© 2019 by Iva Randelshofer, MA, UXC

Meander

Record your ideas with this mobile app.

THE STARTING POINT

This one was one of the rare projects with a heavily user-centric approach. There were very few specifications upfront, apart from creating a service app that should support professionals in the creative industry with their work. I was the sole UX person for this project, but the planning has scheduled for an extended research and design phase, so I had plenty of opportunities to investigate and follow up on user needs and expectations.  

NEED FINDING

Since I had the opportunity to start from scratch, I went for the traditional need finding first. For this, I choose I few methodologies, I wanted to follow up to get the most diverse results.

Few pages from the need finding strategy document / design brief

1. Survey: First of all, I sent out a survey to determine some basic topics of interest and possibly already find out about essential needs and pain-points with tools among people in the creative industry.

2. Diary Studies: Next step was to select several participants for a diary study. It was scheduled for one week and the participants were asked to write a journal about their workflows and set-ups, especially focusing on how they deal and record any spontaneous ideas they want to follow up later. My main point of interest was to find out what kind of tools they use for this and how they store such scribbles, notes, records etc.

3. Observational Studies: Afterwards, I continued with observations and dedicated one day for each participant. I would focus on their workflow when starting to work on a new piece of work, their tools and how their accessed their collections of ideas, they wanted to use for that specific work.

4. Semi-Structured Interviews: I concluded my need finding research with a conversation / interview with each participant, specifically asking them about their needs, issues they usually have with accessing memos or recordings, as well as their specific expectations, ideas and preferred solutions, to get a better overview about the whole issue, so I could convey this input into the design document later.

Some pictures participants took during their diary studies on how they note/sketch ideas

KEY FINDINGS

When it has to be fast, I even scribble on a napkin.

[Quote from user research]

The next step was to evaluate all the data I collected from the survey, diary studies, observations and interviews. For this, I defined a set of key findings, based on the feedback and research. Below, are the top 6 from my list:

1. Inspiration often comes spontaneously during different times of the day: Every single participant stated different times or activities that inspires them on getting new ideas. While they sometimes have the time to write/sketch/... down they ideas, sometimes, they are in an environment that makes it impossible for them to use their hands or any additional tools (such as driving the car, or taking a shower,...)

2. Instant access to recording tools is required:

There seems to be a high demand of having fast to immediate access to any tool that is suppose to support the participant with recording spontaneous ideas, so there is no perceived interruption between ideating and starting the workflow. 

3. Tangible beats digital thanks to its speed and accessibility:

All participants agreed on one point: Any tool they'd use has to be accessible immediately and anytime. Currently most digital procedures for recording ideas are subjectively perceived as way more time consuming and bothersome, so participants favored tangible, analogue tools.

4. Multiple tools/hardware/software are being used at the same time:

Those participants that were additionally using digital tools to record their ideas, did not stick to just one tool. Rather they had a bunch of different tools that covered different needs depending on the nature of the inspiration and idea.

5. The work environment is a blend of tangible and digital tools:

All participants actively used analogue and digital media during their workflow and made use of it at all stages of their creative process. It was not possible to say, whether some tools were actually obsolete at some point, since they were treated with the same importance, even though used with different approaches.

6. The variety of recording tools leads to the loss of ideas:

Several participants mentioned that with all the different devices and approaches on how to collect and record ideas, they quickly lose the overview about all the locations and the inability to sync to one common space. This might ultimately lead to a loss of ideas that already have been recorded.

When I write down notes, it's always hand-written, never digital. Manually just seems to be the fastest and most convenient way for me.

But then I end up with post-its and memos all over the place, until it's hard to keep track of them.

[Quote from user research]

DEFINING USER NEEDS

Based on all this information, we decided to give it a try: We wanted to create that one application that would store all recorded ideas and inspiration in one place and offers immediate access, so people would not perceive it as a time-consuming hurdle to launch and use it when it has to go fast.

Before making any decision about technology or platform, we tried to look more into our users' behavior and define which functionalities they'd need to record their ideas.

SCENARIOS & USER JOURNEYS

To figure out which possible (or impossible) scenarios our users might encounter that leads them to recording ideas, I created storyboards for our developers to illustrate the variety of user needs for our upcoming application.

Additionally to this, I created a first draft of a user journey that focused on the most important interaction steps in the first place.

LET'S START PROTOTYPING

The first round of rapid, low-fidelity prototyping was done in Balsamiq to make sure, nobody talks about graphics and visuals at this point, since it was still all about functionality and features in general. I created prototypes for the launching process, the actual user journey within the application on a mobile device, as well as for an desktop application. 

In the later process, there was a strategic decision to focus only on the mobile app and keep the idea of the desktop version for later, if at all, depending on further user feedback. After this, I tested and iterated the mobile version-prototype several times and focused specifically on the recording process, as it was crucial to achieve a seamless and non-intrusive experience with this main functionality.

LABELING OF CATEGORIES

As we decided to go for four different categories, our users could select from, when deciding to record an inspiration, it was crucial to go back to our users now and make sure, we communicate those four approaches appropriately. For this, I initiated a card-sorting session to find out how the categories should be named (until now, we called them sketching, audio recording, writing and mind-mapping). But maybe our users preferred something more fancy or creative? Or rather something even bolder and straight-forward?

PANDORA'S BOX IN HIGH FIDELITY

After several prototype iterations on mid-fidelity level, I moved over to create some high-fidelity screens to determine the overall look in production quality. As the initial interviews and the card-sorting have shown, users expected something rather unique when it came to storing their own ideas, something rather mysterious, enigmatic.

Somehow, this reminds me of Pandora's box... a place where one's secret thoughts are stored.

[Quote from card sorting]

So Pandora's Box became the main idea for the app's visual style. The background was supposed to be dark and the main four categories were designed as an archaic box that could be rotated by swiping, each side representing one of those four categories.

This visualization was the basis for the further visual style that followed. I created all the screens and based on them, I updated the prototype, now in a polished, production-quality version for upcoming user testing.

A/B TESTING

Even though the idea with the swipe-able box for the four main functionalities seemed like a really fancy idea in the first place, I got my doubts about its actual effectiveness.

It's 'Form follows function' after all, so wasn't this feature more pretty than usable, especially, if recording had to happen fast? So I tried a different take on the main screen, more simplified, with only one functionality, to reduce the click / swipe-effort in the first place.

Initial "Cube" Version

New"Symbol" Version

The A/B testing that I performed afterwards, supported my assumptions here. While participants really liked the fancy display of the cube, they also stated that this interaction can become pretty bothersome, especially after some time and repeated use. They mostly preferred the straight-forward version, since it only takes just one click to launch the recording of any idea, without having to decide first, which type of recording/idea it has to be. Also, the instructions needed to navigate by the symbol are much less than those needed to explain how to navigate the cube. So I decided to go for the simplified version and abandon the cube for the sake of usability.

USER TESTING

The final step before actual development was an extended round of user testing of the prototype in production quality. For this, I created a user-testing manual with a throughout breakdown of information given to the participants, as well an assignment sheet and planned for post-testing interviews with the participants. 

Evaluation Plan

Assignment and control points for user testing

There was a detailed evaluation plan and defined control-points for the upcoming user testing to make sure, each participant would be presented with the same setup and the same pieces of information.

The users were asked to interact with the prototype to record their ideas, as well as to save and modify them in the next steps. They also were asked to navigate through the gallery/library and chance settings. This way, I wanted to make sure that both, the main functionality of the recording, as well as secondary interactions, such as randomly navigating through the app were seamless and understandable.

KEY LEARNINGS & NEXT STEPS

Overall, the prototype received good feedback, the participants liked the look and the clarity of interactions. They stated that they had a pretty good overview about the main functionality and felt in control during the assignment.

Overall, the prototype received good feedback, the participants liked the look and the clarity of interactions. They stated that they had a pretty good overview about the main functionality and felt in control during the assignment.

Two main areas of improvement for future development

 

1. As some improvements for the future, several participants suggested to look into the editing-functionality of the app, especially in the area of sound- and picture editing, since there are apps that already offer such functionality with a high user satisfaction. So one possible option would be to team up with third-party apps to enable users to to edit their ideas in their apps of choice, they are most familiar with and limit our app to an idea-recording and storing application.

2. Add a fifth possibility to record ideas, by allowing the users to simply access their mobile phone's camera and take a picture.

 

3. Also, additional technologies are being investigated, to make idea-recording even more accessible and context-sensitive, such as integration of voice-control / Siri and the integration of carplay-technology.