Career-Changer: How Listening to User Needs Grows Meaningful Design

A Case Study by Jamie Fischer, UX Designer

After coming off a second solo design project, I was eager to move onto my bootcamp’s first group assignment. We were placed in teams of three and each assigned a role of: Planning Lead, Research Lead, or Interaction Lead. We were to chose from a list of prompts and create a mid-fidelity prototype. For this case study, I will be focusing on my contributions, the interaction design and usability testing of our final product.

I was assigned the role of Interaction lead. My responsibilities included managing the team project file, reviewing UI and layouts for consistency, and “owning” the prototype. We chose a prompt that required us to develop a career path exploration platform for residents of the DC area.

DC government website logo

To elaborate on the background of our prompt, The City of DC has a government website called OCTO — Office of the Chief Technology Officer-that offers many services to the city’s residents. Our mission was to create a web application to eliminate the barriers keeping people from pursuing jobs that are of interest or best fit for them, being able to explore pathways and plan a course to pursue new careers.

The team met to discuss and build a plan for the assignment. We set up a two week sprint with specific deliverable dates. We began on a Thursday and wanted to get a head start on research by creating a screener survey to establish baseline data and find potential interviewees.

We created an approachable, low-lift screener as a group. I shared the link through several discussion forums along with my teammates. Additionally, I conducted some competitive analysis, looking at what was already being offered in terms of career services. I also attempted to understand the current IA of the OCTO website by breaking it down and sketching it out.

I found that while there were many applications out there for job searching, few offered any sort of exploration or guidance related to career changes. I found about three apps that successfully integrated career guidance services. Most of these apps, however, assumed that their users had access to smartphones and computers. What about DC residents that were experiencing homelessness or didn’t have access to technology?

Screenshots of competitors applications

Once the team regrouped after the weekend, We had only managed to get about 10 responses to our survey, which fell incredibly short of the 75 person mark we were given. Internally, I knew it was time to push things into high gear. I felt that if we allowed ourselves to get stuck in a waterfall system, we would never leave the research phase of our design.

Once I had truly familiarized myself with the current website and attempted to visualize the navigation, I realized there were so many great programs that existed but no clear or direct way of how to use them or make the most of them. I asked myself, who was actually doing the work of finding these website? Were people aware of their existence?

an attempt to sitemap the current OCTO website

We were struggling to get responses to our survey. I reminded my teammates that we can still begin to create proto-personas and sketching ideas based on what we assume our users needs are.

I started throwing things up in our design file I believed our users would want to see based on my initial competitive research. I dove headfirst into sketching wireframes to aid in explaining my vision for our prototype to my partners

It was fascinating to see my assumptions begin to be validated directly by user quotes. Our group was able to get a subject matter expert interview with the career coach at our bootcamp. She has a background working with individuals experiencing homelessness and gave us valuable insight into their struggles concerning entering the workforce.

“You can’t work if you don’t have childcare; you can’t work if you don’t have transportation; you can’t work if you don’t have work clothes.” — Porcha Chambers, SME on Career Services

This directly validated my assumption that we should begin by streamlining the current websites offerings and create a centralized hub for users to navigate out from. These include: mobile tech labs that offer free laptop usage, Public WiFi Hotspots were you can access high speed internet services for free, as well as connect.dc that seeks to make technology more affordable for DC residents. Porcha also validated my assumption that more people have access to smartphones than computers, driving my decision to develop a mobile application versus a browser based app.

As a team, we converged to start developing some problem statements and ideate on solutions.

The problem: Securing jobs that have upward mobility and produce career satisfaction with room to grow and build confidence is challenging for the D.C. workforce because they lack easy access to personalized resources, supports and tools.

The solution: How might we help people find their passions and leverage their strengths to better support people throughout multiple phases in their career life in a convenient, intuitive and engaging way?

As our interviews were rolling in, we began synthesizing user groups and proto-personas. Who would be using our app and why? I focused on a secondary user, Josh. I thought it would be important to highlight that even if our user wasn’t interested in changing their career they could still find value in our application.

Josh, our secondary user, and some of his needs and values

Now that we had established a solid research foundation, we were free to fully dive into ideating how our prototype could alleviate the pain points users expressed. We wanted to incorporate feedback from our interviews directly into our prototype. Another standard we wanted to set was designing accessibly from the ground up. This allowed us to remain WCAG compliant from end to end.

We began sketching out our ideas based on what we thought our users needed. Once we began synthesizing our data, we were better able to direct our sketches utilizing direct user quotes.

We wanted our app to have a supportive and calm tone and incorporate motivational tidbits whenever we could to add delight. We stuck to a grayscale palette utilizing a splash color to indicate important navigational areas, such as our icons.

As we began moving our sketches into the digital world, I relied heavily on accessibility tools and contrast checkers when it came to our design. We used adobe to make sure that our color choices would work for the largest group of users possible.

Checking our color palette for accessibility

As a group, we spent several hours of heads down design time to create a product we truly believe DC residents will find useful and usable. The only thing left to do was to see if we were correct in our assumptions by testing. I developed two rounds of usability testing using maze.design. The initial round focused on the overall functionality of the product. The second round focused on specific feature functionality, UX writing, and IA validation via card sort.

Key performance indicators from testing

Above you can view the walkthrough of our prototype through, my persona, Josh’s eyes.

By the time we had reached the end of our project, we still felt there was more to be done. In the next coming months, I’d like to continue to polish and refine the existing product. I would like to conduct guerilla testing among residents in the DC area.

Taking time to reflect on this project, there are a few main takeaways I’ve learned. Being able to adapt to different group dynamics is invaluable. You have to be able to work with everyone and read the room. Second, do not take things personally. Being a new designer can be scary and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. Be ready to get feedback that may seem harsh but take a deep breath and remind your self learning feels uncomfortable. Finally, stay active. Don’t wait for data to find you. If it’s not happening fast enough, don’t be afraid to do some research and use your imagination. We’re designers after all, have fun!

Appendix

Fine dining chef turned UX enthusiast. Currently navigating the waters of an active job seeker and stay at home busy body.