User Research & Design of Synchronous Game App
This project was inspired by an issue I personally faced. My father is aging, and I tried to find ways to connect with him that will help him be social as well as actively engage his brain in order to prevent cognitive issues.
Why? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness and separation can lead to cognitive decline and dementia. Older Americans spend a lot of time alone when they live independently. A recent Pew Research Center report found older adults spend more than half of their time alone.
The problem is, while socialization is good, it’s better to engage other parts of the brain in order to protect it from decline. Researchers have found that regularly engaging in a mix of activities — social activities, learning, and playing games — provides the most benefit.
The Problem to Solve
One solution is for seniors to not just connect, but also activate different parts of the brain. Video games have been shown to grow brain matter and improve short term memory.
How might we design a tool that engages family members face-to-face over geographic distance while providing opportunities to engage in memory-building and active learning?
User & Audience
This project had two main audiences:
- Adult children of seniors
- Seniors (65+) living independently
Roles & Responsibilities
This was a solo project, and I planned out tasks for four main phases, following a design thinking process:
Scope & Constraints
I faced some constraints as well:
- As a solo project, I could not leverage a full team for research and design.
- Time was limited to 10 weeks
My Design Approach
To get started on solving the problem for seniors and their families, I needed to understand communication among family members.
- Understand how families connect when they are geographically separated.
- Understand challenges and barriers with socializing
- What solutions have families come up with?
Method: Semi-structured, qualitative user interviews: 16 total
Data Collection: Data collected through Zoom remote video recording and through notes, then transcribed with Otter.ai
Dates: March 4-March 6 2021
Participants: 16 participants from targeted user profiles: 8 adult children of seniors, 8 seniors, living independently
I focused on qualitative interviews so I could get inside the heads of the user groups and better understand what was happening. This was successful because I was able to probe and understand more about the daily habits of the people I talked with, and I found a number of patterns.
“Sometimes I worry about her because she’s by herself. But… she’s kind of a sassy lady. So she’s very self sufficient and independent.”
“”I’m alone all the time.”
“…Sometimes it gets a little boring. It’s a little tough being single — I’m a widow…. a little hard to start all over again.”
While I learned a great deal from my interviews, looking back, I found that my discussion guide was light and I wish I had more questions so I could have longer and deeper conversations.
I analyzed my user interviews in a spreadsheet and then transferred them to a Mural board to synthesize where I identified patterns and drew insights.
From my research I was able to paint a clear picture of the users — especially of their pain points and frustrations.
I learned a great deal about family connections from my interviews and met my research goals. Here are key insights from my interviews:
- Users need ways to connect more than 2 people in families
- Families need technology to be simple and inclusive of all abilities. Technology is intimidating for many and it need to be accessible to everyone in the family.
- Users shy away from playing games with people they don’t know. They will play multiplayer games if they are playing with people they personally know.
- Families are busy, and find time to be a problem. Users need a timeboxed method for engagement so that they can overcome time constraints.
I created a customer journey map to understand how users choose online games.
This process was helpful, but I wish I had probed deeper in my initial interviews to better understand this piece. Had I more time, I would have gone back to my interview subjects to ask them more questions.
I also realized I really didn’t have two journeys, but instead one. These were so similar, and the user types were not different enough to need two journey maps. I planned to iterate the journey map in a future stage of the project if there was enough time.
Still, the exploration led me to finally decide on a project to build:
What if I built a simple online game that challenges the brain while allowing for synchronous video conversations?
Design / Prototyping
Feature brainstorming and prioritization
Now that I had an idea of what would be best to build to solve the problem, I brainstormed ideas using a Mural board to think through as many features as I could. I also leveraged family and friends to give me ideas that I could add to my brainstorm.
After brainstorming, I organized my ideas and sorted them based on feasibility and impact. I followed this up with an exercise to assign values based on impact and effort. The following ideas rose to the top:
- Most users indicated they enjoyed word games and sought them out for fun and challenging play.
- Most users only had a short amount of time — games that took hours would not meet their needs.
- Game play can’t be complex — using a finger to drag and capture words would be simple to master and more accessible than a mouse.
- Most seniors had an iPad readily available and were familiar with the interface.
User flow to wireframes
I wanted to make sure I captured all possible user needs, so I worked through task flows to understand jobs to be done using Mural.
- Register / Login
- Add contacts to account
- Invite family / contact to join session
- Approve family ask to join
- Play game
I then combined these flows into a single user flow. Then I sketched major screens on paper.
If I had more time, I feel wireflows would have been valuable. They would have let me work through UI issues early in the process.
I had planned to focus on paper prototyping and move straight to hi-fi designs from paper sketches. I found the sketching to be time intensive and not helpful. After sketching through several key screens, I began to get frustrated with my progress and moved my designs into Figma to create mid-fidelity wireframes.
This was helpful as I designed UI components, like the menu and buttons.
I wanted to get feedback as early as possible since I was sure I was missing key components I hadn’t thought of. My plan was not to do formal user testing at this stage, but instead gather informal feedback. I gathered work colleagues to walk through my mid-fi prototype and tell me their thoughts. I took notes and recorded the sessions so I could capture everything.
My colleagues were a wealth of suggestions, and several issues floated to the top that I needed to address:
- I’m confused about what’s behind the menu — is it stored data about the game or how to play?
- Do a little video for showing the winners — like how Mario Kart does it.
- When I’m online, can I see a list of my friends?
- Do they need a game code if inviting through the app? Game code should only be public; no way to add people
Branding & Visual Design
At this time, I designed the app’s branding, since I would soon move into high-fidelity designs.
I use brand archetypes in my approach to developing branding for a product, and I decided that the overall archetype for my app was Girl/Guy Next Door.
- Goal: Relate, belong, accept and be accepted by others
- Personality: Down to earth, accessible, approachable, hard working, and nice
- Fear: Be left out, leave anyone behind
- Brand Voice: Friendly, humble, honest, practical
- Customers feel: Included, understood, warm, part of the group
I created the Harmonious logo as a typographical logo with two fonts:
- Ranchers (Google font) for the name mark
- Shadows into Light (Google font) for tagline
These fonts were fun and helped emphasize the Harmonious accessibility. I designed the name mark to be used alone or with the tagline in one of the five shades of the color palette.
While these fonts worked for the logo, I wanted a separate font for all other text in the app. I chose Adobe Typekit font Omnes for heading and body type styles because of its roundness, which indicates friendliness and approachability. Additionally, it is easy to read and pairs well with the typographical logo.
I chose a character — a little bird — to be a friend on the user’s journey, and based the color palette off of the bird’s color. The palette is fun, easy-going, and joyful.
With branding complete, I transitioned my designs into hi-fi screens.
- Branding: I applied the branding throughout the app, through color, fonts, and imagery.
- Friends panel: I added a panel of connected friends and made an indicator that the friend is online.
- Simplified game start: I simplified how users initiate a game and gave them a choice on whether to make it private or share with users not in the app.
- Clarified onboarding copy: I included onboarding text to show users what to expect and what they can do.
- Included game play instructions: I included video instructions right before the game to explain how to play.
- Added results sequence: I added a sequence after the round to build up drama about how everyone did.
After completing the hi-fi screens and a prototype, I tested again. This time I performed task-based usability testing with five remote testing participants — sourced from my original interviews. This was a wealth of information, and it uncovered a number of new issues to address.
- Onboarding confusion: Users thought app would automatically add contacts from onboarding screen.
- Video too fast: Users found instruction video to be fast and not clear about how to play.
- Start game from panel: Users thought they could start a game with users on the right sidebar.
- More settings control: Users requested additional options for sound level and text size for accessibility.
- Word challenges: Users wanted to increase interaction among participants on the call. One suggestion was adding “challenge a word.”
- Bigger text: Some alert boxes — especially those from the iOS UI kits — were too small to read.
- Bird confusing: Several users commented that the bird looked like the Twitter bird. I decided to change the color to remove the confusion.
I addressed the issues I found in user testing in my next iteration of the screens. I created this prototype:
Outcomes and Results
I could have left the prototype there, but I decided to do another round to see if my iterations successfully addressed several key areas. I again performed task-based usability testing with 5 new remote testing participants, sourced from my original interviews.
“You’re sharing an experience. You’re sharing an adventure. You can talk together. I really think this could be a loneliness buster. I think it’s great.”
“I want to play this.”
- Sidebar menu makes sense: Users were able to correctly guess what was behind the new menu buttons.
- Initiate a game with friend: Users understood that a game could be initiated with a friend from the side panel.
- Understand friends online: Users understood which friends were online and were not confused.
- Onboarding microcopy: Users did not think that onboarding meant they would be connecting all of their contacts at that moment.
- Bird color: Users no longer mistook the bird character as the twitter bird.
What to improve
- “Help” button not intuitive: Users were not always clear that a “how to play” video was behind “help”.
- Challenge feature affordance: Users liked the feature, but it wasn’t clear how to initiate it.
- Fix slow performance: Figma was lagging and causing performance issues with testing. I have already addressed this.
- Slow video down: For some users, the help video went too fast.
Test, test, and test again
The highest value came from getting feedback directly from potential users.
Go high-fi early
By strategically moving into high-fi earlier than I had planned, I created a cohesive system that was easy to update.
Think through components
Some of the components I created needed to be reworked.
Work in a team
This project was huge for one person, and I wish I had been able to tap into the brain power of a team.
- Implement recent user feedback: I plan to iterate my prototype with the most recent feedback.
- Redline wireframes: I will annotate the wireframes for developer handoff.
- Work with a developer: My business partner is already building a functional coded prototype.
- Build an MVP: We will build out a rough prototype for another round of user testing on the path to an MVP.
As part of this project, I completed:
- Research Plan
- Proto Personas
- Competitive Analysis
- Risk Analysis
- Interview Analysis
- Affinity Diagram
- User Insight Statements
- User Personas
- Customer Journey Maps
- Feature Prioritization, on Mural and ranked in spreadsheet
- Value Proposition Canvas
- Task Flows
- User flow
- Mid-Fi screens / prototype
- Informal feedback, analysis
- Branding and visual design
- Hi-Fi screens / prototype version 1
- Usability testing, round 1
- Hi-Fi screens / prototype version 2
- Usability testing, round