Eight months ago, I walked into the offices of Visual Logic Group and began my uncertain journey as a UX intern.
Before I stepped into the office, I knew nothing about what went into making a user experience cohesive, useful and usable. My experiences as a still-in-school graphic designer never allowed me the opportunity to learn anything about UX, much less how to research, build and test a functioning product.
In November, VLG assigned my coworker and fellow intern Andrew Sladky and I a project with simple directions: take what we’ve taught you and make an application that makes giving items to charity an easier process.
The Pre-stages: Learning
When Andrew and I began this project, we still had a lot of learning to do. Our mentors at Visual Logic spent time sitting us down in planned lessons with a textbook in hand, teaching us the ins-and-outs of user experience design. Not only that, they assigned us client projects to help us apply those specific skills on a smaller scale. The early process of learning and applying was highly informative and critical to our development as junior UX professionals.
By November of 2015, Andrew and I were well into VLG’s UX Curriculum. The charity project was presented to us and we were told to begin considering avenues of exploration. We were nudged in the direction of doing user and business research in order to gain an understanding of what we were up against.
One of Visual Logic’s core philosophies is becoming vulnerable and asking ‘dumb questions’ when in initial meetings. Opening yourself up to the client and letting them tell you their process and challenges, while acknowledging that we’re not the experts in their business, is key to getting good data in the first stages of research.
Our interviews were conducted with local charities and donors with those tenets in mind. We dropped all of our assumptions about how charities operate and how donors give, and simply listened to how things are done from their perspectives. At first it was a challenging process, but we gained valuable insight into our users by leaving our assumptions at the door.
With all of the data from interviews, we developed robust personas, their mental models, and narratives to help us design for our app’s target users.
Ideation is a critical component of any design process. In the case of building GiveBox, our ideation revolved around developing a solution that was useful and usable to our personas, while still being viable within the timeframe of the project.
Andrew and I filled up a 15-foot whiteboard multiple times with ideas, interactions, charts, and solutions. We were collaboratively applying our background skills with everything we learned in our lessons and in our research.
Jumping head-first into this process was something unfamiliar to me as well – no class or previous internship has ever given me the opportunity to collaborate and ideate on this scale. It was difficult to wrap our heads around developing this product from scratch, but we were determined to find a way.
Building and Designing
Ideation never stopped throughout the process. The whiteboard was always a valuable tool, but we migrated to low-fidelity wireframes as a way to figure out how interactions would work in the functioning app. During this process, we consulted with full-time designers in order to refocus our process or cultivate different directions.
This part of the process allowed us articulate the goals of the application with considered interactions and defined interface goals. It gave us a way to weed out weak designs and develop a strong and viable direction for the app.
By the time we moved onto developing polished, high-fidelity screens and prototypes, most of the heavy lifting was already complete. The foundation we built through meetings, whiteboarding, and iterating was a solid base to build from. Coinciding with creating that foundation, we also built the “desirable” part of the app. The design direction relied on the research of our users – it focused on creating a feeling of connection, convenience, and openness. Through this, we developed a consistent set of icons, brand colors, logos, and marks that reflected the app’s mission.
The last, but arguably most important, part of the process was testing the application on real users. Again, this was something new to me. But the process of venturing out into the community revealed a number of considerations and flaws in our design. It was a learning experience for both of us, not only in terms of design, but also in terms of professionalism. It was hard holding our tongues while watching our users struggle to find a button on the screen!
When we wrapped up the testing process, we discovered common threads in how donors and charities were both confused and delighted by their experiences. With that data in hand, we created a list of features and fixes for future releases. Again, everything was focused on creating a better experience for the user.
VLG intern's final presentation. Tough assignment with amazing results. I'm impressed by the whole process. pic.twitter.com/UxohpuybMZ— Kurt Vander Wiel (@kurtisjon) April 15, 2016
When it was all said and done, Andrew and I presented our project to Visual Logic’s directors. We created a 50-page deliverable outlining every step of our process, as well as the solutions we arrived at. In a two-hour presentation, we communicated our design decisions effectively and clearly.
Both of us truly took every skill in our toolboxes and applied them to our project in some way. We went through every step of the UX process to arrive at a viable and very developed product. Learning from UX experts in each area was an incredible privilege – there is no doubt that without their help, the project would never had gotten off the ground.
The entirety of my internship was the greatest personal and professional learning experience I have had so far. It was an incredible challenge and I often worked out of my comfort zone, but in doing so I was able to help develop a product that exceeded what I thought I was capable of. There isn’t a project I am more proud of or more happy to have been a part of.
Check out the final product, here.
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