Facilitating Positive User Relationships with their Productivity Tools

Overview

In this team-of-one capstone project for Springboard's UX bootcamp, I researched and iterated on a personal project management solution over the course of five months. Being a type-A creative professional motivated me to design in the productivity niche and add value for fellow creatives needing approachable project management tools.

Problem

People don't always have positive relationships with their personal projects. Negative project relationships can lead to difficulty with management or even beginning other projects in the future.

Solution

I designed a web application — Amber—with a customizable grid, allowing users to to build out projects in the style that best fits their needs. Amber also provides a generative workspace where users can safely imagine new projects.

Validation

Two rounds of usability testing resulted in 100% successful task completion through the application's red routes. Design iteration between testing rounds cut reported usability concerns in half.

Process

My design approach models Design Council's double diamond, emphasizing the divergent and convergent thinking inherent to design. The deliverables featured in this case study are highlighted in the list below.

Discover

Secondary research
Competitor heuristic analysis
Screening survey
User Interviews

Define

Affinity diagram
Empathy maps
Data-driven personas
User stories
User flows
Sitemap

Develop

Sketches
Wireframes
Wireflows
Mood board
Style guide
High-fidelity mocks

Deliver

Clickable prototype
Moderated usability tests
Retrospective

An Opportunity Niche

Project management solutions often emphasize professional use cases, particularly for distributed teams. Software like Jira, Asana, or Smartsheet are feature-heavy and difficult to learn for casual users looking to manage their personal projects. I opened a research inquiry to understand how people were tackling their personal projects with existing tools.

User interviews revealed that people often didn't have centralized management solutions. Instead, they were using a variety of digital and paper products depending largely upon the type of project they were managing. The affinity diagram below synthesizes data gathered during the interview process, isolating key, recurring ideas.

I began the discovery phase with the assumption that project management was often a positive, creative outlet. On the contrary,  the affinity diagram highlights interviewees' self-directed frustration. Some personal projects cultivated negative relationships. People reported not only that the negativity impacted their current projects, but that it impeded new projects down the line.

I re-interpreted my interview data into three user personas, seen below. "Embarrassed Emilio," the persona encapsulating those people with negative project relationships, was of particular interest. I refined my problem-space centering "Emilios" as my users. How could I design a project management solution that would facilitate a more positive relationship between user and project? And how could I provide space for those users to safely envision new projects?

Testing Design Patterns: Widgets

I sketched thumbnails of possible solutions and worked through potential user flows. I knew that my potential users already had many management tools in their toolbelt. Instead of competing with these tools, I ideated on ways to help users centralize their materials. I experimented with the idea of a corkboard, where users could arrange a variety of materials in one place.

The corkboard gave way to a digital canvas where users could arrange "widgets" much like they would on a cellphone. The widgets integrated with existing tools (Google Calendar, Sheets, etc.) and could be arranged and resized by the user. This customizability would allow users to build out workspaces with materials they were most comfortable with and eliminate any unwanted feedback or information from the interface that might contribute to users' negative feelings.

Early usability testing with paper sketches (above) revealed that "widgets" were not as well-known of a design pattern as expected. Results split when it came to user familiarity with widgets. Android users were likelier to anticipate that widgets could be moved and resized thanks to Android's longtime application of widgets in their cellphones. On the other hand, iPhone users were largely unacclimated to the concept and struggled to understand both the utility and limitations of widgets.

In subsequent iterations of my design (wireframes below), I scrapped "widgets" in name for app-specific terminology. I opted for "tiles," which has a more intuitive association with building and assembly. Additionally, I added a dot grid onto the project canvas as a design cue that tiles could be moved and resized on its surface.

Positivity Through UI

As I moved in higher fidelity prototyping, I grounded my UI decisions in earlier research. I wanted to visually communicate the friendliness and approachability that users needed to start making positive associations with their projects. Primarily, I relied on a warm color palette, casual typography, and flat illustrations that would keep the space clean and centered on user content.

I designed several high-fidelity iterations of key screens, revising for clarity and accessibility. The image below shows the evolution (left to right) of the workspace screen.

Validating Design Decisions

I built a clickable prototype to evaluate the usability of the application's red routes: creating a new project and building out a project using tiles.

Two rounds of usability testing yielded 100% successful task completion through both flows. Only minor usability issues were reported during the testing sessions and were addressed in later iterations of the prototype.

Notable test results regarded the "brainstorming" category included by default on the workspace screens. This project category prioritized discovery research that suggested users need a safe, generative space to trial new project ideas. Most users echoed the prior research, articulating that the space could accommodate "unstructured," "pre-execution" ideas. However, other users could not pin down a clear distinction between "brainstorming" and "current projects," suggesting additional documentation and support may be necessary.

Takeaways

Frequent usability testing throughout the product development caught key design oversights early. The design centers research data to develop a solution relevant to users with negative project relationships. Decisions at every point in the design process help users curate a workspace conducive to their project success.

What Next?

Next stage usability testing will include information-rich empty states and sample project grids to determine whether further clarification of the "brainstorming" category is necessary. Additional functionality like collaboration and tile-to-tile connectivity may considered for later versions.