Getting actual experience in UX and research when you are first getting started is one of the main barriers our mentees face.
In mid-2018 we put together a project for an opportunity to work on a real app for a real client for four of our members.
We offered individual mentorship and guidance to the participants throughout the project from the discovery phase through to development.
The app, MeetMate, is now live in the app store and is a result of the hard work and collaboration of our four mentees Chris James, Joanna Goodman, Martina Zahradnikova and Jan Bankowski
Chris and Joanna have gone on to become Community Managers.
Why did you want to apply to be a part of the MeetMate project?
Chris J: I’d spent a lot of time learning about UX through books and workshops. I had started to put the skills I learned into practice during my freelance work. However I was often working as a UX team of one, so I wanted the opportunity to work with other UX professionals. I think working with others is one of the best ways to learn and develop your craft.
Joanna: To gain experience in UX through completing a group project, learn from others, gain skills in design, research and problem solve.
Martina: I wanted to get a hands-on experience in UX by working on a practical project, which I could complete while working full-time as I was trying to change careers at the time.
Jan: MeetMate was a project in my area of interest, which could increase my experience and expand my portfolio. All this and it was remote group work.
What were the main areas you had to explore?
Chris J: We went through a full project lifecycle of discovery and research, ideation, testing and delivery. We also touched on softer skills such as remote working practices, client relationships, processing feedback and communication.
Joanna: Research, ideation and design. Focusing on on-boarding and ease of use.
Martina: I had a chance to experience most the aspects of the overall product development process including product and project management, user research, ideation, design, user testing, iteration based on the feedback and development.
Jan: Cooperation with client, development of existing project (implementation to the ongoing project), application audit, application testing, creating wireframes, mockups and application design (all over again), cooperation with developer and designer.
How did you define your approach to tackling the project?
Chris J: We kicked-off the project with team discussions about our approach the project. We knew we needed to understand the problem space, so we developed a research plan which included:
- details about the people we should try to talk in order to gain the insights we needed
- an interview structure for talking to these individuals
- usability test structure
- competitor analysis plan
Assuming we would then have a good understanding of the task at hand, we intended to apply design thinking principles to move towards a solution
Joanna: Our approach was to gain a good understanding of our users before starting to investigate how to solve the problems the user was experiencing. As this was a great learning experience, personally learning as we went along, taking advice and guidance from our mentor.
Martina: We had to put an initial structure in place regarding all our virtual office processes, which came up through collaboration and team discussions. Once the practical foundation has been laid out we have utilized the problem solving techniques rooted in Design Thinking while always keeping the user’s needs in focus.
Jan: At the beginning my goal was to increase know-how. Due to the fact I did not know how to do it, I tried to deepen understanding to find answers to the client’s requirements and needs.
What tools did you use to work together and collaborate?
Chris J: We collaborated remotely so some of the tools we really important in the success of the project. Slack was great for general discussions. We used appear.in for our weekly calls, which proved to be much more robust than google hangouts.
To share findings and ideas we relied heavily on Trello and Real-time board. We all had different preferences for designing and prototyping. I had a lot of experience with Sketch and Marvel so I stuck with those. Whereas others had were more comfortable with Figma.
I think that just proved that the choice of tools doesn’t really matter, so long as you are accurately able to test your ideas and learn.
Joanna: Slack, google hangouts, real-time boards, marvel app, figma, trello, and Sketch
Martina: Slack, RealTimeBoard, Appear.in Trello, Google Docs, Figma, Sketch, Marvel App – most of these I continue using on a daily basis.
Jan: Slack, RealTimeBoard, Figma, Marvel, Google Docs, appear.in
How did you work with the visual designer?
Chris J: In my freelance work I usually fulfil the role of Visual Designer, so it was an interesting change for me to delegate this work to someone else in the team. It really enabled me to focus on whether the design would provide the best experience for the user, instead of getting fixated on things like icons, colour and layout.
As someone else on the team handled the direct relationship with the Visual Designer, my role was to provide feedback on the designs as they were submitted.
Joanna: Martina worked mostly with the visual designer to express how the app should look visually once during the final stages of the prototype design.
Martina: I have collaborated together with our mentor Chris and a contracted visual designer going back and forth with the team for feedback. The visual design direction needed to stay on brand, which was the requirement from the client’s side.
Jan: At first we developed application flow and UX. Later on, the Visual Designer enhanced the graphics and choose the right colours that matched them.
How did you work with the developer?
Chris J: The Developer took our prototype and the visual design to build the app. He would periodically release versions of the app for us to test on our devices. We would provide feedback via Trello and Slack discussions.
Occasionally, the developer would identify issues or technical constraints that we hadn’t anticipated. When this occurred we would reconsider the problem and provide fresh designs where appropriate.
Joanna: We worked with the developer through testing different iterations of app, ensuring it met the spec and recorded bugs to a Trello board with information regarding the issue including screenshots, device and explanation of issue.
Martina: We had written and prioritised user stories and epics getting them ready for development. Once the development phase started we have been available to clarify requirements and report bug fixes.
Jan: Teamwork with the Developer was crucial thing during the whole development process. The Developer had to learn our needs about MeetMate functionality, and we had to know what capabilities and limitations of the system were.
What activities did you get involved with and what were the challenges?
Chris J: The research phase of interviewing users and conducting usability tests was a good learning experience for me. This portion of the project is so crucial to gaining the insights you need to move forward, so any practice you can gain in this field is very valuable.
I had experience in designing, prototyping and testing ideas, so this part of the project was in my comfort zone. It was great to work as a part of a team on this process, as collectively we came up with solutions that I don’t believe we would have reached if we had worked in isolation.
Joanna: Research- challenges in getting users for surveys, interviews and usability tests.
Martina: I touched on all the phases of the project. In the beginning I was involved as a Project Manager before we started to rotate the position, so that everybody got to experience it. As I have mentioned above I was involved in user research and testing, ideation, design and development phases.
Jan: I was involved in all stages of creating applications such as research, interviews, testing, creating wireframes, flow or PM.
However, the biggest difficulty was understanding the client’s needs. Due to the fact, we had difficulty of understanding Client’s needs, we had to redesign applications many times. It can be evidenced by many abandoned version that were not accepted.
What do you feel you have gained as a result of working on the project?
Chris J: I have gained experience of working through a UX project from start to finish. It’s very satisfying to see our efforts make it into the app store. As a side bonus was learning how to collaborate with a remote team. I learned a lot from my colleagues on the project and it’s be awesome to make some new contacts in the industry.
Joanna: I gained a great insight into the full UX process, experience at research and how to measure success, using tools such as Sketch, Figma and Marvel App gave experience in using various design tools and working with a team of UX Designers.
Martina: I have discovered a passion for new career, which is indeed a path I have embarked on since. I have learned lot and am really grateful for this whole experience.
Jan: Experience and confidence in design and the whole UX processes.
What would you do differently next time?
Chris J: A lot of our team discussions happened without the opportunity for our mentor to listen in. This wasn’t intentional, but simply down to the fact we could only include four people on a call with the free plan on appear.in! Looking back we should have found a way to get the client in on the calls.
Joanna: The research stage took longer than planned, if I was to do it again, I would better plan out the different tasks required for research from specific users.
Martina: It would be nice to extend the user research phase to cover more areas of the field such as 1-on-1 user interviews, diary studies etc.
Jan: With the current knowledge, I would approach differently to the whole planning process. Now I know what the differences are between the client and the recipients of the application.
The Client wants a product. He has a vision of it. But it is our job to verify if this vision will be accepted by the recipients or if it will require adjustments.
We could save a lot of time doing the following:
- more realistic planning of deadlines, resources
- from the beginning, we would benefit from more help from a mentor
- to improve communication, both within the team and external collaborators
- during this project we gained a lot of knowledge and real know how about UX. This would improve the project and accelerate its implementation significantly.
What advice would you give anyone looking to gain more UX experience after taking part?
Chris J: Working on a real project is by far and away the best way to gain experience in UX. You will learn much more than you will from a book or a classroom. When in the project, don’t be afraid to share your ideas or ask questions. Gaining feedback from your peers and mentors is invaluable.
Joanna: Taking on a project with a team is a valuable experience, as well as learning from others experience and ideas, it allows you to deepen your project management skills and gain a better insight into the process. The research stage is very important for gaining insights into the problems and getting a good understanding of our users before beginning to brainstorm.
Martina: Get down the theory and go ahead and build something.
Jan: Do not be afraid and ask questions. People are helpful.
Want to be part of our next project?
- Get experience of a real project for your portfolio
- Get dedicated mentorship through the project
- Work on products that give value back to the community