The Rocky Road to Prototype Delivery

SrProjectBlogPost4ImageAgainst what often felt like all odds, my team and I finished a prototype of Senior Care Share — a niche social network for caregivers.  To some extent, it’s like a newborn — alive but ‘sleeping’ most of the time and with only the inkling of a fully animated personality.

There were a few challenges along this birth canal.  Some of the anticipated challenges, such as developing a technically viable solution, adhering to privacy and other legislation and building an engaged user community, have yet to come. Instead, the journey was challenged by:

  1. Defining a clear scope and avoiding the temptation to let it creep
  2. Striving to produce a compelling interface—without having every best practice nailed down
  3. Rapidly learning a tool to bring a concept to life and integrating output from another tool

Keeping the Scope in Check

Fortunately, my concept was an easy sell to anyone who was within or close to my target audience. However, with interest comes ideas and there was plenty. What about a live chat? Online seminars? People ranking products? Giving commercial entities a piece of the action?

Research, such as comparative analysis, audience needs’ assessment and optimal card sort, played an invaluable role in weeding out component contenders and uncovering gaps. These insights helped me set a sane scope of three modules: a Q & A forum (versus a live or open chat); a facilities review; and a section for rewarding participation and nurturing the community.

Striving for a Compelling Interface

As I’m still green at UX and a perfectionist, I scour the Internet for best practices on the shape, position and size of every element when faced with a wire frame task. This dilemma leads to ‘writers’ block’ but fortunately I found a UX mentor who encouraged my early ideas and designs, nudging me forward with a few principles at a time.  I also engaged a team member, initially pegged as an editor, to take UX ownership of one module, which eased the load. His work also gave me new ideas to adapt and iterate across the platform.

Rapidly Learning a New Tool: Axure

My initial plan was to complete wire frame in either Axure or Omnigraffle and then transfer to a specific prototyping tool like Invision.  When my mentor suggested completing it all in Axure, I thought I’d found a ‘shortcut.’  I quickly learned how wrong I was.

I signed up for Axure training videos to help learn this tool, while using it for these critical steps.  My colleague stayed with Omnigraffle and it took a few extra steps to merge the two wire frame types into a unified look and feel.  Fortunately, I was able to cut and paste sections over, which I knew were not perfect but looked blended through most eyes. I also cut corners by opting for the simplest interactive technique: linked pages/widgets, which proved effective to my surprise.

Before this experience, I envisioned a prototype as something more robust with more fully formed content and crystal clear transitions…but time ran out. Like a newborn that’s thrust into the world after nine months to be raised by ‘a village,’ there’s a point where a concept needs to take form and evolve with a community’s input.

Without a forced schedule, ‘my baby’ might be have been internally refined forever, possibly with lame limbs and extra appendages. With a prototype in place, I now need to explain less and the feedback I receive is focused, primarily within scope, and helping this baby grow.

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Bracing for the Thorny Challenges of a Healthcare Network

Social Caregivers Network Image

My senior interactive media project is to develop a niche social media network for informal ‘caregivers’ (i.e., people responsible for a senior to elderly family member or other loved one). Its working name is: Social Caregivers Network (SCN).

My vision is to develop: a one-stop resource to help Canadian caregivers share and quickly access trustworthy recommendations that give their loved ones the best care. Unlike the plethora of recommendations from senior care companies with a profit-driven agenda, the SCN will give caregivers access to objective recommendations, tested by other caregivers who share their challenges. It will also save time by giving caregivers access to others’ discoveries/learnings.

Having never produced a social media network, I don’t know all the challenges but here are those that come to mind:

  1. Defining Scope that Meets My Audience’s Top Priorities – Caregivers face a broad range of challenges — from finding a reliable hearing aid to making an end of life decision. While tempting, the SCN can’t cover every scenario. The challenge is to narrow the scope to a feasible mandate that delivers distinct value to the end-users. As with any interactive media project, I need to start with the audience (including key personas) and its priority needs or use case scenarios. To achieve this, I plan to survey a sampling of this audience to collect qualitative data on where the needs are greatest and criteria for success. Only then, can I select the functions/features to address these needs and define the scope.
  2. Making the Interface Accessible, Compelling and Intuitive – There is no point in producing the SCN unless I strive to follow UX best practices and ensure AODA compliance. Beyond this, I plan to incorporate testing, such as a card sort, to keep the solution aligned with the audience’s habits/perceptions as it progresses.
  3. Avoiding Scope Creep – Throughout this project, I’ll be challenged to keep tasks within this scope and ensure that iterations don’t include new mandates. This will be tough as I’m sure I’ll discover many ‘great’ ideas but believe by adhering to proven project management methodologies with effective tools, I can avoid this pitfall.
  4. Proposing a Technically Viable Solution and Finding the Resources to Bring it to Fruition – Although I have some technical understanding, it’s a challenge to not ask for something that’s impossible to build.  More importantly, I need to find the human and financial resources to complete the SCN. For this, I’ll rely on mentors within and outside the college for technical and entrepreneurial guidance
  5. Adhering to Privacy Legislation and Avoiding Liability Issues – Since the SCN deals with personal health details, it must adhere to all applicable privacy legislation in Canada, as well as possibly the US.  Similarly, I need to ensure the SCN is not liable for undesirable outcomes due to community members’ advice.  To avoid both of these issues, I’ll check applicable guidelines and invest in a legal review/opinion before it goes live.
  6. Building, Nurturing and Protecting an Engaged Community – Although a social network’s long-term value is in its community and their interactions, it must be built first and nurtured. I need to develop tactics to attract members and initiate conversations/engagement, particularly in its early days.  I also need to incorporate features to mitigate/block trolls/detractors, who can tarnish the user experience.

This is my initial challenge list but I need to proactively identify and stay ahead of others as I move forward.

Inspired by Meaningful Connections

I find the pace and potential of technological innovations exhilarating. I’m inspired by the potential to create digital solutions that are not just viewed, read or heard but those that create meaningful connections that improve people’s offline lives.

When I graduate from my interactive media management program, my dream role is to work as a digital strategist developing interactive solutions, ideally for healthcare education or health 2.0 solutions.

For my senior project, I’m torn between  two ideas that make meaningful connections with the user.  Each idea steams from topics I’m passionate about: healthcare and social responsibility.

 Empowering Patients and Caregivers

Through various roles in my career, I’ve learned how technology can benefit healthcare — from increasing productivity to improving patient outcomes. I’m inspired by technology’s potential to changes lives plus thrilled to have played a tiny role in the process.

More recently, my healthcare work has included contracts with Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres, who provide homecare and other services to seniors.  This experience, combined with caring for my 90-year-old mother, showed me the challenges Canada’s senior citizens face. It also made me acutely aware of shortfalls in our current system.

These shortfalls make it difficult for family members or caregivers to navigate the system and access the best supports for their loved ones. Unfortunately, the average consumer is not well-versed in seniors’ diverse needs but for a growing number of players, it’s a booming business. This scenario makes its hard for caregivers to find clear, unbiased answers about the steady stream of services, medications and other ‘must have’ products sold to seniors.

Much of the information I’ve learned about resources and remedies for seniors’ conditions, comes from my work, research or word-of-mouth. Once uncovered, objective answers about what form to use for a walker rebate, trusted Personal Support Workers (PSWs) for emergency respite care or the ins and outs of sleep apnea, are gold. I’ve shared them with friends caring for aged relatives.

I wonder however how much time we could save others if we shared these insights with a broader network? After all, we use social networks for professional development, news, childcare or how-to ideas. Why not have a social network for caregivers to share insights about senior care options in a specific province or for specific conditions? With our aging population, I think this is a practical interactive solution to pursue.

Maple Syrup with Worldwide Value

I’m  also inspired by Canada’s benefits and our opportunities to make meaningful connections with other cultures. In 2012, I took a ‘voluntourism’ trip to Peru to help promote a socially responsible jewellery factory. I brought a maple syrup gift for my host Peruvian family. They placed it in a back cupboard, where it likely still sits unopened.

The challenge is people in many cultures don’t eat pancakes and don’t know what to do with maple syrup.  So ‘what if’ we could create a website with a database of authentic international recipes that use maple syrup?  Students, tourists or NGO workers could access and print a maple syrup recipe for their destination country (in English or the country’s language) and present it with their maple syrup gift. This solution would enable us to ‘act local but think global’ on a small-scale and make a positive first impression of Canada, as an inclusive country.

Both ideas have merit. The caregivers’ network idea is huge but links with my long-term interest to work on health 2.0 solutions. The second is truly Canadian and timely, given this summer’s Pan Am games.

Maybe I should just flip a coin or a pancake?  What would you choose?