A Peek into the World of UX

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For my recent Capstone project, I decided to challenge myself and look into a totally new field. With most of my classes revolving around social media and PR, I wanted to see how those skills could transfer into learning something totally new. Let me tell ya, I had a blast! I couldn’t believe how well the skills I had already developed in nailing target audiences and demographics, research, surveying, and marketing could help me take on completely unique projects.

 

So what did I do?

After having a few bad online experiences during my own adoption process, I decided that I wanted to help humane societies reach their target audience effectively. First, I believed that I wanted to do this through a social media campaign. However, after reflecting on my passions, talking with the always-wise Monica, and doing vigorous research, I decided to try my hand at User Experience (UX) design. Specifically, I wanted to conduct user surveys and analyze thought processes, activity networks, and providing recommendations for a more cohesive, usable design.

What does all that mean?

Basically, I wanted to take a look at a website, in this case the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County’s (AWSJC) site. From there, I evaluated the needs and values of the company, determined what their main drivers of value were, and looked into important information the average user should be able to easily find and access.

Then, I developed tasks for participants that had a natural flow to them. This allowed them to feel as if they had a reason to be on the site, therefore allowing for a better flow to the overall experience. With the tasks compiled, I also wrote a moderator script that offered more control over the survey and prevented bias. It gave background to the participant while also giving pointers, feelers, and probes to the moderator throughout the session. If you want to read over it, you can download it below!

After developing the script, I decided on my methods and theories. These were important, as my project was heavily research-dependent. If I went into my surveying wrong, I wouldn’t collect the data I needed in order to develop my recommendations. First, I considered potential theories I could use. Since this was a completely new field and concept to me, I relied on countless articles, blogs, UX design introductory courses, and so much more in order to get this project done. Throughout this process, I found myself referring to three main theories:

  • Activity Theory– Focuses on identifying usability issues and problems across the entire activity network
  • Image Schema Theory– Explains importance of understanding current knowledge of user and how it affects their responses
  • Rhetorical Theory– Emphasizes discovery processes and helps to understand how to create usable ways to complete complex tasks

After gaining the information I needed, I moved forward with developing methods:

  • In-person testing session. This allowed for user reactions to be observed. Body language and facial expressions speak for participants without diverting their attention from the task at hand.
  • Moderated testing session. Having a moderated testing session allowed for more control over exposure, order, and environment.
  • Task-oriented session. In order to create the most natural user responses, I designed a script with a natural flow from task-to-task. This prompted users to be engaged with the site since they are completing each task with a purpose. The tasks also encouraged more user-feedback about layout, issues they had, if they were able to complete a task, etc.
  • Recorded Session. To be able to refer back to while analyzing, I recorded user screen responses and vocal reactions. During the session, notes were also taken.

Finally, with my methods laid out, I could move on to surveying! This was probably the most tedious portion of my entire project. I decided to interview twelve participants. I split those participants into three platforms- Android, iPhone, and desktop. In addition to testing all the platforms, I also used two more sites in additions to AWSJC’s to act as a control and comparison. These acted to prevent bias, ie., I tell the participant I’m trying to see how usable the website is, so they react poorly to the site. To further prevent bias, I also showed the three sites in random orders to all participants.
After much trial-and-error, I finally got the twelve recorded sessions I needed (but I honestly interviewed over 30. Technical difficulties posed a real obstacle). Armed with user responses, I could move to the final stage of my project.

Analysis

With my research done and my notes ready, I began combing through each recorded video session. I took notes on patterns, notable reactions, inconsistencies, as well as verbal cues, facial expressions, and body language. Now, that’s a lot of information. Definitely overwhelming to look at. So I wanted to make it easy for the AWSJC (and for folks like you) to be able to understand user reactions. Remember that moderator script up there? Well, in it is all the participant tasks and follow-up questions. That might be handy for what’s coming next.

My solution to making the analysis easier-to-digest was a spreadsheet. In it, I outlined specific key reactions and comments throughout each task, whether or not they were able to complete the task, overall comments and impressions. In addition, I made my recommendations even easier, they’re right next to the comments and reactions! You can check it out for yourself below.

Alright, cool. Analysis is done. But what now? I have all these user responses and recommendations, but what do I do with all of that information? With this data, I decided to make a visual, tangible model of what a complete, usable product could look like. Below you’ll see a mobile and desktop wireframe I developed as an initial mock-up.

What’s next?

One of the reasons I love this project so much is because it’s one I can constantly grow and improve upon! As my skills and experiences increase, I want to build a working prototype to present to the AWSJC. That way they can interact and see how much easier it is to interact with their company when they have a fully-functioning, usable website.

Wanna know more?

See my portfolio and my blog here.

Overall Experience

Once I found the project for me, I had so much fun. I enjoyed challenging myself, learning new theories and tactics, and broadening my horizons. One of my key takeaways from this experience would to be creative. Your capstone is your baby. You have complete control over where the project goes, what it is, and what you want it to become. Have fun, do something you enjoy. Most of all, learn something new.