I appreciated the vulnerability and humanity of this stage of the process.

We gathered these main insights as we coded each interview into common categories of pain points that were touched on multiple times throughout the interviews. Their experiences and emotions were so similar, particularly with emotional stress, parenthood, time constraints, and job flexibility.

Common categories of pain points that we discovered in our interviews

Based on key insights from our survey responses and interviews, we created a User Persona which served as our compass for design decisions. Our Persona, “Jennifer,” is a Rehab Specialist with three kids who wants to be financially independent, negotiate a higher salary, and wants to feel like she’s a good enough parent. We also included the universal frustrations of needing job flexibility to be with her family, feeling defeated with investing in herself and her career, and the pressure of dealing with everything on her own.

Throughout all processes with the flow, I brought up our Persona’s perspective to make sure we were looking at it from the right angle and with a healthy dose of empathy. I’d say, “Ok, let’s think, what would Jennifer want/do/expect/feel…”. This exercise gave us the foundational ideas of our product and kept us on track for providing solutions that would resonate with our users.

User Persona for Single Mom

Creating a User Story Map was a challenging experience because we wanted to have the “Swiss Army Knife” solution to all single mom challenges — and they have a LOT of challenges. We deliberated as a team, and decided on these final areas for the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). (Spoiler: this was repeatedly cut down throughout our design process and was one of our most difficult challenges — and also where I grew the most).

Overall, we wanted to help our users become financially independent and emotionally well by finding a career path, investing in themselves, searching for jobs, gaining financial education, and becoming part of a community for support.

Determining the structure of our website posed several challenges with the information architecture, content, navigation, and flow. Again, we had many difficult discussions where we agreed to cut down our extraneous functions that did not serve the main goals of our users.

We cut out features like Financial Planning, Childcare Options, and Wellness Experts. With each pruning we felt like we could focus more on the main objectives of our product: Education and Job Search.

Card sorting, the site map, and the user flow map were crucial elements to the process. The naming conventions, navigation, and functions transformed multiple times during these stages. We recognized weak areas of our product offering and how thing might be interpreted differently. I was proud of our team as our product changed in trajectory.

We sketched many design ideas and elements for our website using the 10x10 method — with the goal to keep it simple, optimistic, and empowering.

Open/closed card sorts & sketches of user flow map and low-fidelity sketches
Site map being cut down, simplified, and transformed

We created low-fidelity wireframes of all essential interactions and made a prototype for testing. With feedback from two design reviews and a few user tests, we decided to pivot and cut our features even more and change some nomenclature. Design reviews were very helpful and I ended up with pages of notes to test, change, and tweak the design.

We also incorporated a friendly and valuable onboarding experience throughout our product, including progress bars, encouraging copy, and calls to action.

Low-fidelity wireframes created in Sketch

At this stage, our team separated to finish the project individually so we could each experience designing and making decisions for the final product. This made some things easier to decide and others more difficult when I wanted to bounce ideas off of others — a key part of the design process and an element that I really enjoy.

It was difficult to filter through the feedback from design reviews and weigh their value in the eyes of our Persona. I made a handful of adjustments to my designs, such as the information architecture of the main navigation: moving the networking and resume builder to the resources tab.

I sought the advice from my users, mentors, and colleagues. Then I decided to change the navigation to only Education, Job Search, and Resources. This input was hard sometimes because it meant starting from scratch on many designs, but I knew it would be worth it. Feedback always led me to a better, cleaner, more usable experience — and I trusted that pattern would continue.

After testing this new layout, users were easily able to navigate through the tasks.

Once I was satisfied that the foundation was set, I began my high-fidelity designs by crafting a style guide to keep my designs unified and on-brand. I created a logo, color palette, typography, and style that reflected the goals for our users. Mainly I wanted them to feel it was simple, optimistic, and empowering throughout the job searching process.

I chose a palette and modern style that gave a slight feminine feel and a sense of belonging and encouragement. The biggest thing we heard in our interviews and from our survey results was that single moms feel very alone and burdened. I wanted the theme of a “New Path” with my website name to feel like we would be with them every step of the way.

Style guide for high-fidelity wireframes
High-fidelity wireframes

One of the single moms that we interviewed was still recovering from a stroke when she gave birth to her twins and became paralyzed on her left side. This story has stuck with me and I wanted to make sure the website was usable for those with accessibility complications. I ensured my website headings were clear for the content structure, all links were clear, there were no confusing overlays, and content could potentially be accessed by keyboard alone.

After another design review I received some great feedback on my high-fidelity designs. I got feedback on my colors, hierarchy, copy, and spacing, as well as some other helpful tidbits. I addressed the majority of the feedback, but still felt like I needed more feedback, so I sought the trained eyes of my mentors. Between these helpful lists of feedback I pushed myself in my creative and visual design.

Overall, I felt satisfied that each page gave users a sense of clean, clear, and encouraging design and copy.

See full video on Vimeo link below or click here to interact with full prototype: https://invis.io/RHUNXZH8WNY#/390369953_Profile_Login

Hi-fi closeups

I love to learn and reflect on my progress — and let me tell you, my design calf muscles are herculean after this journey. Here are a few areas of my growth:

Design growth

Research. I developed some great interviewing and survey techniques and I’m excited to get to this part on future projects. Humanity is the DNA of great design. I also enjoyed interviewing and would like to interview several more moms to gain a greater understanding and depth to their needs.

Focus on the MVP. I learned my lesson here. And though I’ll always want to solve ALL the problems — I’ll be better at deciphering the bite size I can actually chew. Our attempts created inefficiency and time we should have spent polishing the true MVP. Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved…when there is nothing left to take away.” Our product is far from perfection. But when needed pruning (although painful) took place, the product felt like it had more room to breathe and felt closer to a standard of perfection.

Test test test. With each user test, I felt like a miner who struck gold. Each little nugget of insight gave greater clarity to the goals and usability of the product. Call me a gold-digger, but I was fascinated and motivated by the potential value you could strike with even a 3-minute usability test. I tested as often as I could, but there were still moments that I probably should have tested more along the way. Particularly in the stages between lo-fi to hi-fi designs, the best solutions and designs would have surfaced much quicker if I had tested more in every iteration.

Visual Design. Creating the surface that the entire design system is judged by — was intimidating. Crafting it into something that would empower single moms to do hard things, like finding a job or asking for a raise — was daunting. However, when I put myself in the users’ shoes and reflected on their stories, I had the most progress in developing uplifting and inspiring designs. I pushed myself, asked for a lot of feedback, and referenced the tried and true HIG and Material Design.

Soft Skills Growth

Feedback. Asking for, implementing, sifting through, and applying feedback is a crucial skill which improved every time I practiced it. It takes loads of vulnerability and humility. I discovered that feedback is like a muscle that you can only strengthen by pushing past your comfort zone — flex that feedback.

Collaboration. The key is remembering that my ideas are worthless in isolation — and can become priceless with collaboration. I’m constantly blown away by the beautiful spectrum of perspectives from all kinds of people and the power of bouncing ideas off one brain to another until it evolves into something brilliant. I grew a foot taller in my design collaboration skills and I’ll sing the praises of collaboration until I die.

Listening. I put in a lot of effort to be an active listener and understand what my teammates and colleagues were saying. This practice helped me gain greater insights and circle back to the ideas that a teammate might not have had a chance to fully explain.

Empathy. Everyone has a story that has chapters so dark it’s impossible to imagine, but when you just try to imagine their experience it can open a realm of empathy and understanding. This is where powerful design lies.

Next steps

If I were to continue this product into actual existence, I would love to spend more time — you guessed it — testing. I am so curious about how this website would test with actual single moms and whether it would resonate with their pain points or not. I would enjoy seeing the response to the information architecture or iterating on the nitty gritty differences of colors or content tone. This project hit close to home and I’m curious if it would be something that could change lives.

I couldn’t have done this without my rockstar team and “hiking” buddies on this journey: Chad Allen Zollinger and Steven Warren, who are talented designers, collaborators, and stellar human beings — many thanks! And shoutout to my rad mentors, Olivia Laboriel, Spencer Rich, and Cooper Swenson — it takes a village.

Natalie Isaacson

Portfolio for Natalie D.

Thanks to Olivia Laboriel

Natalie Isaacson

Written by

UX Designer | SLC, UT | I discover solutions and make humans happy with delightful digital experiences — in between bites of jalapeño chips.

Natalie Isaacson

Portfolio for Natalie D. Isaacson | Utah-based UX Designer | I’m an advocate for happy humans — whether that’s solving frustrating design problems, offering a delightful digital experience, ensuring each voice is heard, or throwing out a joke when things get too serious.

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