It's not about the water bottle.
Full-stack development (dev) students at Prime Academy must wonder why UX students are so obsessed with water bottles. We keep forcing them to evaluate designs with us. The thing is, they're a metaphor-- a tool that allows us to focus on UX fundamentals with something that is physical, simple and straightforward. There’s less to focus on with the product so we can focus on the concepts and methods--so we don’t miss the forest for the trees, so to speak.
I’ve been engaging with this metaphor-of-a-project for a full week now.
My goal was to come up with a model for a water bottle that met the specific and unique needs of the dev students by engaging in the iterative process of identifying, prototyping and evaluating.
The team began with heuristic analysis, a way to methodically analyze by rule of thumb. It’s pre-user, meaning that the design team can identify and fix the most glaring basic issues before prototyping and user testing, thus maximizing the participants’ time. By carefully tracking the issues we found (as well as the elements of the existing design that were successful), the team had a roadmap for where to start.
Next, I spent time observing students in their daily environment at Prime Academy: who they were, if they carried water bottles, how they interacted with those water bottles, and what else students had with them. Fly-on-the-wall observation is purposefully unobtrusive and does not interfere with the subjects' activities. I observed a few major things--that most students are incredibly busy and spend many hours a day indoors at a computer, and that most of them also had mobile devices with them at all times.
Based on this information I had a few ideas for new designs. I created several design concepts, and after a peer critique decided to move forward with the design for the devVessel, a bottle that generated electricity for a small battery back connected to the bottle which could be used to change USB-compatible mobile devices.
Given limited time and resources, I created the following low fidelity prototype, which has solar panels as the main way of generating electricity to charge the battery unit.
Next came the usability testing phase. I sat down with dev students to evaluate the prototype. Specifically, I wanted to find out if
a) students would be interested in this product
b) why or why not
c) what delighted or frustrated them about the product
d) what additional or different features (depending on their impression) would they find value in?
I performed 20 minute interviews with each student. They had some concerns about the product's durability and how quickly it might charge their devices, which I will address later in this article. However, the overall response was quite positive; I discovered that students were genuinely interested in the product.
I prepared a presentation for stakeholders to share the idea with them. It went really well and I got good feedback, although I have mixed feelings about public speaking. However, I absolutely appreciate that it is a part of the curriculum and I am so excited to get more comfortable with it.
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
Now that the prototype has been evaluated and the stakeholders have buy-in, the next step is to identify further issues, prototype, and evaluate (...see the theme?)
Here is my plan to address some of the issues raised in usability testing:
I think the most challenging thing about this week has been the rapid pace of everything and the high number of deliverables required.
Balance is tough with time and resource constrictions--I want the content to be high quality, thoughtful and engaged, but I also want to spend time polishing the visual presentation. It's been hard to know when anything is "done." (I'm starting to understand that it may never get to be "done").
What have I learned this week?
What I asked myself at the end of the week was actually, "What the hell just happened to me?" It took a while to sit down and put together the pieces of all the methods and concepts we learned and practiced this week. I'm going to be very honest with you--it was a laugh/cry/focus/homework-past-midnight kind of week. And there are 11 more to go.
The main takeaways I have from the first week of UX bootcamp are the following:
1. Asking the right questions is essential to getting the right answers.
2. Empathy is key.
3. Don't procrastinate. Ever.