A design thinking project that perfectly represents the life cycle of a UX project within a couple hours.
With the last long weekend of the summer behind us, and the leaves starting to turn, we only have about a day or two before the Christmas items start popping up in stores. Those fun, festive, and not-so-subtle reminders that you are running out of time to search out the perfect gift for all of your friends and family.
The tradition of gift-giving differs depending on the country, the occasion, and even the individuals involved. Though, no matter what the differences are, the ultimate goal of giving a gift is to show someone that they are appreciated and loved.
With such a pure and simple goal, why is the experience of giving others tokens of our feelings often so difficult?
Finding the answer to that question is at the core of the Stanford d.School’s gift-giving project.
The exercise is designed to teach participants how to gain understanding and empathy for their partner through learning about his/her recent gift-giving experience, creating a design that will improve their gift-giving experience in the future, with the end goal being to design something meaningful and useful for your user.
I was introduced to the project as a part of Springboard’s UX Design course, after giving myself the gift of self-improvement and knowledge by enrolling in their program earlier this year. This exercise is the first UX project presented in the course, and represents the life cycle of a UX project; research, analysis, design, ideation, and ultimately creating a rough prototype of the most successful design all condensed into a few hours.
THE GIFT-GIVING PROJECT
So, as with any UX project, we began with the research. My partner, Zoe, had described a recently given birthday gift. A journal. Though the recipient appreciated the gift and considered it very thoughtful, Zoe admitted to feeling a little guilty because she did not believe that the gift was as thoughtful as her friend had considered it.
Moving into the secondary interview session, I was able to examine Zoe’s feelings regarding this experience, and how other gift-giving experiences compared. She told me that the ability to present the perfect gift — from the wrapping and presentation to the actual gift itself — was all part of how she showed her family and friends that they are important to her. Zoe also believes that choosing the perfect gift demonstrates that she knows them well enough to pick out a gift they will cherish.
Zoe’s primary pain points were identified to be self-inflicted stress. She believed that if she does not give the perfect gift that she has failed to successfully convey her feelings to her loved ones.
She would like it if the experience wasn’t so stressful. Zoe confessed that even when she believes that she has found the perfect gift that it isn’t received the way she had imagined.
Last Christmas Zoe decided to make gifts for her family, and though she enjoyed the act of making the gifts, also found the process to be somewhat stressful.
“ I’m not exactly sure how to make it less stressful … it seems that may be more of a ‘me’ issue, than an actual ‘gift-giving’ experience issue. ”
Through the giving of gifts, Zoe is trying to show she is thoughtful, considerate, creative, and demonstrate that she cares about the person who is receiving the gift. She wants the recipient to feel happy, positive, and loved as a result of the experience.
Insights into Zoe’s feelings and worldview after these interviews are that she is a perfectionist, and insists on each and every gift being perfect. If the gift is not received as such, she feels as though she has failed and is discouraged and stressed about the next gift she gives. Zoe is motivated by the recipient’s appreciation of the gift, and her ability to make her friends and family happy and/or improve their lives through useful or meaningful gifts.
Zoe needs a way to choose gifts that her family/friends will actually appreciate and use, but also not put so much stress on herself while choosing these “perfect” gifts.
Now that we have a better understanding of our User and her needs, it was time to design a solution. Below are the five initial ideas presented to help meet Zoe’s needs.
Develop an algorithm that will determine the most likely reaction of a recipient to a gift.
An app that recommends thoughtful gifts based on recipients social media feeds, online store wish lists, and provided input.
Like a wedding registry, but for any occasion. People save items from online stores to their ‘Wish List’ account, and friends can go and pick items from the list.
CREATE AN EXPERIENCE GIFT TRADITION
Develop a celebration ritual that the can be done every year, such as a spa or golf weekend for birthdays, or a fancy brunch for Mother’s Day.
GIFT IDEA COOKIES
Like drawing names for a Secret Santa, but with baked goods! Each cookie corresponds to an item, and the future gift recipient chooses a cookie from the box. Thy gift they will receive will be related to that cookie. This allows for a fun game and social visit prior to the actual gift-giving occasion, as well as having the recipient narrow down the gift options for the individual buying the gift, ultimately reducing the stress.
Zoe initially liked all of the ideas presented but was able to identify the pros and cons to each.
The Gift-Giving Simulation was an interesting idea, but ultimately Zoe was skeptical that it would be able to more accurately predict a reaction than the person providing all the information for the simulation.
The Recommendation App idea again was compelling, but there were many variables as to why a person may ‘like’ or ‘save’ something to an online account. These factors could potentially lead the app to recommend gifts that the recipient may not like or appreciate.
Zoe loves Experience Gifts! She mentioned that she frequently employs this type of gift, when possible. But expressed concerns regarding financial costs, that they typically cost her more money than a standard gift, or that if her friends/family were old or in poor health that they wouldn’t want to go out and do something. Making the ‘experience’ gift difficult to give consistently.
Zoe really liked the Gift Idea Cookie idea. She loved the fun game aspect, the secrets and the fact cookies were involved. But, she worried that if schedules didn’t work out, and she wasn’t able to get together for the actual “cookie choosing ceremony” then she would be right back where she started with the gift-giving experience.
The Wish List idea was the biggest hit, with Zoe finding many pros, and the only con really being the potential for no surprise when giving the gift. But, also thought if the potential recipient was constantly adding items to their Wish List, that the element of surprise may still remain due to the volume of items in their list.
After sharing the draft sketches with Zoe, and listening to her feedback, the ‘Wish List’ idea was chosen as her favourite. Reflecting on her input from the previous session, it was time to ideate on the feedback and generate a revised solution.
Solution: WISH LIST website
Users can save items from any online merchant or store to their Wish List account. Then can then connect with their friends and family to access the items they have saved. Lists provide a photo of items, the date items were added by the User, the price, and a “Buy Item” button that will purchase the item from the original store or merchant.
A quick digital prototype of the site was created and presented. Zoe was quite pleased with the solutions to her concerns, as well as the simple layout.
The primary issue faced by Zoe was stress. She wanted to be able to give items that would be used, appreciated or that the recipient would find value in. Being able to browse her friends Wish List lists would save her both time and stress, and would eliminate the need to resort to just asking loved ones directly what they would like for any given occasion.
What can be improved?
The element of surprise for the gift items. Zoe was concerned that through the process made the experience easier for her, it may take the fun out of the experience as a whole because there would be no surprises for the recipients. Including a recommendations feature based on the Users saved items would help to improve this aspect.
A question regarding duplicated gifts was brought up. For instance, a wedding registry will remove items as they are purchased, but doing that on this site could ruin a birthday or Christmas surprise. It was decided that marking an item as ‘purchased’ would only be visible to friends, and not the actual recipient.
A browser extension (similar to the Pinterest extension) would be valuable to increase the ability of Users to save items to their account from sites across the web. The site could also send reminders for upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, and occasions.
Engaging and testing with a real person changed the direction my prototype took because my partner had many questions, and I had to work out the answers to all of them very quickly. Also, her personal reactions and feedback on the proposed ideas helped to identify potential new issues or challenges in the gift-giving experience. Being able to discuss and brainstorm in real-time with my partner was truly beneficial to the iteration of the design.
Showing my rough, unfinished work to another person was difficult and uncomfortable at first, as I have never been a fan of showing ‘in progress’ work. The creative discussion, and explaining that the ideas and sketches were just rough starting points from which to build helped, and as the exercise progressed I felt more comfortable. The short timelines also were beneficial, as I didn’t really have time to focus on being uncomfortable in my presentation of ideas.
Initially, the quick iterative cycles seemed very fast! But, as the exercise continued, and I became more comfortable with the process, and the pace seemed more steady and normalized. I also have a tendency to overthink or focus on the small details, and the pace of this exercise didn’t allow for that. Though it was a much different pace and style from which I usually work, the exercise was exciting, fun, and produced some good results.
Now, with a deeper understanding of how to improve the gift-giving experience, for both the Giver and the Recipient, it’s time to start putting together that Christmas list.