“I’m tired of running around the building all day!” sighed my father-in-law, Micky, after a short phone call, one of so many that he had made within the past hour. Last September, we traveled to Israel for the holidays and stayed at my in-laws’ place. On that day, the electric gate of the building’s car park stopped working and Micky was going to different apartments in the building to collect the old remote controls, making tons of phone calls with the neighbors and contacting the firm that was in charge of fixing it.
My in-laws are living in a complex consisting of two large buildings which share a garden and a playground. Since they moved there in 2014, Micky has been functioning as the house management. In their building, the position of house management is voluntary and each year there are elections. However, since no one else ever volunteers, Micky is doing it year after year. All in all, he seems to like it but sometimes it all gets too time consuming and tiring.
A couple of months later, in March 2018, I came to the final stage of the Interaction Design Specialization I was taking at UC San Diego via Coursera, the capstone project. We were asked to design a mobile app around the topic change. To be more specific, a mobile app that leads to a positive change in behavior.
Quite challenging, I mean if you don’t want to do something that is too obvious, like a fitness or a personal expense management app. So I brainstormed, trying to find an idea for an interesting app. And then it hit me, I’ll make an app for Micky!
The first step was finding the user needs and I was asked to observe and interview people who may be potential users of my app in order to understand how they currently manage, what they need and if they are using any workarounds to improve their situation. So finding the first person to interview was easy. You’ve guest it right — Micky. But finding others, which means approaching people I don’t know — well, that made me a bit nervous.
Since it was something I couldn’t avoid, I summoned up all my self-confidence along with my politeness and politely approached potential users. Their willingness to open up and to help out really surprised me. People who don’t know me at all are simply willing to make time and let me observe them, answer my questions, showing me how things work for them and sharing a lot of details — much more than I asked for. This way, I got to meet interesting people who live in different and unique forms of buildings and to get real insight into what my users really need.
Since I interviewed both tenants and house managers, I got to look at the app from two different perspectives and discovered different needs. My initial assumption was that the app would be used mainly to track expenses and make payments. However, talking to my tenant-interviewees, I learned that they wanted to be more involved in decision making in their building. They would like to get to know and communicate with their neighbours and to have an easy way of contacting the house managers in case of a problem in the building.
From there, the exciting work began — creating storyboards (my favorite part), making a paper prototype, making a low fidelity prototype, developing branding and UI concepts and slowly creating a fully functioning interactive prototype. And in between, at every single step of the project, testing! Heuristic evaluation, testing in person, online testing, instructed testing and free play. At every step, all the time.
While testing, I had another moment of overcoming my basic instincts. I held myself back and tried not to defend my designs. I forced myself to keep calm and listen carefully. I took all feedback and processed it, trying to understand where it came from and how it could improve my app. It was hard at first but slowly it became addictive. I wanted more and more feedback. And I think that’s what made the final outcome something I’m fully happy and confident with.
Since there are more tenants than house managers out there, I chose to focus on the tenant perspective in this capstone project but I would love to develop it further and tackle the management side as well.
It was an intense period but very fulfilling and, in addition to understanding how a UX process works from the beginning till the end, I also learned three important lessons:
- Stop being shy and approach people. Many people are willing to help, they love answering questions about themselves and, no, I am not bothering them!
- Detach emotions from designs. Test, test, test, and use criticism to improve my design. I kept constantly reminding myself that it is all about the user and not about me.
- And, maybe most important, I learned a huge lesson on time management. Well, as a new mom, who lives far away from her parents and in-laws, I didn’t have much choice but to manage my time well. And I did it, without compromising on the quality of my work and without missing a single deadline. Motherhood has definitely made me a productivity pro.
You can play with the prototype here and see it for yourself: