Mentoring Wrap-up….For Now

I met with D. again on the Saturday before the Monday when our prototypes were due.  At that point, I had  revised flow charts, a site architecture map, mobile screens developed for two scenarios and a few tablet screens.  D carefully reviewed my work and even though he initially said he only had an hour, he found the work interesting and delayed his departure by about 45 minutes.

He liked the work I had done but made a number of recommendations, based on the following principles:

  • Minimizing hero photos (particularly their height)
  • Avoiding tab menus in mobile and opting for ‘hamburger’ menus instead
  • Using contrast on or behind priority images/widgets/text
  • Grouping text buttons together and separate from icon buttons, versus striving for symmetry
  • Grouping related sections together as a best practice in forms

Although it was tempting to save time and proceed with the wireframes I had, I couldn’t do so after D had flagged improvement opportunities.  This meant spending a good portion of Sunday revising the screens and working through the night to deliver the prototype on Monday.

With my prototype completed, I met later in the week with M. and two agency colleagues of hers: a content strategist (S) and a strategist (J). M had kindly set-up the opportunity for me to present my project and hear their feedback.  I introduced my concept with the banner designed for Digifest (as my project is part of the upcoming student exhibit) and then walked them through my prototype.  M. and her colleagues like the targeted focus of my project, its content and the UX features I’d incorporated.  They offered numerous recommendations to strengthen the solution and highlighted a few best practices to sustain.

Specifically, S. advised me to keep in mind the following best practices:

  • Ensure a consistent voice and tone throughout the site, as often this is lost after the initial pages.
  • Keep the site focused and try not to be all things to everyone or provide content for every senior relevant topic
  • Include some sort of rotating content on the home page to keep people interested, engaged and give them a reason to return

The group’s tangible suggestions included:

  • Checking UX principles and approaches airbnb embraces for ideas
  • Adding a field to the caregiver’s profile to address their personal needs
  • Adding the functionality for someone to share via email in addition to social shares
  • Changing the heart icon for ‘follow’ to something different since a heart is commonly associated with ‘Like’
  • Replacing the map icon with something like an MLS map locator – or even Google maps link
  • Adding overall maps to show seniors’ facilities in key regions/cities
  • Replacing the Upvote button with a thumbs up icon

I was pleased by how supportive they were and surprised to hear J. say that with a few tweaks, my concept would be ready to move to the next stage of bringing a developer on board.  I didn’t think I was that close but who am I to challenge mentors with light years of digital experience on me?

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Drilling Down on UX Design Details

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.55.49 PMI met D., my UX mentor, last Saturday afternoon for two hours in a coffee shop near his home. The pre-agreed purpose of the meeting was to introduce him to my senior project and walk him through my preliminary work on it.

He quickly grasped the project’s concept and purpose to enable caregivers to share proven recommendations and resources with each other. I had various documents on aspects of the project but not surprisingly, he was drawn to the visual materials. D. wanted to start with my personas. He said they were well thought out and looked professional. For future scenarios, he recommended breaking each into smaller chunks, which are easier for a UX designer to reference when developing wireframes.

I showed him process flow diagrams for the Q&A module user path and housing review user path. I also showed him the first wireframe for the Q&A screens.

He reviewed the user flow diagrams in detail and made several suggestions, including:

  • Grouping ‘Yes’ options together and separate from ‘No’ options stemming from the same decision point
  • Limiting rating scale options to three to avoid user fatigue
  • Highlighting the most positive outcomes on the chart with a background tone or colour.
  • Exploring design additions to offset the user’s disappointment in negative areas of the path, such as when they don’t find an immediate answer to their question.

For my wireframes, D suggested limiting horizontal buttons on mobile screens to three and to strive for more white space. He recommended Designing Social Interfaces, by Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, as a great reference for social solutions. This is particularly helpful as early on I searched for UX resources specific to social and came up dry.

My biggest challenge with senior project is time, as I thought we would have more time this semester to focus on development.  D. suggested shaving time by using Axure for the prototype instead of formatting it in a separate tool, as I’d initially planned.  He also recommended proposing varied stages for the solution to manage breadth of scope and avoid scope creep.

I’m now busy implementing D.’s recommendations, which means making some time-consuming structural adjustments to my user flows.

D. has agreed to meet me again but as his best time is weekends, we can’t meet again until April 11. This is two days before my senior project is due for my semester mark. However, as I’m looking at phases, I consider this the deadline for phase one. I can iterate further for phase two, which is when I will show it as part of a digital show’s student exhibit in early May.

I also heard back from M. with a date to meet with her and a content expert just after the semester deadline for senior project. However, I can apply any advice I glean from this meeting to phase two.

Caregiver Personas: Connecting Dedication with Digital

Persona Example Image

Unless an interactive solution meets a human need or desire, it’s just a surge of energy-sucking pixels. To prevent this, you need to start with personas. According to the UX Lady, personas “identify real users’ profiles’, needs, wants and expectations” and help us answer ‘what’ each would do when faced with decisions, both on and offline.

My senior project is to develop a niche, social media network to help informal or unpaid caregivers (i.e., people who are responsible for overseeing the care of family members or other loved ones), specifically those who care for senior citizens.

Many of these caregivers are 45 to 65 years-old and called the ‘sandwich generation’ because they’re raising their own children, while caring for elderly loved ones. According to studies, these caregivers make up a fifth of Canadian professionals and are often “short of sleep, grumpy….and take it out on customers and colleagues at work,” but they are more than this. They are diverse people, living multidimensional lives.

To find answers, I developed personas, based on composites of more than a dozen caregivers I know personally, plus many I’ve read or learned about through recent research and my communications work with Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres.

They included:

  • Gillian,  theTechnopeasant on  a Mission,’ who is single, 61-years-old and responsible for her 92-year-old mom, who recently pulled a tendon.
  • Bruce, the ‘Hipster Tree-Hugger,’  who is a 52-year-old teacher, married with kids, and cares for Mary, his 83-year-old mom, who still lives in her own home…but that is changing as her scenario unfolds.
  • Nadira, the ‘Techno Diva,’ a 45-year-old, software executive, married with one child and caring for her elderly parents, who speak minimal English, including her 82-year-old father, who’s being tested for sleep apnea.

I built these personas using a hybrid mix of templates from the UX Lady, creative agency Fake Crow and our interactive media course last term. I also reviewed other personality models, such as Microsoft’s archetypes for cross-screen engagement, which I thought particularly relevant to tech savvy caregivers juggling home and work tasks; I thought how each type applied to caregivers I’ve met. From these resources, I identified, merged and created categories that touched on characteristics, such as their goals and frustrations, that can inform ‘how’ I build a social network to support their caregiving needs.

When I presented my personas for the class critique, much of the feedback centred on Gillian. I made her proficient at searching for answers online but lacking any kind of mobile phone.  My classmates thought it impossible that someone who was a senior’s lifeline wouldn’t have embraced the convenience of mobile. However, I based this persona on a real, digital immigrant who didn’t user computers until she was 32 and finds the consistent presence of devices, in boardrooms to diningrooms, offensive. Having heard similar objections from other Baby Boomers, I don’t think Gillian is an anomaly but I tweaked her persona to be more ‘open’ to mobile — someday.

Other suggestions were:

  • Including less affluent, non-professional people
  • Including a younger 20 to 30 something demographic as a secondary audience for cases when they are the only family nearby

I think including less affluent/non-professionals was the most important suggestion and adjusted my personas accordingly. I stayed with the ‘sandwich generation’s’ age range based on my research but will consider younger caregivers as a secondary audience for my overall solution.

‘Healthy’ Social Media and UX Influencers to Follow

Photos of influencers: Luke Wroblewski, Dr. Kevin Pho and Beth Kanter.
Influencers to follow: (left to right) Luke Wroblewski, Dr. Kevin Pho and Beth Kanter.

One of the best ways to hone progressive skills is to learn from leaders and build on their best practices. Interactive media is no exception and reading relevant blogs is an effective way to do this. As my senior project is a niche, social media healthcare solution, I want to hear insights from:

  1. Interactive UX design gurus
  2. Healthcare leaders mastering social media
  3. Social media experts in healthcare/not-for-profit sector

1. Interactive UX Design Gurus –

If it existed, my ″ideal″ influencer would focus on UX design for consumer-focused social media networks that improve overall health.  Short of that, I think these UX experts/blogs will offer great tips as my project evolves:

  • Luke Wroblewski, Product Director, GoogleBefore I even look at Luke’s blog, his biography underscores extensive credibility that makes him follow-worthy.  He held lead design roles at Yahoo and eBay; founded and sold two start-ups (to Twitter and Google); co-founded the Interaction Design Association; wrote books on usability and mobile first; and has 113 k followers on Twitter @lukew (including me). What’s more Luke’s regular blog Ideation + Design (which I now follow) features practical articles with visual examples, such as a recent one that clearly explains ‘why’ we should display passwords on login screens, as well as ‘how-to’ UX videos.  He also regularly attends industry conferences and share his notes and learnings with his readers. I think his articles will help inform some of the design decisions I’ll face in developing my senior project and its prototype.
  • Several UX Experts and the UX Booth blog – This robust blog covers various aspects of interactive design for beginner to intermediate designers, neatly organized into various accessible categories, such as: analytics; content strategy; design strategy; interactive design; and resources — to name a few. It is linked to Twitter handle @UXBooth.  I think subscribing to and reading this weekly blog will help me stay on the right course and enable me to incorporate best practices from various aspects of effective interactive design.

2. Healthcare Leaders Mastering Social Media – As one of the latter disciplines to adopt social media (due in no small part to privacy issues), experts in this area are true pioneers, overcoming numerous opposition to achieve success. In this category, I’m going to follow Kevin Pho MD, who practices primary care at the Nashua Medical Group in New Hampshire. An active blogger, Kevin explores where medicine, health care and social media intersect. CNN named @KevinMD as one of its five recommended health care Twitter feeds. He also has profiles on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  (I’m following/liking him on all his social profiles at this point, except LinkedIn, as doesn’t know me — yet.)  All these accolades make him a solid bet for my attention. More importantly, Dr. Pho is the founder and editor of KevinMD.com, a blog endorsed by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the New York Times.  Although many of this blog’s articles touch on technology/digital, I like the way its social media articles are grouped in one area making them easy to find and check for best practices dealing with this sometimes sensitive topic.

3. Social media experts in healthcare/not-for-profit

Since I need to think ahead on ‘how’ I will bring my senior project solution to market, especially through social media and community-focused strategies.  The best resource for doing this, who I have followed for some time, is Beth Kanter. Beth has written many books, is on the UN’s list of most influential bloggers and both Fast Company and Business Week have endorsed her as a social media expert.

She regularly posts on Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running blogs for nonprofits. It’s filled with practical examples that I can likely apply to my project.  I follow Beth’s Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and You Tube feeds.

I’m hoping that watching and heeding the advice of these experts will keep me on a track to success with my senior project.