We just wrapped up our first group project. I’m both relieved and sad that the time with my team has come to an end.
I’m not going to lie. I had mixed feelings when I found out who I would be working with for our first group projects. I had thoughts and expectations about what it would be like to work with each team member. I took a few minutes and thought about these preconceived notions that I had, and then I put them aside. Just that simple. I acknowledged my feelings, and then I set them aside. My first impressions and presumptions about my fellow classmates had no place in the project. Though there was a voice inside saying “oh boy,” I silenced her and opened myself up to the experience. I opened myself up to all of the possibilities and everything I had to gain from my three (3) team members.
For this project, we broadened our knowledge of the UX process and added some new techniques to our repertoire. We started with a random topic, chosen from out of a cup (the best way to make a choice about anything, hands down). My team chose health. Enter our first new technique: topic mapping. We wrote “health” on the whiteboard as the center of our topic map. From there, we started branching off to things related to health.
The topic map was, to say the least, taking something completely ambiguous and turning into a responsive website. Trying to understand how exactly to go from just “health” to a responsive website within a short period of time (our sprints are about 2 weeks), seemed impossible.
After spending some time trying to find a real topic for our responsive website, I felt like it was time to step away from the problem. I asked my team to go home and think about a few of the options we had narrowed down, and suggested drafting a hypothesis in order to get some direction. I came up with a couple of hypotheses which really helped me to focus on an issue. When we reconvened the next day, we were on the same page with regard to a topic. Taking time individually to use UX processes to narrow down our topic was helpful! The magic of UX awes me every time.
We decided to go the mental health route, and focus on helping people who deal with anxiety and isolation. This then turned into helping people deal with stress, which can lead to anxiety and be exacerbated by isolation. We drafted our screener survey, and posted it to our campus in order to find users to interview. After identifying 4 users and conducting 4 interviews, we all worked together to synthesize all the data. It was during the synthesis process that we started to have conflict within the group. Getting through the synthesis process, developing our problem statement, and finalizing our deliverables for the first part of this project was problematic.
Having drafted a problem statement, we held a few design studios. The first two were marred by negativity. Suddenly, a new problem statement emerged: how might we work together to finish our project without fighting at every step?
As it turns out, there were some key UX principles out there that we could apply to the group dynamic: empathy, being open to receiving criticism, and active listening. One brave group member was willing to face the elephant in the room and use these principles to get to the root of our problem. After hosting a design studio, so to speak, on ways to improve our communication and work dynamic, the team was on the same wavelength.
We were able to re-focus on our design studio for the project, sketch some ideas, and quickly land on the same page for paper prototype.
With the paper prototype finalized, our next step was to create mid-fi wireframes in Sketch. I’m no designer, not by any stretch of my imagination. Despite this, I took the lead on developing the mid-fi prototype. I want to improve my visual design techniques and I was lucky enough to be partnered with two people who have advanced skills in visual design. I wanted to take every opportunity to learn from them. So I took a stab at the first draft of the mid-fi wireframes for the mobile website, a move that my team was so supportive. It took me hours to draft the mid-fi wireframes; it probably would have taken my teammate an hour or so. But I did it. They were pretty good! But my teammates, of course, helped me take it to the next level by rearranging some elements and adding some black and white images.
We took the final version of the mid-fi mobile wireframes and turned them into a clickable prototype for usability testing. Following successful usability tests, we made some minor but impactful modifications to our design, like switching the home screen and the second screen. We also added color, turning our mid-fi mobile wireframes into hi-fi mobile wireframes, which we translated into a desktop version of the website. You can see the final version of our clickable desktop prototype here: https://invis.io/BMOURR6R3DV#/328387432_Home_Screen
Our task for the project was to present our responsive website. The presentation was excellent. Right after presentations, we had a team debrief wherein we gave each other compliments and constructive criticism. Yes, sounds scary but, that session was really good for me.
I have a tendency to over-critique myself. Throughout the project, I was chastising myself for not taking on a more defined and consistent role in the group. With the exception of mid-fi wireframes, usability testing, and our final usability report, I felt like I hadn’t consistently filled a need for the team.
The feedback from my team made me look at my self-criticism from a different angle. You may recall that I wrote above about the conflict my team and I had during the early stages of this project. During that time of conflict, I felt like I was always the one putting myself on the line to either fight or mediate the issue at hand. I have to say, I didn’t feel like that added any value to the group. But in hearing my team’s feedback of my performance, they stated that they did truly value that I took on the role of “mediator” and “voice of reason.” It was something I needed to hear. My time in corporate America made me feel like I wouldn’t get credit for contributing to a project unless there was some piece of it that I had wrested away from someone else and took sole responsibility for. That’s not something that comes naturally to me. The kind of contribution that I made to my UX team is what comes naturally to me. And it’s a relief to now see the value in my natural abilities.
Though I learned a bunch new UX techniques for this project and walked away with a serious upgrade to my visual design skills, the biggest take away for me was working with a team as a UX Designer (yes, I am now embracing the title of UX Designer after this project). So what I really want to impart unto whoever reads this retrospective is how to work in a group:
- The empathy that you have for users, give that empathy to your team members as well. Open yourself up to the group work.
- Give all that you have to offer and absorb all that you can from your team members.
- Put aside what you think you know and what you think you don’t know; it will close you off to the team and the creative process.
Working with others is about growth. I am always looking to grow, and this project, and my team, helped me do just that. During the “Welcome Night” at General Assembly, the alumni said that being in a General Assembly Immersive program is transformative. I definitely see and feel that transformation happening.