Launchpad Progress Update

Our business venture aims to empower ex-teachers to pursue paths outside of their current career by helping them identify transferable skills and then connect with a larger community of ex-teachers and employers. We will do this is in a summer workshop series combined with year-round events, and a website for additional support and resources.  

This week we have been working on…

  • Defining the thing: We named the pain points along the journey of making a transition out of teaching from what we heard in interviews, ideated on the forms a solution to those pain points could take, chose a suite of workshops, events, and website as our final solution. We also defined the end state by defining five possible careers to help transition people into.
  • Visualizing the thing: We’ve created a customer journey map to illustrate the stages of the user’s journey and the interaction with our service.
  • Thinking through the details: We also created a detailed service blueprint which allowed us to think through the multiple layers of our service and what tasks need to be accomplished to be able to deliver our value promise.

 

Recently, we have been working on creating physical artifacts that articulate our design concept, whereas prior we were working to validate and solidify our concept. Our team has been focused on creating an end to end solution with the intention of validating the concept with an MVP before the end of April.

 

Our next question: How do we validate the value of this solution for employers? How can we utilize what we find is most valuable to employers to give our graduates a leg up?

 

Now we will work to …

  • Create additional artifacts that help to articulate our larger vision until it becomes a reality
  • Create our first draft of our mid-point/final presentation of our progress
  • Place our concept in front of employers to get feedback

To do this, over the next week, we will be…

  • Connecting with employers to gain feedback on our concept before piloting in the first weeks of April
  • Coordinating and hold interviews
  • Working to balance and define the relationship of our product to employers and vice versa

Our priority is creating physical artifacts that are coherent enough to convey our grand idea.

 

One way you can help right now is…

If you or anyone you know hires for in-house recruiters and would be open to talking to us about their process, please reach out to us at sara.miller@ac4d.com or kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com.

A New Perspective: Understanding the Developer Approach

Introduction

Over the last two months, I’ve been working to create wireframes for a mobile banking app. Focused first on basic flows crucial to the core of a banking app and then adding on more in-depth features including budgeting tools. While creating these, I’ve put the designs out into the world of users and received feedback, which was then implemented to make the design better for our users.

Moving into the Product Management phase, however, meant a slight shift in design focus. Instead of being solely focused on designs that were great for the users, I now I had to make sure these designs were within our budget for development. To do this, I was paired with a developer to understand product sizing and evaluation. Sure, I know how long it would take me to mock up something in Sketch or XD, but I had no idea how long something would take to be coded and launched.

The Value of Meeting with a Developer

Meeting with developers is a crucial part of getting any digital design launched and the better communication you have with the developer the smoother the launching will go. I scheduled a meeting with Mark Phillip and began to prepare my wireframes for the meeting.

Meeting Preparation

Prior to meeting with Mark, I went back to my wireframes and made sure that I had updated my flows based on the last round of user feedback. Additionally, I decided to try out redlining my screens. As seen below, I first went through and redlined all of my features (as seen in Fig 1-2 below). I boxed them in red and wrote a brief explanation about what they were and how they functioned. After that, I went back through all the frames and outlined all of the controls and components and described how each of those functioned (see Fig 3-4). Lastly, I pulled all of the controls and key components out of the context of the wireframes and described their behavior individually (see Fig 5-6).

Fig 1. Redlining Features
Fig 1. Redlining Features – Home Screen

 

Fig 1 Relining Features
Fig 2. Relining Features – Account Balances

 

One thing that I would’ve done differently here, is talked to my developer prior to our meeting and asked for clarification around what exactly would help him best in the meeting to grasp the wireframes. If I had done that, I would’ve learned that he did not need to see the controls and components redlined (like in Fig 3-4), which would’ve saved me a lot of time. But he did like to see the components and controls taken out of the context of the wireframe and annotated (as seen in Fig 5-6).

Fig 3. Redlining Controls - Home Screen
Fig 3. Redlining Controls – Home Screen

 

Fig 4. Redlining Controls - Account Balances
Fig 4. Redlining Controls – Account Balances

 

Fig 5. Component and Control Breakdown
Fig 5. Component and Control Breakdown

 

Fig 6. Component and Control Breakdown pt2
Fig 6. Component and Control Breakdown pt2

Lastly, I ended up printing all of my redlined wireframes out and bringing them to the meeting. It was a lot of paper, but being able to make notes, redraw, and scratch things out right on the design quickly helped out meeting go smoothly.

To see the full redlined wireframes click on the links below:

Features

Controls

Controls Breakdown

During the Meeting

Mark was friendly and warm and understood well what were trying to accomplish in our meeting. We went through the wireframes by flow and discussed them screen by screen using the redlining Features section I had prepared.

As we went through, it was clear that he quickly grasped what the flows were and how the features and controls functioned. He asked questions when he needed it and the discussion illustrated a couple areas where I could add screens or move things around for clarity of flow.

During the meeting, he gave me an overall estimate for each flow and then I would prod him with questions regarding particular features or what he was thinking. I asked a lot of questions like “How did you get to the estimation? Could you break the timeline down for me?” and “What feature do you think would take the longest? Or how could we save some time or make this flow leaner?” He took all my questions in stride and offered explanations for which features he thought would take him the longest to build and we brainstormed some alternatives.

For example, one of my flows included a long form to manually add a payee for bill payment. I had designed it so that when a user finished page one they would then go on to page two, but Mark pointed out that would be extra time and that a scrolling form would shorter the development time.

Fig 7. Pay Bills Flow includes form for manually adding new payee. It includes two separate pages, but could just be a scrollable form.
Fig 7. Pay Bills Flow includes form for manually adding new payee. It includes two separate pages, but could just be a scrollable form.

 

At the end of the meeting, I inquired about what he normally likes to see in these types of meetings. He told me that a basic concept map of the architecture of the app would be helpful to understand how the pieces fit together and give him and overview so he can better understand where he is in the app as we go through wireframes.

Overall the meeting gave me a more holistic understanding of all the ways a project can be viewed. The majority of the meeting was me trying to understand how the developer is going to attack a problem and the developer trying to understand why we chose to design things the way we did. This understanding of the two sides is a crucial piece to implementing a cohesive product within budget that works for users.

After the Meeting

Upon returning from the meeting with the developer, I documented my learnings. I created and excel sheet breakdown of all the estimations that Mark gave me. I made sure to include notes on the features that would take the longest and why, so I can prioritize later about what should be included in our v1 of the app.

Walking away from the meeting, I have a new understanding of how developers approach a problem or a build and I have better grasp on how I can communicate and how I can prepare to get the most out of those interactions. My main takeaway from Mark was that the more that I, as a designer, can illustrate and articulate how something functions and why we chose that function, the easier it is going to be for the developer to understand the scope of work and give an accurate estimate. As Mark put it, “If I’m confused or scared by something or I’m not sure how it works, I’m going to give you a less accurate estimate because I want to make sure I have enough time to figure it out.”

The Estimation Results

Developer estimation for each flow
Fig 8. Developer estimation for each flow.

Detailed estimation can be found here.

To Consider Moving Forward

Several items within my app are time consuming for the developers and should be carefully considered moving forward. For instance, I had included a Recurring Payment option in my Bill Pay flow. It’s the ability to automatically pay a particular bill at recurring times in the future, basically scheduling them out at particular intervals. This was problematic for the developer because of the amount of variables included, like daily, weekly, monthly payment options.

Fig 9. Pay Bill with recurring payment feature offered. A potentially costly addition.
Fig 9. Pay Bill with recurring payment feature offered. A potentially costly addition.

 

Another feature to change in my wireframes is the numeric keypad. I need to a little digging to find a standard Andriod numeric keypad for the wireframes. From working with the developer, I learned that many standard features are much faster for them to include because the developer that copy the code for standard features instead of building a new keypad from scratch. This should be a relatively easy fix on my end that will allow the developer to work much quicker down the line.

Fig 10. Nonstandard Numeric Keypad will take much longer for developer to build instead of just including a standard Android keypad.
Fig 10. Nonstandard Numeric Keypad will take much longer for developer to build instead of just including a standard Android keypad.

Lastly, including all of the interstitial states that I had included for my users were completely unnecessary for the developer to see. Next time, I would only include enough so they understand the function and not every single screen for interstitial states.

Fig 11. Interstitial states were not necessary to show in developer meeting.
Fig 11. Interstitial states were not necessary to show in developer meeting.

 

Communication is key to these meetings. That includes preparing with redlining features, printing wireframes, or chatting with your developer prior to meeting to understand what would be best for them. It includes asking questions and having answers to developer’s questions during the meeting. And it includes documenting communications after the meeting and following up with the developer as the project progresses.

Embracing the Gray

 

Chaos Muppet theory and a room divided

Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets–what a binary way to set up the world. In Dahlia Lithwick’s article, “Chaos Theory”, she argues that the world is made up of Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets and both are necessary to succeed. You are either a swirling ball of chaotic energy or an orderly and structured walking list of rules. While some identify with one more than the other, I identify with both.

In some situations, I am an Order Muppet structuring my day to be most efficient with the work I need to get done prioritized and defined. In other situations, I am a Chaos Muppet, juggling multiple ideas and playing with ambiguity or jumping in a car for a destination unknown, calling out left or right at every intersection. So, what changes whether I’m and Order or Chaos Muppet? Context. Depending on the situation, the context, the event, the task at hand, I can switch back and forth between both types of Muppets.

While people might identify as more Chaos or more Order, the reality is that most people are a bit of both. When it comes down to it, the world is not binary; it’s not black and white. There’s a whole lot of shades of gray in there and we can’t just overlook that.

Gray areas do not exist just in people’s personalities, they exist in everything, including real world problems and the solutions we design for them. Products are not always good or bad, but most often a bit of both. Understanding how to evaluate the good and the bad is a critical step for design. As designers, we have to be able to understand the context, know who we’re designing for and bring them in early and often on the process, and as best we can understand the consequences of our designs on other parts of the system.

 

Symptoms and Root Causes: What should we address?

Another binary way of looking at the world of design, is that design solutions either address the symptom or they tackle the underlying root cause. Does providing access to a shelter for a homeless person address the problem of them being homeless or does it just address a symptom? Does selling clean drinking water in developing countries address a symptom or does it address the underlying cause?

Design can tackle a variety of problems, but just how deep can we really go? Common critiques of some designs is that the solution treats a symptom of a problem, not the underlying problem itself. It’s a band-aid for the wound, not the prevention of the cause of the wound. Some argue that creating band-aids actually distracts people from addressing the root of the problem. But, like everything, it’s much more complicated than that.

Take the Product (Red) campaign for example, in which, articles of clothing (and other products) are sold to help fund treatment of HIV/AIDS in several African countries. As Cindy Phu maps out in her article “Save Africa: The Commodification of (PRODUCT) RED Campaign”, this campaign raised a lot of money and treated many people with HIV in some countries in Africa. However, those opposed to the campaign argue that it is perpetuating consumerism, only serving some countries in Africa, and not doing enough to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Here we have another shade of gray. The campaign is serving real people with real problems, but are they doing enough to address the underlying root cause of the problem?

Band-aids and  need to co-exist because long term systemic changes take a long time and we need more immediate solutions. So, how can we have band-aids and still be focused on long term sustainable change?

Design band-aids are all around us. Take trash collection for example. Is this a band-aid to a symptom or a solution to a root cause? Trash collection is so pervasive in our culture that it feels like the solution. It’s a band-aid. It serves to collect our garbage and get it out of our line of sight. Is putting our trash in a landfill better than burning it? Yes, in some ways. Five percent of the carbon dioxide emissions is from burning trash. And 40 percent of the world burns their trash. So, let’s not burn it and instead put it into a landfill. Well, this helps with the emissions from burning rubbish, but it comes with it’s own heaps of problems as well. It takes up space, there are leaks, and there is still harmful emissions as trapped carbon items breakdown. So, whats the real root cause? That we make trash. Trash collection is treating the symptom of the underlying problem which is humans create trash.

We could argue that trash collection distracts us from the real underlying issue that we create trash. We see it as a system that solves our problem of getting rid of trash, but does it just mask our true issue that we create trash to begin with? I think some would argue that this is exactly what this band-aid does.

However, without this band-aid we would have a much larger problem that there is trash everywhere or that people are burning trash to get rid of it. Should we do away with trash collection to re-focus on the underlying cause? No. Getting rid of trash collection would present even more problems and symptoms. We need trash collection, but we also need to continue to focus on the underlying causes as well. How do we create less trash? How can we as humans create no trash? As we get to the root of the cause, just like the above image shows us, the problem becomes more complex. The web more entangled and the difficulty and the time increases. The impact might increase too.

Band-aids or solving the cause of the wounds–which one should we choose? The answer is both.

Does this mean that designs should be thrown together thoughtlessly and put into the world with immediacy being the only guiding light? No. We still need those band-aids to be thoughtful. Designers need to make sure we understand as much as possible about the environment we’re designing for. This means bringing in locals early and often to empathize and to understand the people we are creating for, like Studio D for project as outlined in “The [Human] Codebreakers: What Every Company Gets Wrong about Developing for the Emerging World, and How to Do It Right” by Jessi Hempel.

As designers, we need to understand the root cause and we need to know the symptoms and ultimately, we need to design for both. The world needs easily implemented designs that help people immediately and the world needs to long-term structural changes to large systems. We need it exist in the gray area. A space where we can implement some changes quicker, but still understand the ripples of effect it will have on the system. At the same time, we also need to be tackling the underlying root causes of these symptoms. The large, complex beasts that may take many efforts, many years, and many incremental changes to budge.

symptoms v root cause

 

Selfish Altruism: Yet another shade of gray

Activism sells, but activism alone won’t.  

As Mark Manson describes in his article “Everything is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault”, the world is run by emotions. People are driven by what makes them feel good. And like Alex Holder explains in “Sex Doesn’t Sell Any More, Activism Does. And Don’t the Big Brands Know It”, activism sells. But, unfortunately, activism alone does not sell. People like to feel good. The good feeling of donating might be enough for some, but if activism comes with another payoff or product, even better.

This is why we see a rise in company’s social impact. Lyft pledging to pay to eliminate their carbon emissions, Project (Red) giving money to help HIV treatment when you buy certain products. Businesses add social good components because people value that and it sets them apart from competition. Is this bad?

People may gripe that corporations only do good because it helps their sales, but I would rather have them do good for sales than not do good at all. If Lyft offsets their carbon emissions, am I going to choose them over other rideshare companies, yes. If they want to use my interest in environmental causes to make me choose them over others, fine by me. They might not be the best corporation in the world, but if they are choosing to do something good, even if it’s driven by their sales goals, they are still doing something good.

As seen in the Project (Red) example, you can get more people to do good things, if they get something immediate in return. Because people do run on emotion and they want to feel good. Some people will feel good and that will be enough emotional payoff for them to donate straight to organizations. Others want that shirt to wear, to look cool, and to show everyone that they did something good, so if selling shirts allows them to make more money for a good cause, then go for it. But be aware of the trade-offs.

As designers, this is something to consider. Are there ways to marry the immediate payoff of something and the long-term benefits of another? As an example, Austin Center for Design is addressing two problems at once. “The long-term goal of AC4D is to investigate and drive a positive relationship between design thinking and the large “wicked” problems facing the public sector.” But think about the short, immediate problems AC4D is addressing. For the individuals in the program, the long-term goal is one to work towards but the immediate payoff is changing careers and learning new skills.

People expect something in return. Whether it’s a product or a feeling of doing good, people expect something out of an interaction.

Designers shouldn’t be afraid of the gray space, we should embrace it. If we can marry the Order and the Chaos, the short term solutions and the long term change, we should because the world is in desperate need of both.

Budgeting Meets Banking: Adding Features to an Already Complex App

Adding Features

Last week’s challenge was to add in additional features to our banking app, specifically budgeting features. This included an overview of finances and their trends, a ‘what if’ feature that allowed people to alter their recurring bills to see the effects on their budgets, the ability to compare a single transaction to other past transactions, and a simple way to see what is available for someone to spend. Incorporating all of these features was a challenge. They each overlap in various ways and could have numerous paths a person could flow through. Below is an overview of the flows, you can see that there are several repeated screens, indicating that they show up in multiple flows.

Fig 1. PNC Virtual Wallet Redesign with Budgeting Features Added
Fig 1. PNC Virtual Wallet Redesign with Budgeting Features Added

 

To begin, I built out a Spending and Budgets section that housed the majority of the required features. It could be accessed in multiple ways, from the More menu, through the View Accounts section, and even from individual transaction details (as seen above). While I spent a lot of time configuring how I thought people would handle each of the tasks presented them, I realized in my first user test, that I was very wrong.

User Testing

I ended up conducting in-person user tests with five individuals between the ages of 28 and 38 with a variety of banks. All but one of them used banking applications on their phone. The breakdown can be seen below.

Fig 2. Breakdown of User Testing Participants
Fig 2. Breakdown of User Testing Participants

 

I met each participant in-person and presented them with four tasks, one at a time. They were instructed to think aloud, so that I could get a better idea of someone else’s thought process for each task. I also watched their behavior, which allowed be to probe on certain actions to understand why they were doing certain things. Below are several major problems that my app encountered during user testing.

Problem 1: Transaction Comparison

While creating the flows, I thought that tasks that involved individual transactions would send people through the Checking Account page and list of transactions to the Details for that transaction and then to the Spending and Budgets sections (like seen below). Unfortunately, people wanted everything to be accessible through the Spending and Budgets and I had not finished building that feature out with all its functions. For instance, one task was for people to compare their last HEB grocery trip to their past grocery trips. To do this people could go to their HEB transaction, click Details, see that it was under the average grocery trip amount, click More Info and see a direct comparison to the average grocery trip over the last 6 months (as shown in Fig 3). Unfortunately, this is not at all how people managed this task.

Fig 3. Transaction Comparison Flow Problem Areas
Fig 3. Transaction Comparison Flow Problem Areas

Several people said that they would just manually compare their past couple grocery trips either just in their head as they browsed or by exporting an excel sheet. Two people managed to click on the Details button, but were confused about the actual comparison box. Most people tried to attack this task by going through the Spending and Budgets screen in Figure 4. They wanted to see the Grocery breakdown and figured if they wanted to compare grocery purchases that this is where they would go to do so. I figured that this could be a way to access this information, but I thought that someone’s first inclination would be to go through the transaction screen in accounts.

 

Fig 4. Alternative path participants attempted to take to compare their grocery expenses
Fig 4. Alternative path participants attempted to take to compare their grocery expenses.

 

While it was disheartening to see that people couldn’t figure out my intent, it was good to see how other people attack the tasks, so that I can better prioritize which features to add functionality to first. This was echoed by a participant who told me that he didn’t even want the granular ability to compare one grocery trip to another. He just wanted to see spending in Groceries by month. Sometimes he just goes to the store for beer and sometimes it’s for a large family trip, so he knows there will be plenty of disparity between trips.

 

Fig 5. Alex talks about his priorities in budgeting.
Fig 5. Alex talks about his priorities in budgeting.

 

For this issue, I would want to be sure to make all the pathways functional, especially by coming from Spending and Budgets. That’s where people are looking for the information, so that’s where they should be able to find it.

 

Problem 2: Habit Changer

Another similar issue came to light for the Habit Changer feature. This allows people to alter their recurring bills to see how it affects their budget. This feature was again accessible through the transactions page under Details on recurring bills (Fig 6). People wanted to find it from the Spending and Budget page under the various categories, but they could not click on them. Almost all of the participants missed the button that says ‘Change Your Habits’, which gets them to the Habit Changer page (Fig 7).

 

Fig 6. Habit Changer was accessible through recurring bills, but some people did not click on Deatils.
Fig 6. Habit Changer was accessible through recurring bills, but some people did not click on Details.

 

Fig 7. Participants did not see the Change Your Habits button and most people tried to click on Entertainment where they were hoping to find their Netflix and Spotify bills.
Fig 7. Participants did not see the Change Your Habits button and most people tried to click on Entertainment where they were hoping to find their Netflix and Spotify bills.

Problem 3: Available Money

The last major problem that I encountered was around the quick look at what money is available for someone to spend. I created a Money Bar that had a breakdown of where someone’s paycheck is allotted (see Fig 8). It included the amount that would be going to monthly recurring bills, the amount that would go to their savings account and the leftover money that was free for them to spend. I thought I would put it on the View Accounts page, so it was easy viewing for those who wanted to see it quickly. However, this was clearly a bad design as many of my participants had no idea what it was telling them. Not an easy, quick look after all.

Fig 8. Paycheck Breakdown and Account Balances was a confusing juxtaposition.
Fig 8. Paycheck Breakdown and Account Balances was a confusing juxtaposition.

 

Several people told me that it was confusing that the amounts did not add up. To solve this, I would either put the income breakdown on a totally different page or I would include the Checking and Savings into the breakdown. Instead of having a breakdown of the paycheck, it would show your Savings and Checking, but would show one part of the Checking as reserved for your outgoing recurring bills. This would hopefully cut down confusion and would give people a clear answer to how much money they have available to spend.

Other Learnings

Through my user testing, it was really clear how important testing with other people is during the creation of a product. Last round of user testing, tasks were more straightforward and people had a fairly easy time navigating the system. This time, not so much. But, I learned a ton by just getting my product into the hands of someone else and watching them interact with it. It helped me really understand what pathways were intuitive to people and how they think about the tasks at hand and will allow me to better situate where things are housed within the app.

The other learning that I had during this round was that free food and beer are great motivators for people to come do user testing. Having the cohort bring their friends to AC4D and do user testing with people they don’t know was a great way to get participants that I didn’t know. And a great way for them to see what we’re doing and to get free food!

Feedback from the Field Moving from Ideation to Prototyping

 

CONTEXT

Last quarter, we identified and interviewed students who dropped out of college. After synthesizing the data we collected in those interviews, we came up with themes and insights. This quarter, we have been working on utilizing the themes and insights we created last quarter to develop potential solutions. Last week, we went through the rigorous process of narrowing two hundred concepts that we had created down to five. This week, we chose a top three from those five. Then, we created business plans and began sharing our idea with users, stakeholders, and subject matter experts.

 
TOP THREE CONCEPTS

Concept 1: Casa

Casa is a co-living environment for people pursuing alternative education.

Many of the individuals that we interviewed last quarter were pursuing some form of alternative education, from taking online learning courses to bootcamp programs to reading books on topics they wanted to explore. We noticed that it was very important for people to see others pursuing alternative education pathways (and being successful) in order to feel empowered to devote their efforts towards that (rather than a degree program or school).

As such, we developed Casa to create a solution that provided a shared space for all individuals pursuing alternative education to connect and to easily know where to go to meet people who were carving out their own education and career pathways. We decided upon a living environment because we hypothesized that housing was typically a challenge for students pursuing alternative education (as they move off campus leaving degree programs or move to a new city for a bootcamp).

We spoke with two individuals this week who both helped validate some aspects of this concept and challenged aspects of this concept. The first was an individual who started a non-profit organization which identified folks who were not currently seeking a degree, enrolled them in a online university program, and offered a co-living environment for them. The second was a graduate of a bootcamp who is now working as an entrepreneur.

We began both conversations with the intention of learning about their experiences. Our goal in the conversation with the nonprofit founder was to learn of the ways in which the co-living environment provided support for its residents or did not. In the process, we learned that the environment actually came to be a restrictive one for its residents. In comparison to our conversation with the bootcamp graduate, we imagined that when residents are proactively working towards a common goal co-living is seen as a very positive support.

We also learned that while co-living can offer opportunity for additional support, it can also come with additional complications (from melding emotions of residents and grapplings with mental health issues). This is something we are very interested in investigating further and hope to learn more about in our future conversations.

With Casa, our next steps are to interview people who live in and manage coliving spaces. We have one interview scheduled currently with the director of living learning communities at the University of Michigan.

 

Concept 2: LaunchPad

LaunchPad is a website resource, where people can build their own alternative education roadmap to discover, visualize, and share their self-learning paths. In our research, we found that people need a way to visualize their alternative education in order to see gaps in their skills, reflect on their decisions, and move forward towards a goal.

This week, we talked to two people about this design concept. The first was an alumni of University of Michigan, who designed her own degree via their Individual Concentration Program. This allowed us to better understand how colleges are validating alternative paths even within their own system. We learned about the expectations for someone creating their own degree and what requirements they still had to complete.

The student had to create their own roadmap of courses that they believed would round out their education in their requested area of concentration, then it needed to be approved by faculty. At the end of their university studies, the student was required to write a 40 page independent thesis, which was a the culmination of her learnings from the variety of courses. In our research with college dropouts, we found that having a physical output (that illustrates your skills and learnings) from a course of study allowed students to reflect on what they learned and how it fits in to the bigger picture. For this student, creating a 40 page thesis forced her to reflect on what she had learned through all her courses and allowed her to create a physical piece of evidence of her learnings.

The second person that we talked to regarding this idea was a web development bootcamp graduate. We were interested to understand how he has presented his alternative education background to employers. From this conversation, we learned that he found employers to be more interested in the projects he’s worked on and his skills over his education. Another example of a physical representation of your skills valued higher than the education received.

Overall from talking to these people as well as a message conversation with a recruiter, we learned that in order to validate your learnings to others, it is important to have something to show for it physically. Universities have a strict but supportive process for carving out your own degree.

This upcoming week, we hope to connect with career changers and recruiters to understand how they are displaying and evaluating skills gained through alternative education.  

 

Concept 3: Network Nearby

Network Nearby is an app that connects people one-on-one over topics they’re interested in. It makes it easy to find connections close by with people outside of your social sphere.

Through our data, we found that people who were able to build strong networks felt more empowered to grow and create new goals. We also discovered that many people struggle to create these networks of people due to difficulties finding the right environment to create connections. Many participants found parties and large networking events overwhelming and draining to attend.

We spoke with three individuals to get feedback on our concept of Network Nearby: a introverted entrepreneur, a introverted professional, and an introverted connector of people. We entered each of these conversations with the intention of learning more about how people connect with others and what inspires them to do so. Across the board we heard one thing very loud and clear: the idea of networking is a bad one. People feel that even the word networking assumes that the one initiating it is doing so for self serving purposes. Each felt that connecting with people was best when it was for a mutually beneficial reason or for the sake of a larger cause or project.

That being said, we also heard that connecting with people 1:1 is always better than having to connect with people in a group. The introverted professional believed there was value in connecting with new people but felt overwhelmed and was discouraged from doing so by the process of actually arranging a meeting. The introverted entrepreneur felt networking was necessary and wished there were a tool (like our app) which made it even easier to do so. He even spoke of an app he already used that was very similar but said it did not have enough users to make it worth it.

Another tactic we took this week was to try out one of our competitors, BumbleBizz. We both downloaded the app and created a profile to start reaching out to people. Even just filling out the profile, we ran into several red flags that were pain points for us as users. For instance, being required to select education or employment (as seen in the image below). What if you don’t have one of these? While we have yet to meet anyone over this platform yet, it has given us a couple ideas about what not to do on our own platform.

BumbleBizz

From this we learned, that it is important that people connect over a shared value or interest. People need to feel like they are serving something more than themselves, whether that be a project they are working on, a role they want to do better for their company, or even an idea they are promoting. We found that apps that seemed almost identical to the ones we are hoping to develop are now defunct because of poor usage or lack of funding.

This upcoming week, we hope to talk to more individuals who have experience connecting strangers or bringing people together. We want to know what works well for these meetups and what is not working. We also plan to be very flexible with molding our final solution. We hope to learn from the successes and failures of things that exist and are working now and things that don’t exist anymore.

 

How You Can Help!

This week, we will be working on pushing forward each of these concepts. And, for that, we want to speak with more people. We are looking to connect with…

  • individuals who are recently or currently enrolled in a bootcamp
  • individuals who manage a co-living environment for students
  • recruiters/hiring managers
  • career changers who do not have formal education in their new field
  • anyone who has created a solution that allows otherwise strangers to connect on a deeper level, such as meetup organizers, AA organizers, employees at BumbleBizz, etc.

If this sounds like you, we want to hear from you! If this sounds like someone you know, tell them we want to hear from them. We are scheduling 30 minute conversations.

You can reach us at sara.miller@ac4d.com and kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com

PNC Virtual Wallet: User Testing

Over the last few weeks, I have been investigating and redesigning my mobile bank app, Virtual Wallet by PNC Bank. After creating wireframes and concept maps of my redesigned product, I managed to coordinate several user testing sessions by leveraging friends to reach out to their friends. Prior to user testing, I revamped my designs adding some recommendations from last week’s critique. I worked to include more interstitial states as well as adding better navigation and ways to go back in the flow. The below are an example of added in between frames and addition of back buttons.

Mobile Check Deposit Wireframes Mobile Check Deposit cont

 

I conducted four user test sessions this past week and was able to run through three of my wireframe flows, Mobile Check Deposit, Set Up Notifications, and Pay a Friend. With just a handful of user tests, I was able to uncover some common pain points within the redesign. During these interviews, participants were asked to complete a specific task, like “Deposit a $50 check into you Spend account”. I followed a think aloud protocol, where participants were asked to share their thoughts aloud as they looked at the screens and made their decisions. This allowed me to get a feel for the participants thought process. I also watched their behavior and probed on certain actions. For instance if they were clicking a specific thing that wasn’t enabled, asking them what they would expect to happen there?

Through the user testing, I found several pain points that should be addressed. First, people do not use their banking app to pay friends. Most people use Venmo or Cash app. Several participants voiced concern that they would need to know their friends account or bank information (even though going through the flow you do not). Some worried what it would entail for the person on the other end. Would their friend have to fill out a big form? How would they receive the money? Would they be notified?

Leslie worries she will have to have her friend banking and account information to send them money.
Leslie worries she will have to have her friend’s banking and account information to send them money.

Going forward, I would add either information bubbles, demos, or a pop-up the first time you use the feature to better explain what it entails for the user and the friend they are paying.

Secondly, and specific to setting up a notification, people struggled to get to the Notifications and Alerts page. This was not an option on the Home page and people had to navigate through multiple menus to find the main Notifications page. People did not understand half of the options in the main menu and thought it seemed cluttered as they searched for notifications. All the participants said they went with their “best guess” as to which category it was housed in. In the short video clip below, you can see how long it took for one participant to go down the list of options and evaluate if Notifications and Alerts would be housed in one of those options. It took this participant over a full minute to look through and choose their “best guess.”

 

A potential solution for this pain point would be to eliminate some of the superfluous functions within the app. Several participants made a distinction between functions that they would use on their laptop, but not on their mobile device. Especially with savings and investment functions, they wanted to be at home making sure that they were engaged and thinking about these things and they did not think they were necessary functions to do on their mobile. In fact, they disliked that they were available on the mobile device.

The third major issue that user testing brought to light was the terminology that PNC Bank uses for their accounts. Their savings account is called ‘Growth’ and their checking account is broken into ‘Spend’ and ‘Reserve’. Every person that I interviewed did not understand these new terms and said that they were most familiar with just Checking and Savings. All of the participants thought that ‘Reserve’ was part of their savings account and that ‘Growth’ was for long-term or high interest investments. This is completely wrong, so in my redesign, I will change the terminology to reflect users desire to see terms they understand.

After testing with users,  I have redesigned the concept model to better reflect changes that I have made to the architecture. Below is the old and new concept map for PNC’s Virtual Wallet app.

Current concept map of PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet App
Current concept map of PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet App

 

 

New Proposed Changes - PNC Virtual Wallet
New Proposed Changes – PNC Virtual Wallet

This new concept map incorporates and better illustrates the modular Home page as well as several of the core functions that were altered. The largest change that I made after my user testing was to the account names themselves, which I changed from ‘Growth’ to Savings and ‘Spend’ and ‘Reserve’ to Checking.

Based on the feedback from user testing, going forward, I intend make changes that include clarifying the ease of the Pay a Friend feature and what it entails for both parties, paring down features that people do not need or want on their mobile device to eliminate steps to higher value tasks, redefining terms for clarity around accounts (Checking and Savings), and including more explanatory features like information bubbles, first time use pop-ups, and defining text.

PNC Virtual Wallet: Wireframe and User Flow Redesign

I’ve been using PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet for several years now. It’s a pretty comprehensive app with abilities far beyond what I need and use. However, more features isn’t always better. Too few features can also be problematic. During the creation of the Virtual Wallet’s Concept Map, I discovered a variety of capabilities that seemed extraneous and some that actually got in the way of me completing a task on the Virtual Wallet app.

I’ve now created wireframe flows of several major user goals: mobile check deposit, pay a friend, check balance, transfer money, set up an alert, and make a bill payment. Through all of these, I attempted to walk a line between too simplified and too in depth. My goal was to create frames that were clear and gave the user the information they needed while taking out extra details that felt superfluous or that got in the way of completing a task.

For example, in the original Virtual Wallet app, it takes some digging to get to the ‘Pay a Friend’ function. Fewer and fewer people are using checks or even hard money to pay their friends. If I can pay one of my friends from my phone, I would rather do that than give up the cash I may need for something else and I don’t even own a check book. What’s the point when I can do that from my phone?

My goal in redesigning the ‘Pay a Friend’ feature was to make sure it was immediately accessible and included clear steps that easily led people through the process. Now, after logging in, it’s five simple clicks to pay a friend. There is a large button on the home page to start the process and another to select whether you want to Send, Request, Splits, or view Activity. From there, you can either choose a Suggested Contact or can find someone based on your phone and email contacts by typing in their name. After you choose a recipient, you enter the amount and submit your payment. That’s it. Choose the function, choose the person, choose the amount–done.

New wireframes for 'Pay a Friend' feature of PNC Bank's Virutal Wallet app.
New wireframes for ‘Pay a Friend’ feature of PNC Bank’s Virutal Wallet app.

All these changes, so far, have been based on my own opinion and insights on how best to achieve the goals based on my own actions and intuition combined with creating scenarios and storyboards depicting user goals.

From here, I will be conducting user testing with these wireframes to get people to try to walk through the goals on their own. What may seem easy and intuitive to me might be difficult for others. I want to be sure I am creating a flow that works for many people not just myself.

 

PNC Virtual Wallet: Concept Map Redesign


Like many banking apps, PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet has a plethora of functions and abilities. While not the worst banking app I’ve seen, the app still struggles with finding a balance between information overload and oversimplification. This week we were tasked with mapping out the current navigation and information architecture and then redesigning it based on our own needs.

The current state of the Virtual Wallet has several features that are working well. First, it gives a sense of security. I have set up Touch ID, so I was able to use my fingerprint. It also occasionally prompted me for my pattern passcode as well. The app would not allow me to take any screenshots, which while inconvenient for this project, did make me feel more secure. Additionally, the app does offer fairly easy access to the mobile check deposit feature, which is very important to me.

Current concept map of PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet App
Current concept map of PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet App

 

As you can see in the above map of the current state of the Virtual Wallet, the home screen after I login is my account information for all of my accounts, including my bank credit card, my savings, and my checking, which is broken into two parts: spend and reserve. On the home page, this is set up as a long list. It includes every account I have with PNC, their balances, and their transaction history. This is not the information that I usually use the app for, so seems unnecessary to have as my default view. 

In my redesign, I changed the home view, as seen below, to include less information and better guidance. It now features several large categories, including Deposit, Pay Someone, View Balance, and a link to the menu. This facilitates the fast actions that I need, but still gives me the option to view all the details of my accounts, if I want.

Proposed changes to PNC Bank's Virtual Wallet App
Proposed changes to PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet App

Typically, when I use the app, I am either depositing a check or paying a friend. For me, those functions are now listed prominently and have very few steps to achieve them. Mobile check deposit is especially important for me because, since moving to Texas, I am an out-of-state customer for PNC and I do not have physical places to deposit my checks. When I get checks, I want them to be in a secure place as soon as possible, so I don’t forget about them or, more likely, lose them. The redesign allows for quick mobile check deposits and peace of mind for me.

The second thing that I use the app for is paying other people. While I tend to use Venmo for paying friends, I still use my banking app for recurring payments (like paying my friend for our joint gym membership) and for paying people that don’t have Venmo and want money straight from my bank (like my past landlord). I made this feature prominent as well to allow for fast banking action.

In the redesign, I also realized that these main functions may not be most important for everyone, so I included a Set Home feature, which allows the user to select which three main functions they want to see on their own homepage. For instance, if someone would rather have the fast action to pay their credit card bills, transfer money between their accounts, and use the Punch the Pig feature for quick savings, they could change these in the Set Home feature and those would be the three categories (along with the link to menu) on the homepage. I’m sure as this project continues many other uses or desired uses from other people will come into focus, but for now, I figured making the homepage modular would allow people to personalize it for their needs.

Lastly, there were several redundant and unnecessary features. In the original design, there was a category in the menu called Account Activity, which effectively just took you back to the homepage. This was redundant and potentially confusing, so I did away with it. I also renamed a few things to make their function more explicit and clear for the user. I also broke up a couple categories to allow for quicker comprehension. For instance, Rewards and Offers were originally categorized together, but realizing that the Rewards were things that I could claim immediately and Offers were things I needed to sign up for (like new credit cards and auto loans), I decided to separate them.

In the breakdown of the app and the redesign, I was able to get a better understanding of the core functions of the app and discovered features that I never knew existed. From there, I was able to restructure the navigation and information architecture to better suit my needs as a user. Coming soon, I plan to get more feedback from others with the hopes of serving more needs beyond my own.

 

 

Cooking Creatively: An Ill-Structured Problem

For our last theory assignment of the first quarter, we read seven articles by different designers. Herbert Simon, along with Rittel and Webber all discussed ways to define and address ill-structured or “wicked” problems. These are complex problems that are difficult to solve or even address because of they’re ever-changing, interwoven with other issues, and often incomplete in their definition. Design is a problem solving process that can often work to engage with some of these issues. Simon argues that we face ill-structured problems in our every day life.

I think cooking from scratch could be considered an ill-structured problem. Of course, heating up a microwave meal is not, but as imagined below there are times when creating a meal that could be considered ill-structured problems.

Throughout the below comic are several author’s views about ways to address these problems. Buchanan and Pacione both see that design can be used beyond the designer. Although Buchanan makes an argument for design being a liberal art and Pacione makes an argument for design literacy, both argue that design can be practiced by everyone. We just need stronger defined methodology to enact it at a larger level. Wyatt and Brown’s view of ideation, inspiration, and implementation as spaces instead of a linear path helps establish the idea that one can go back and forth between them multiple times to come to a solution. Cross, de Bono, and Simon all stress the importance of being able to use your intuition as a guiding tool.

I, as the chef, choose to externalize ideas to gain more information about the problem, think more intentionally about the various tracks of addressing a problem, and learn to trust my intuition as I build it up over time.

An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen-01

An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 2 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 3 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 4 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 5 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 6 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 7 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 8 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 9 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 10 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 11 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 12 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 13 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 14 An Ill-Structured Problem in the Kitchen_Artboard 15

 

Homelessness in Parks and the Role of the Designer

After spending the last few years working to clean up local parks with volunteers, I can easily say that homelessness in parks is a heated issue in Austin. The below comic is partially based on true events that I experienced mixed with ideas from design experts.

Homelessness in Parks

 

 

 

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The general public often sees the homeless as the sole reason that the parks are trashed, dirty, or unsafe. After hearing a lot of complaints, the park department decides to close the bathrooms and showers in the park. Hobbes would say that the park department’s solution of closing the bathrooms and showers is one that will have unintended consequences. It is clear that the park department is not thinking about the system as a whole. Instead of addressing the root of the problem, their solution of closing the bathrooms, furthers the issues of trash because it leaves the homeless community with even fewer options to fulfill their basic needs.

Margolin argues that designers should be working to solve wicked, complex social issues. I agree that designers should use their process to help with wicked problems instead of mass producing useless products. Designers should work towards complex problems that benefit society, especially marginalized communities.

Unlike Pilloton, I don’t believe that designers need to commit their life to immersing themselves into a community, however, in depth, qualitative research is a must. Not being fully immersed into a community allows researchers to bring a new perspective to the issues. That new perspective combined with conducting rigorous and deep research will lead to empathy for the group, which will lead to strong insights and solutions.

As Spears suggests, the homeless face lowered cognitive decision making and willpower due to the fact that they have to make many important decisions throughout the day just to fulfill their basic needs. I think that addressing some of these large decisions first will assist in helping them to make decisions about smaller things in their life, such as disposing trash properly.

After talking with the homeless, I found out that they typically love the park and want to help keep it clean. I discovered that they like helping out when cleanups come through because he feels like he is contributing to his community. Whenever I encountered the homeless community in parks where we were conducting cleanups, I mentioned that they were welcome to join us. While not everyone that we came into contact did that, they often would take trash bags and cleanup their own area.

While that situation happened to me before I started learning about these new design ideas, I think that there are certainly ways to work with this population and address pollution in parks. The can for showers was an one idea that may help keep parks clean and allow for the homeless to address one of their basic needs.

As with any idea, I think that if this idea were taken to fruition, there would have to be check ins on the project periodically to understand how it affects the system at large, to see if it continues to deliver on it’s purpose, and to see if there were any unintended consequences of the introduction of this product into the system. All of these need to be looked at before scaling up and care needs to be taken before introducing these ideas in other populations or locations. Not every solution is a solution for everything.