Startle wanted to create a fun and educational site that would let kids learn about and participate in acting.
But how do you tap into a child’s intrinsic motivation in a virtual environment? How do you capture profit without placing restrictions on initial interest? And, how do you show parent’s that acting is a skill set that has long-term merit, across various careers? The challenge was to answer these and be first to market for this type of learning model.
The first step in the process is capturing the client’s needs. I need to get the perspective of the business and my client. Many times in UX the priority is placed on the user alone. However, there is no user if there’s no product. And you need a business for the product. So defining the business needs comes first: What are the levers for profit? What is their mission statement? I need to know what their purpose, motivation and differentiation is in order to align user needs to their business goals.
I start with a “Discovery Interview.” In my process, “Discovery” happens throughout the project – the documentation grows as the project progresses. But it starts with the client interview. Although this process and documentation has grown since 2015, the nuts and bolts are the same: research, research, research. The end goal is always to answer: What am I creating? Why am I creating it? What itch does it scratch for both client and user?
Through the Discovery interview, I began to see the broad strokes — gamification, a freemium model. Plus, there was a drive to be first-to-market. What features needed to be prioritized over others? What could wait for a later phase?
From the Discovery interview I created a Project Plan. This allowed me to map out what the project will entail, what deliverables are needed and when. This plan helped the client see a timeline and how, for such a robust site, moving things around could impact deliverables.
Once the client interview is complete, I need to learn about the user’s themselves. What motivates them? What do they like? What do they dislike? Who are they? In Startle’s case, there are actually 2 users. The main user is the child. The secondary (but required) user is a parent. I needed to make sure that items that children needed and parent’s need were easy-to-access. I used neighbors, friends and family as volunteer test subjects. Interviewing parents validated my hunch: they want a trustworthy site, clear access to what their child was uploading and billing control. The children, however, gave interesting insight. Empowerment was unanimous. They equated acting with make-believe. It was an extension of their fantasies. The potential delight for this site was that it brought those fantasies closer to reality. They also reacted negatively to images and designs that were too “childish”. Against my best guess, they showed me how sophisticated kids are in the digital age.
Once the interview was complete, I did a lot of research. At the time they didn’t have any direct competition so I looked at other learning sites, for both children and adults. I found that the adult learning sites (such as Lynda.com) had great features, whereas children’s sites had great ideas for motivating and gamifying.
In addition to doing a comparative assessment, I like to research what I call “parallel industries”. This is the “secret sauce” of my investigations: industries that are not direct (or even indirect) competition. But for a variety of reasons, they are more incentivized to innovate and become early adopters of technology. By the time the tech has spread to their entire industry, it usually drives the cost down. In the case of Startle, a responsive design could pack a lot of bang for the buck. In 2015, responsive was still somewhat new. Most of the sites that I was designing were for traditional desktop screens with mobile versions. But in the case of Startle, responsive was important: user research showed that children used tablets and phones more than desktop machines. Additionally, I used web fonts, which were up-and-coming at the time. This gave the designs a fresh, modern and approachable look and feel.
Wireframes and user flows helped me to tease out and solve any flow issues, especially because Startle would include a Dashboard if one opted for the paid tier. I started with low fidelity sketches so I could map out the big picture. Sketching by hand is much more natural and fast. I was able to quickly work out a large portion of the kinks, dead ends and needs. I moved the wireframe into Moqups and created a working, shareable prototype.
During the design process I kept the persona’s hung on the office wall. I like to keep personas close, but especially in this case. There was a strong impulse to “dumb down” the design and make it childish. Having the persona at eye-level kept the user’s needs — empowerment and sophistication – top-of-mind. I utilized beautiful stock images and embellished with fanciful, imaginative illustration that speak to a child’s imagination and their innate sense of wonder and unlimited possibility. I choose colors that were bright but modern as well as web fonts that were interesting and unexpected: a thin slab serif coupled with a round sans.
At key points in the design process, I would send not just static screens, but prototypes to make sure that the newly designed buttons and framework were still intuitive.
I love this project because it underscores the why UX is such an amazing tool. It gives you the ability to see past your own biases. The way that I approached this site in 2015 was worlds different than how I would have just 3 years earlier. As a mother now I know that the best way to connect with my child is to squat down and converse at his level. UX methodologies allow us to do that with all of our clients, regardless of age.