Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Spaces — A  

No, this is not about Gestalt principles. It’s about problem spaces, competitive spaces, and opportunities. It’s about my 4th project UX project at General Assembly, which was also my 2nd group project for the UX Design Immersive course. As our instructors put it during the project kick-off, the training wheels were off. The only things they controlled were who we were in a group with, a few deadlines, and appointing people to act as “stakeholders” at the “design firm” our team “belonged to.”

Other than those details, our team had free rein. We found our own problem space, identified a possible partner for our platform, and also managed our own deliverables and UX processes.

Blank slate

We started off with nothing and slowly worked on filing that space with something. First, finding a problem space, and eventually a competitive space. But, within a few sessions, it was clear that there was another void to fill, and that’s where opportunity comes in.

I would describe myself as an adapter. If you’ve read my other stories, you probably understand why I describe myself this way. In a group setting, I like to wait and see how roles are filled. I do my best to fill the missing role, and support my teammates. I guess that makes me like a tendon…of sorts.

I realized that no one in the group wanted to make decisions about anything we had to do. A lot of ideas and opinions, but without a person to make a decision, all that energy had no direction. It led to a whirlpool of discussion that sucked away productivity. The other productivity sucker was lack of focus. We all got along really well…and had a tendency to have lengthy conversations about randomness.

The first step in this project was to pitch our idea for problem space to tackle to our instructors. After we submitted our pitch, I realized that the lack of decision making was going to be a real problem for our group. So I took the opportunity to step into the role of team leader. Luckily, my team embraced me as leader and gave me generous space to exercise that leadership.

Dirty Laundry

After much discussion and a number of great ideas, we decided that our problem space was laundry. Everybody has laundry, the majority of of people hate laundry, but we all trudge through this tedious, time sucking chore. Why not just outsource it?

Affinity Map

Per usual, we went about the process of conducting user interviews, affinity mapping, synthesizing our data, developing a persona and problem statement. These processes and tools allowed us to identify and personify our typical user. Based on our interviews, our persona was a young professional named Joe who had easy access to laundry facilities, but simply did not want to do laundry due to the scarcity of his personal time. Joe didn’t want to devote his free time to laundry, which was time consuming and tedious.

We presented our research findings and a possible partner that we identified during our class pin-up. A pin-up is where each team posts their project information/documentation for the class to review. We all reviewed the pin-ups in silence, and wrote sticky notes for the team. For our project, we kept getting notes about how laundry services already exist. How would our service be different?

What Competition? User Research Meets Competitive Research

Competitive Matrix

So yes, laundry services is an oversaturated market. But, none of the services in NYC have actually been very successful. Looking online, our main competitors had TERRIBLE reviews. They had scathing reviews for about the past 6 months if not more. So although our mobile application wasn’t very unique, there was definitely room for our product in the competitive space. Since no one in the laundry services marketplace was doing well, there was plenty of room for another competitor to enter and dominate the marketplace.

Reading reviews online about our immediate competitors and understanding the business model for those competitors kind of served as our secondary research. Through those reviews, which consistently espoused the same issues, we were able to catch a glimpse of the pain points of users who currently use laundry services. We were able to make sure that our product dealt with the issues that plagued our competitors.

We felt that our partnership with a single vendor with multiple locations throughout the New York Metro Area would alleviate many of the issues that users were experiencing with the current laundry services. Our assumption was that providing customers with a single laundromat vendor with premises near their home and using laundry bags that can be tracked would alleviate issues with missing laundry. A robust onboarding process to capture customer laundry preferences would help minimize the instances of clothes being ruined. Using a subscription based business model would make laundry service less cost prohibitive.

Paying It Forward Through Design

Understanding our users, competitors, and problem space, we went into our design studio. By this time, I had already started acting as the team leader, but from a backseat-driver position. But, I realized that I need to step it up. I also saw that the team was receptive to my leadership.

So, I called upon the powers of Type A Triceara to help me step up my leadership and get through to the finish line. First of all, I didn’t even know that Type A Triceara existed. Through love of UX Design or love of my team, she came out. Yes, people always tell me that I have a type A personality but I have never believed it. Until now. Using my new found abilities, I started delegating tasks, assigning homework, and putting tasks (yes, with time restrictions) on our Trello board everyday. It became so that the team relied on my daily Trello board update and asked for them when I wouldn’t update the board. But the real moment that I knew I was the team leader was when I started getting excuses about homework assignments (“sorry, my dog at my wireframes!”). No, I’m not a tyrant and I didn’t demand to know why homework wasn’t done. Those excuses were offered to me. Though to be honest, I didn’t care about missing homework. My teammates were all adults. I trusted them to work or produce when necessary.

This basically how our design process and prototyping went. People did all they they could to avoiding doing paper prototypes, but I pressed them for it. And when it came to wireframing and prototyping, I made the person with the least skill do it.

One piece of advice that I have received throughout my time at General Assembly is to get out of your comfort zone. If there is something that feels uncomfortable, go and do it. I’ve taken this advice to heart, and it’s been wonderful for me. I wanted to pass this great experience onto my teammates by assigning them tasks that they didn’t want to do. In the end it was mutually rewarding on more than one occasion. I’d give someone a task and they’d whine that they don’t want to do it and say that they didn’t have the skills. Then they would do it and come back to me smiling, feeling more confident and just…happy. How rewarding is that when you’re a leader? I was literally seeing my teammates grow right in front of me. And all because I nudged them.

After iteration upon iteration and conducting usability tests on our paper prototype, mid-fi and hi-fi prototypes, it was finally time to finalize our presentation and specification document (spec doc).

Specifications & Presentations

The day before our presentation and spec doc were due, we were still working on some loose ends with the presentation and the spec doc was barely 50% done because we kept changing the wireframes. We were finally in the position where we had all the components of the spec doc, and then my teammate announced that she had to leave early. She volunteered to take care of the spec doc from home.

Fast forward 6 hours and I’m in a complete panic over the spec doc. I know my teammate was planning to work on it late night, but as the team leader I was struggling within as to whether or not I should just do it myself. I didn’t want to send the wrong message. If I stepped in and did it, was I saying “I didn’t trust you to do this,” but if I did nothing was I saying “I don’t care about you and I wanted to go to bed?”

This reminded me of some great advice that I received nearly two years ago. I was on maternity leave and living the stay-at-home mom life with my first and only child. One of the activities that I took my daughter to, baby yoga (yes, baby yoga), was followed by a new mom support group. On this particular day, everyone seemed to have a complaint about their husband/partner. The facilitator gently schooled us about micromanaging our husbands/partners. No, your husband/partner will not change the diapers like you do, prepare the bottles like you do, do the dishes like you do, but give them space to figure it out. And doesn’t the task always get done?

I warred with this notion for what seemed like forever. Finally, I sent my teammate a Slack message telling her I’ll be up until ☓ time if you need me. I decided that stepping in to handle the spec doc, after she had committed to doing it, would be disrespectful and show her that I didn’t trust her. And, I realized that I was being ridiculous. Here was a woman who had run a successful business for many years and was getting high marks on her document submissions. She always did what she said she would throughout the project. What was I worried about?

In the end, the spec doc was better than anything I would have put together. Yeah, the wireframes were wrong but it was a quick fix in the morning. When I saw her in the morning she was so concerned that she didn’t do a good job. I told her she killed it and did way more than I would have thought to do.

The presentation went well. Our pretend managers seemed to be satisfied with the answers we provided. Their questions taught me a bit about what to include in presentations. We didn’t know who we were presenting to, so the presentation was prepared as if it was someone who did not understand UX. That means I did leave out some things that I viewed as a bit more complex, or not necessary for a lay person. Just our luck, one of our pretend managers was a UX expert. We got some questions, but nothing that we couldn’t handle. The data existed, it was just absent from our slides.

Take a look at our InVision prototype:

I loved working with my team, and I’m so grateful that they gave me the opportunity and space to lead them. To be clear, they’re talented, intelligent, and creative individuals. They didn’t just let me walk in and do what I wanted. They tested me, fought with me, made me think about my choices, changed my mind. And I accepted and loved every bit of it. I’m glad that as a leader I was able to hear them and take in everything they had to offer. Here’s some advice to current managers and would be managers:

  • Have humility.
  • Have empathy for those reporting to you.
  • Remember that the people reporting to you choose to allow you to lead them. They made this choice for a reason. Try to understand what they expect from you and why they made that choice to begin with.
  • Inspire your people; it drives their devotion to the cause.
  • Push gently but don’t waver.
  • Give praise freely and enthusiastically; be a cheerleader for your people.
  • Give criticism freely, gently, and with a little humor.
  • Be grateful for the opportunity to lead.

My time at General Assembly is nearly at an end…just one more sprint to go. I’ve learned so much. I’m already in my new group for our final project as consultants for a real client. I cannot wait to learn from my new teammates and my client.

Empty spaces — a UX case study was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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