December 4th, 2013
Since becoming a user experience designer, it is hard for me to enjoy poorly designed products or experiences. I walk around the world thinking to myself “if only they made this usability improvement, their product would be so much better!”
Sometimes, though, my user experience wiles come into handy. Like when I was planning my wedding, for example. I wanted to design an experience that would be memorable and fun for everyone – easier said than done! Luckily, the user experience design process helped me sort through the chaos of wedding planning. The similarities between wedding planning and creating a great digital experience were uncanny. And, what could have been a stressful journey actually came quite naturally to me.
Here’s how the wedding planning went:
Discovery is always the first phase in the Extractable design process. In this stage, we strive to understand the core business goals and drivers of the experience. We meet with key business leaders to figure out what is working well (or not so well). It is important for us to understand what constitutes success in the eyes of our stakeholders so that we can put measures against these goals. At the end of an engagement, we evaluate the success of the project against these goals. The Logix Credit Union case study is a great example of when stakeholder interviews gave us key insights into business goals.
We started our discovery process for our wedding by talking with various wedding venus and vendors to understand what could be possible for our wedding day. We interviewed each vendor – from the DJ to the day-of event coordinator – about their knowledge of what has worked well for other weddings in the past. They were able to give us sample timelines and checklists that other brides had used in the past. This process helped us prioritize different aspects of the wedding and understand where to spend our budget.
In the design process, user research is the phase in which we dig deep into who the users are, what they care about, and how they think about the task or experience. We talk directly to users with interviews and solicit their input through participatory creation exercises. As a data driven agency, this knowledge about the users drives the user-centered design process. For one of our clients Micron, we conducted interviews with the primary users to understand which tasks and documents were most important to them. See the Micron case study here.
Like many of our clients, there were many different kind of “users” for the wedding, each with their own needs and desires. My fiance and I had different ideas about where we wanted the ceremony – here in California versus in Texas, where our families live. Our families both had requests about incorporating family and religious traditions. Our friends had different music requests than our older family members. It was a task to understand exactly what was important to everyone and understand how to balance the conflicting desires without compromising anyone’s experience. In the end, we found a venue that gave us the flexibility to meet everyone’s desires: a beautiful vineyard in Central Texas.
Competitive analysis is a way for the design team to understand the landscape of digital experiences that users currently have. It helps us figure out how to position the experience and what users expect from similar digital experiences. Sometimes it helps us to carry good ideas out on the experience we design, and sometimes it serves as a warning sign of what not to design.
If you were one of my friends who got married between the time I got engaged and married, you were part of my competitive analysis. Fortunately, the Internet also provides a plethora of ways to explore different wedding celebrations and decorations. For example, we got the idea for our “Save the Date” card from one that we found on the Internet.
Scenarios & Storytelling
After discovery, user research, and competitive analysis, the next step typically is to translate all these findings into an innovative and engaging experience. We start this process with high-level stories about how people will interact with the experience in the future. These stories serve as sketches of what the experience will feel like. By focusing on scenarios and key tasks in the experience, we ensure that the digital experience first serves the core needs of the users. Then we can build out the rest of the experience around the core experience. A good example of using scenarios is the Newport Group website, in which we focused on the primary scenario use cases for the most common tasks, such as checking the balance of a retirement account. Read more about the Newport Group case study here.
Once we had an idea of what we wanted for the wedding, we used storytelling to express the essence of the experience we were going for. Scenarios helped us to articulate how guests would move throughout the night between the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception, and what kind of activities they might do throughout the night. Communicating to vendors with a story helped them understand the context of their service and the bigger picture of the desired experience. It also focused the vendors on what was most important to us, instead of details like what flavor the cake should be (although cake tasting was quite fun!) We told a story of a formal but rustic, refined but relaxed, Fall wedding at a vineyard.
Iterative Concept Testing (on Pinterest)
Once we have the core scenarios set out, the next step at Extractable is to iterate on concepts and test them with actual users. As we design, we are constantly checking in with users to make sure we are expressing the experience in a way that matches their mental model and fits their needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a sketch of a website in front of users. At other times we get more involved and make fully functional prototypes to express flows through the experience. These sessions encourage users to participate, express their ideas, and convey any feedback.
For our wedding, we went to the ultimate participatory design tool – Pinterest – to iteratively try out different wedding concepts before committing to one direction. I started a wedding Pinterest board. I pinned ideas that I was seriously considering and encouraged family and friends to pint ideas to the board. By seeing which of my pins that others liked, I got a sense of what kind of activities and decorations that my guests would like, and which ones would fall flat.
It’s been two months since we got married. As you can tell, I’m still floating from the amazing day we created. I’m certain that my user experience design expertise made our wedding day memorable and special to both our guests and us.