Sometimes I look back and laugh at the fact that in my second year at Sheridan, it came as a surprise to me that interaction design applies to more than just apps and websites. But it's true. The work we did at NUVO will always stand out to me as a milestone project in my design career, because although the results of this project may seem obvious now, they truly opened my mind as a designer and changed the way I look at the world of interaction design.
I was given the opportunity, along with my peers, to conduct user research for a local co-working space called NUVO Network. A new company with big plans and big dreams for their future, who were concerned about the fundamental user experience of their members. Our mission was to conduct user research with NUVO members in order to determine their needs and pain points, and offer design solutions to improve user experience at NUVO Network.
We completed the project in four stages:
We had the opportunity to tour NUVO before we started our research process, and the things we saw on that tour influenced the direction we chose to take in our study.
First we had to establish our research question. After our tour, we knew we wanted to investigate the atmosphere at NUVO. The concept of a co-working space was new to a lot of us at the time, and we wanted to better understand why this was becoming the new way so many small businesses and professionals choose to work. In order to grasp the best understanding, we had to broaden our topic of atmosphere, and target the general topic of efficiency and productivity.
After many iterations, our primary research question became: What does a productive workspace mean to the users of co-working spaces?
The Who and the How
We wanted to understand what the most effective co-working space as a whole would be, so we planned to speak to users of NUVO network, other co-working spaces and coffee shops, in order to understand the risks an benefits of all the different locations people choose to work and why. This way we could pull all the information together and present NUVO with a solution that would make their users as happy, efficient and productive as possible.
We were also determined to try as large a range of research methods as possible with the time we had available, in order to yield the most diverse responses possible and make our study accessible to different kinds of users and how they like to tell their stories.
We chose a total of four research methods:
Generative reflection board
After deciding to investigate the atmosphere, we wanted to use as many different research methods as possible in our study, in order to yield the most diverse responses possible. We wanted to understand if there were multiple pain points for members at NUVO, or if there was one large over arching pain point that influenced everything else, so having a broad view of how members of NUVO felt was important to us.
The Where and When
We asked randomly selected users at NUVO to draw us a picture of the space they use most often, providing as many details as possible about the things they like and dislike. Three users participated.
We were happy to see that each user drew a different area of the building, and it was really interesting seeing the kinds of feedback we received from these cognitive maps.
For example, our first participant drew the Atrium, and told us a lot about their struggles using the space. They tried to use the space most days of the week for group meetings and collaboration, because loud talking, phone calls and other disturbances were not accepted in the hot-desking spaces. The problem was that because of this, the Atrium was really the only place where users could go for lunch breaks, phone calls, meetings, small gatherings, etc. and lead to some users feeling their was a "lack of respect for others" in the Atrium. They also mentioned, however, that they liked the open space, and the opportunity to potentially network with other members, which lead us to the understanding that this was not so much a problem with the Atrium, but a sign of a range of needs that were not being met due to a lack of accessible and appropriate spaces for different business requirements.
The camera journals were a new concept to us, but we were really excited to try it out. Our biggest concern going into it was whether people were going to be willing to participate in the activity. However, we were really happy to discover that most of the members we asked to participate did so happily.
We provided users a camera, and asked them to go around the building and take pictures of spaces that were significant to them, then we would ask them why they chose that space.
An important insight we gained through the camera journals was the recognition by users that the culture and community at NUVO was well cultivated and strong, but the physical spaces presented hurdles for users to get over in order to access and enjoy that community.
Generative Research Board
We wanted to see if we could get some more casual feedback as well, perhaps from the demographics at NUVO who may otherwise have been uncomfortable participating in our other research methods. We created a board display that provided writing materials, and asked users a version of our research question, saying, "Help us understand what a productive workspace means to you!".
We left the board up over the span of our other research, and although we did not get quite the response we had hoped for, we still got a few solid insights from that board we may not otherwise have gotten.
Our Traditional interviews really solidified the important insight we gained from the Camera journaling, that NUVO users already love the culture and community they are a part of, but the physical space around them does not help to cultivate or encourage the development and growth of that community, in fact, it hinders it.
One participant sold us about how he would come in to work in the hot-desking spaces, get a bit of work done, grab lunch and then usually head home for the day if he did not feel focused. That presented a clear issue that NUVO users did not feel that staying in the co-working space benefited their productivity.
This was very important for us to know, because it reinforced our prediction that the atmosphere plays a very significant role in the user experience of this co-working space.
Analysis was an interesting process for us, and the place where I first hit a snag with my interpretation of interaction design. We knew there was a place where all of our information landed and had meaning, but uncovering that place pushed us to open our minds beyond what we expected to create.
As a quick side note: a project we do in our narrative course in third year is to make a documentary. One of the biggest things we all learned during that process was how often we create expectations as designers, and how much we can't rely on those expectations to hold up when creating user centred designs. Whether it be a solution to a problem or the story we expect to find, you really don't know how users and participants feel until you genuinely take the time to hear what they're saying.
As we headed into the analysis process for NUVO, we all still had the expectation that we would have to create a product or a website or an app, and it was those expectations that made navigating our data analysis so challenging.
We started with "Fly On The Wall" analysis, where we copied all of our quotations from the interviews onto index cards, and then grouped them based on the area of concern expressed by each user.
At this point it was already clear that atmosphere was a big issue, as we predicted (given the density of the cluster under atmosphere at the top of the green poster). However, during this process it became clear to us that there were other important factors that impacted that atmosphere. Privacy, ease of communication, accessible meeting spaces and effective on-boarding were all aspects of the atmosphere at NUVO where users felt some friction.
To dive deeper into understanding these problem areas, we separated each topic and expanded on our brainstorming, using the interviews as a guide to ensure we weren't placing our own biases on the results.
The People of NUVO
What became clear to us very quickly was the wide range of types of users using the co-working spaces at NUVO Network, with just as wide a range of different needs. The roadblocks in the onboarding process and the discomfort users experienced due to privacy and clarity issues in the physical space, all contributed to and tense atmosphere that led users to distraction and confusion.
We translated our understanding of the different users, needs, and pain points into five unique personas that represented the users of NUVO based on our research, and created a journey map for each, outlining their daily actions, thoughts, feelings and experiences.
So what does it all mean?
We struggled with that question for a few days. We went through countless potential service and product concepts over the span of our time trying to analyze what the users of NUVO really need.
This was when my mind really opened.
Our prof at the time came to us and asked why we were struggling. We mentioned a lot of our ideas, and he took the time to explain to us that this did not need to be a product solution, and what that means. I know it must seem so obvious now, but when we finally got over the hurdle of releasing our expectations, and opened our minds to the possibilities of how we could apply our findings as a concept, personally my thought process as a designer changed forever, and that might have been the moment I realized I loved user experience design.
When we began our research, we met a lot of very unsure people. People who wanted to believe in and support this company they had signed up with, but were missing fundamental information. These were not people who needed a product solution, or an add campaign. These were real people with a real sense of uncertainty, and it became our goal to design a building block that would improve their experience at NUVO, but also act as a foundation for great user experiences in the future to build off of.
We decided to create a wayfinding system, and speak to how it could be implemented within NUVO to reduce friction and improve transparency for NUVO members.
Redefine Before You Redesign
Our solution was to provide a design system, a wayfinding system to be specific.
Our wayfinding system utilizes the existing rooms and spaces within NUVO, but proposes a colour coded, use-specific designation system that creates space and accessibility for all five of our user types.
It is a simple system, but one that would make big waves for NUVO's users. The system provides transparency, privacy, connection, fluency and an overall boosted productive atmosphere that would have users excited to come in and work everyday.
This system would also help users understand areas they do an do not have access to, and how to gain access if necessary.
The Why | My Key Take-aways
I definitely learned a lot about user research during this project, and I never expected it would be so much fun! This was my first step in appreciating the importance of user input and user centred design. I learned that you don't have to be a genius to solve people's problems, people know what they need, we just need to listen and then use our skills to make their dreams reality. As I've mentioned before, this project really opened my eyes and mind to the fact that ux design and interaction design can really apply to anything. It was in a small scale in this project, but this project encouraged me to start challenging myself to push the ways I apply my skills and knowledge to the world around me.
Only a few months after this project ended, I participated in a hackathon where we redesigned the user experience of an entire physical learning space, and since then I have become more and more interested in the reach of ux design and the many different areas of our world that I can explore, and hopefully one day make better.
If you would like to hear our pitch to NUVO, you can watch the video below.