Joseph Baroud

Sponges

Product/UX Design

CONTEXT

10-week academic project (individual)


SCOPE

POC: User research, interaction design, visual design


PLATFORM

iOS


TOOLS

Sketch, InVision

Sponges is intended as a mobile application that provides people with quick, easy-to-find guidance on the best ways to clean and maintain things around their home, including objects and spaces they never even knew they should be looking after.


I created a POC for Sponges as my capstone project when I studied UX Design at BrainStation Toronto.

InVision Prototype

The embedded prototype works best on Google Chrome. Otherwise, you can view it here.


Project Definition

Problem Space

Two days before starting my course at BrainStation, I moved away from my parents' home for the first time. Upon this adjustment, I encountered many challenges in trying to live more independently. I particularly had a hard time knowing how to really clean and perform basic maintenance around my new home, and thought there was no way I could be the only one struggling with this. So, I did some research…

Investigative Research Plan

I set out to understand the problem further by defining my project objectives and interview participant criteria.



CONSTRAINTS:


  • ⛔️ Given BrainStation's tight deadlines, students were advised to interview people they could access immediately, so I relied on close friends and relatives for my research.

  • ⛔️ As perceptions and expectations regarding household chores/responsibilities differ geographically and culturally, I focused on a target user group of young adults living in Canada.

Survey

I set the stage for each interview with a survey, in which participants were asked to evaluate their ability to perform various cleaning and maintenance tasks.



KEY INSIGHTS:


🔸 On average, participants said they confidently knew how to clean only 24% of the objects and spaces listed in the survey.


🔸 Some interview participants noted that, had they not completed this survey, they would have never learned that they should be cleaning certain objects/spaces. There are no channels to consistently tell them what they should be cleaning.

Interviews

I met with six individuals to understand their experiences and attitudes related to cleaning and basic maintenance, and grouped my notes into themes to uncover insights.



KEY INSIGHTS:


🔸 While all interviewees refer to how-to articles and videos on the Internet for help with cleaning and maintenance, they find it difficult to know which articles/videos to trust the most and spend more time than they would like to when searching for guidance.


🔸 All participants attributed their busy schedules as a reason for their difficulty or reduced desire to clean as often as they would like to or should.

Persona & Current-State Experience Map

My insights informed the development of a persona which captured the goals, behaviours, pain points and motivations of my primary target user—young adults who live away from their parents and want to adopt better cleaning and maintenance habits and skills. (Click on the images to expand)

Through these exercises, I uncovered three opportunity areas to improve my users' experience of household cleaning and maintenance:


  1. 1️⃣ A reliable stream of information to inform people of what, how and when to clean and maintain objects and spaces in their home
  2. 2️⃣ A repository of cleaning and basic maintenance methods where they are easy and quick to find
  3. 3️⃣ A schedule or reminders for cleaning various objects and spaces within the home

Design Challenge

“How might we provide young adults (people aged 18-34) with information and tools so that they can more effectively clean and perform basic maintenance around their home?”

Task Selection

As I could not prototype the entire app within the timelines of this project, I needed to prioritize features that I believed would most effectively deliver on my solution’s value proposition.


To determine my value proposition, I asked myself:


  • 1️⃣ What were the most common pain points and opportunities identified by my interviewees?
  • 2️⃣ If my app could only do one thing, how could I solicit the most downloads and deliver the most value to my target user?

Value Proposition

“A mobile application that helps young adults to learn the best ways to clean and perform basic maintenance around their home”

Task Prioritization & Analysis

After considering the opportunities and landing on my app’s value proposition, I developed a product backlog to list my desired app features and developed a flow diagram for what I deemed was the primary task of my core epic: learning how to clean a household object or space. (Click on the images to expand)

Product Backlog

Task Flow Diagram

Why Cleaning Over Maintenance?

As I progressed through this project, I realized that to include both cleaning and maintenance in my prototype would be too ambitious with the time I had, so I chose to prioritize cleaning for the following reasons:


▫️Many of my target users rent, rather than own, their dwelling, and therefore are not responsible for performing maintenance.

▫️As I found through my questionnaire, my target users are generally less capable of cleaning, compared to maintenance.

▫️Some of my female interviewees expressed that they expect a man to take care of maintenance tasks for them.

▫️Cleaning is a routine task that brings about more daily challenges, compared to maintenance which only occurs ad hoc.

▫️My persona and experience map highlighted opportunities pertaining uniquely to cleaning.

Prototyping

Concept Sketching & Ideation

With my task flow diagram developed, I began searching for design inspiration and made a number of sketches to decide on my app features.


My sketching and ideation process led me to include the following features and information in my first prototype:


  • ▫️Ability to search by room, by function, or with a picture
  • ▫️How-to cleaning guides and videos
  • ▫️Information on cleaning supplies and alternatives
  • ▫️User forums for questions and feedback
  • ▫️Daily cleaning suggestions (calendar)
  • ▫️Readings on cleaning and home maintenance topics

Wireframing & Usability Testing

I digitized a mid-fidelity iOS prototype for my primary task flow and conducted two rounds of usability testing to uncover gaps and opportunity areas in my solution. In each round, I met with five unique test users and revised my wireframes before testing them again. My three most important changes resulting from the usability testing process are shown below. (Click on the images to expand)

Visual Identity

I brought my app to high fidelity after defining my brand and UI. Once I captured the mood and feel I desired for my app, I conducted a number of exercises to experiment with colour and typography combinations before landing on my final design. (Click on the images to expand)

Beyond iOS

Marketing Website

Inspired by my app’s high-fidelity design, I created a landing page for a responsive website to market Sponges. I targeted it towards my primary users by writing copy I felt would resonate with them on a personal level. I also ensured that my website spoke to Sponges’ value proposition and addressed some of the biggest pain points I gathered during my research.


Full page links: Desktop | Mobile

Voice-Only Experience

As part of a one-day exercise my BrainStation cohort did in class, I reimagined Sponges as a voice-only interface that could operate on an Amazon Alexa-enabled device. This accounted for a new variation of my persona's current-state experience as well as an expanded set of user stories. (Click on the image to expand)


View my design process here

Closing Reflections

Design Impact & Future Thinking

As I close off my project, I considered the potential impact and future of my design based on some questions I drew from the Tarot Cards of Tech.

  • I didn't consider all forms of accessibility.

  • I realized that, while I considered visual accessibility when designing my UI, I never considered accessibility for people with mobility issues. The how-to guides in Sponges assume that users are able-bodied and can move as needed to clean or maintain something. Those with mobility limitations might therefore be unable to follow the app’s instructions.

  • To address this gap, I would have to meet with people within my target audience who have mobility issues to understand their experiences within my problem space. Should I even try to address their pain points within my app, or would they need a different solution entirely?

My app's biggest risk is the quality of its information.


  • When I first reflected on assumptions for my project, I thought that people could lose trust in Sponges if the advice provided by the app ended up being of poor quality, or even worse, dangerous. For example, a cleaning guide might recommend using a dangerous product without warning users or advising them on how to use it safely.

  • Mitigations could include:

  • ▫️Researching and setting standards for the kinds of safety information my app needs to provide.

  • ▫️Implementing a quality control process that evaluates the effectiveness of the guidance before adding it into Sponges.

  • ▫️Curating content from credible sources, rather than creating it myself.
  • My app could promote "green" products and tools.

  • If the environment were my client, I would want to ensure that Sponges promotes the use of environmentally-friendly products and tools for cleaning and maintaining their homes. Perhaps during onboarding, a user can opt in to prioritize “green” product suggestions when looking up cleaning/maintenance guidance, or at least have the option to toggle for green alternatives when viewing guidance.

Business Considerations for Implementation

As the focus of the program was to practice core HCD skills, my project did not include comprehensive assessments of business viability or technical feasibility. However, I did give some thought to what would need to happen, from a business standpoint, in order to move Sponges into production.



  • BUSINESS MODEL: A breadth of monetization opportunities would have to be explored, as requiring users to pay for the app might reduce its perceived value when compared to free alternatives like Google and YouTube. There might be an opportunity to partner with consumer products companies to push their cleaning and maintenance supply recommendations to users, but this might come at the expense of the app’s credibility if it appears to be baised. A next step for me would be to conduct business modelling and competitive analysis exercises to establish a better lens of the landscape and adopt a more sophisticated view of the business opportunities for Sponges.

  • CONTENT STRATEGY: Given that the cleaning and maintenance guides are intended to be specific to the particular item models the user owns, the level of effort for providing content to the app needs to be assessed. When conceiving my prototype, my intended strategy for Sponges was to curate content from existing, reliable sources to avoid reinventing the wheel, but to what extent does the content I need exist already? Also, what percentage of household objects would truly benefit from having model-specific guidance? Can guidance stay generic for most objects? These are the kinds of questions I would have to investigate further.

Challenges & Lessons Learned

  • 1️⃣ Interviewees can contradict themselves
  • When crafting interview questions, it’s important to be ready to mitigate instances where users might make conflicting observations or comments as they move along the interview. Luckily, the contradictions I heard during my experience did not impact my project's progression, but I'm now much more aware of the risk.


2️⃣ Test your test scripts

  • During usability testing, I learned that test scripts can be pivotal in a test user's success with the product. During some of my user tests, I found that people struggled with or failed a particular task simply because of the wording of the task.


3️⃣ Products don't always have to be "cool" to be great

  • Sometimes, an app doesn’t need more than basic-level features to please a user. While “technologically advanced” features might seem interesting to the designer, users do not always need or appreciate them. I thought people would love the scanner functionality I had in my first prototype, but nobody understood it, so I let it go.


4️⃣ Onboard your users

  • Unfamiliar features sometimes need to be well explained to people when they use a product for the first time; it is not always wise to leave it up to them to figure things out on their own. I learned this after observing that many of my test users did not fully understand the purpose or contents of my app’s home page.

  • 5️⃣ Anyone can do UI, with practice
  • As someone with deuteranopia, I was really intimidated by visual design. However, I appreciated having this project as an opportunity to experiment with colour and learn techniques to better match them together, and it was also reassuring to learn that many seasoned UI designers conduct lots of experimentation before coming up with their final designs.

Acknowledgements

As my time at BrainStation and capstone project came to an end, I owed thanks to so many people for their contributions to my success during the program: