My final graduate project gave me the opportunity to conduct an complete UX methodology for a mobile application. Our app concept, Neighborly was designed by myself and two other students. Neighborly took its inspiration from the Buy Nothing Project, a non-profit social group that organizes members into groups, living within a 5 mile radius of each other. Through the organized groups, members give away their used items they no longer want. Through these groups, Buy Nothing promotes reuse and community connectedness.
Buy Nothing gives its users a pattern and a set of guidelines to help them organize their neighborhoods into Buy Nothing groups. These groups often organize themselves using Facebook and the groups are heavily monitored and moderated.
Effectively, group members post items, within the group, that they no longer want. Other members ask to be considered for the item and are chosen by the "giver" to receive the item. Once a recipient is chosen, the two members organize a time and place to pick up the item.
As the team lead, I created a comprehensive project plan and scheduled weekly sprints to ensure we met our goals. We actually ended up ahead of schedule, which allowed us to conduct some deeper research within the problem space.
I also lead the visual and interaction design and helped the group by creating UI patterns that were based on Google Material guidelines. This gave us the structure we needed to create a UI framework that was based on established and tested patterns.
Our research broke down into four key areas:
Competitive analysis: We found little in the way of competitors in this space. Because the nature of the project is helping members give away items to each other, there was little commercial incentive. We considered Facebook a competitor, of sorts, simply because it would be the main alternative to using a mobile app.
Customer interviews: We conducted four interviews with members of a Buy Nothing community. Members greatly valued the altruistic nature of Buy Nothing. Where we imagined that most members were drawn to the community in search of free items, we found the opposite. Members expressed the desire to "pay it forward" and valued the fact that their used goods found a second life in a new home. We also saw how members were using Buy Nothing as a way to meet their neighbors and learn about their neighborhood.
Therefore, we knew that our design had to promote a sense of community and we would have to be careful not to over-index on the giving and receiving of items. In other words, we needed something that was closer to Facebook groups and less like ebay.
Expert reviews: I created an interactive prototype that would allow other classmates to "self administer" a usability study and give us expert review feedback.
Market opportunity: Choosing to base our designs on the established Google Material guidelines proved to be an invaluable time saver. Unlike other groups, we didn't spend time "re-creating the wheel" and testing new UI patterns. Standard interactions and navigation came together fairly quickly. I decided to use this extra time to assess the market viability of our app. While this wasn't required, it gave us a chance to collect nearly 100 responses in a survey that focused on user behaviors. Specifically, we were interested in how people commonly get rid of items they no longer want. In other words, we were asking ourselves, "Does Neighborly actually solve a problem that people have?"
While we didn't get conclusive data that suggested there was an overwhelming need for an app like Neighborly, we did discover some interesting indicators:
How often do you give things away you no longer use?
28% of respondents answered “Always” and 43% answered “Often”
How important is it to know the people that live near you?
26% of respondents answered “Very important” and 27% of respondents answered “Important”
Are you currently a member of an online group or community, specifically created for your neighborhood (or apartment complex)?
47% of respondents answered “Yes”
There were, however some indicators that suggested that respondents did not find value in giving away their used items to neighbors:
When I want to get rid of something I no longer use, I'm most likely to:
7% of respondents answered “Give it to someone living near me”
48% of respondents answered “Donate to Goodwill (or other nonprofit).
This could indicate that potential users do not desire to give their used items to neighbors or that they have already solved this problem by donating their used goods to nonprofits. The case could be made, however, that participants would consider giving items away to neighbors if they had a meaningful way to do so.
After we had a relatively solid understanding of the Buy Nothing space, we set out to focus on three core interactions: giving and item, requesting and item, and picking up a gift.
I started out by sketching some early concepts, trying to settle on the core interaction patterns. I then reviewed the Google Material guidelines to see their patterns for common interactions. By combining what the users needed with the established Google design patterns, I was able to achieve a workable interaction, that tested well with users, right from the beginning.
From there, each team member focused on their assigned user scenarios and refined them based on user feedback.