Designing Media that Matters

In the winter of 2019, I took ENGR 281 at Stanford University and had the opportunity to explore visual design, interaction design and behavioral design all in the context of today's technology landscape and in service of a socially positive user experience. Students gained extensive experience in the prototyping process as we were required to carry our projects through two design sprints, focusing specifically on user research relating to the project’s usability and usefulness.

My final project, titled Shindig, was a productivity app that allowed users to sync calendars with their email contacts and automatically generate times everyone is available to make scheduling group events quick and easy. The class was designed to make students dive into the user experience of digital media, which challenged us to get outside of ourselves and design with another perspective in mind. I learned very quickly that the earlier you start communicating with your target user, the more effective and productive your prototyping can be. In order to best solve the problem that I identified in my user research, I had to fully understand the nuances of the problem, the existing strategies people use to combat it and how willing people are to change their behavior to fix it. This meant talking to a lot of potential users, testing different interactions of the user interface, and collaborating with them on how to make Shindig better fit their needs. While carrying out this process, it became clear that the functionality of Shindig would be better utilized if it were integrated into tools already integrated into the lives of busy students, such as iMessage or the calendar apps themselves.

I sent out a survey to 50+ Stanford students to understand how busy young adults keep track of their schedules. The results showed that 82% of students already regularly use Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, or an equivalent. Following the general survey, I interviewed five students to gain insights. Students are more likely to regularly update their digital calendars with events that are mandatory, such as class or an interview, whereas more casual, social events are less likely to be added to the calendar. All of my interviewees had used other scheduling coordination applications such as “Doodle”, “When2Meet”, or “WhenIsGood” at some point in their undergraduate career and all of them expressed some level of exasperation with tedious process of getting everyone to fill out the lengthy forms.

User Research

 
“Using Doodle sucks. I have to manually enter in my full schedule for the next two weeks every time we want to meet.”
“I don’t like it, but I have to use When2Meet because half of my team uses Google Cal and the other half Apple.”
 

Most scheduling-related problems were related to the tediousness of manually inputting your schedule and frustrations over the inability to share events across calendars (i.e. you can’t invite someone who uses Google Calendar to an Apple Calendar event). Shindig seeks to provide solutions to both of these problems by automatically comparing everyone’s availability and acting as a third party so as to integrate multiple different calendar systems into a single platform.

Ideation

 
Shindig User Map from discovery to returning customer

Shindig User Map from discovery to returning customer

 
 

I created an interactive prototype of the app using Sketch and Principle so that I could start refining the usability of the user interface. Based on user testing, we made changes to improve usability:

  • The wording around “sharing” vs. “syncing” calendars confused users and it was unclear if multiple people could be added to the event. To address this problem, we changed the rhetoric and the interface to feel more like adding friends to a group chat.

  • Shindig ID vs Shindig code was confusing so I removed that and replaced it with email account integration.

  • Users missed the process of referencing their week’s schedule before setting up meetings, so I framed all available meeting times with what else the user has that day. I also made the final step of the interaction a visualization of your month’s calendar with the new Shindig event fit highlighted.

  • Setting up how long the meeting would be before seeing yours or the group’s schedule meant limiting potential free chunks of time. I moved duration selection interaction to occur later in the interaction.

  • The event setup interaction was very unconventional and was thus challenging for users to fully grasp. I leaned more on conventions from other scheduling apps in the redesign.

Usability

 

Early iteration of the event setup interaction

 
 

The final stages of the class had students conduct interviews and create prototypes specifically designed to determine if the app solved a real user problem and if it elicited a meaningful response from users. The results of this stage were mixed depending on the user’s motivation to add a new tool to their normal scheduling routine. The fact that Shindig was an app that required all invitees to download it was a major bottleneck. Users indicated that Shindig would be the most useful it it was integrated into iMessage or Facebook Messenger, for example. The event organizer could text in a group chat “Let’s set up a shindig,” the plugin would activate and prompt everyone in the chat to sync their calendars with a single tap of a button. All available meeting times would then pop up as messages that could be voted on by everyone in the group, thus making the ultimate decision more of a democratic process than is enabled with the current Shindig design.

Usefulness & Future Direction

Sampling of screens across event set up interaction

Sampling of screens across event set up interaction

Sources:

UI Kits provided by Great Simple Studio

Icons provided by Sketch Material