tl;dr: weird design brief had me spending more time creating a fictional philosophy cafe than actually designing. Thus, I ran out of time.
When I fired up Designercize again, this was the first option that came up. I dragged my mouse over to the pink “RELOAD CHALLENGE” button on the left… but didn’t click. I thought to myself: I mean, that’s why they call it a design challenge, right? I’ve never done an actual design challenge, but who’s to say that there’s a “normal” style of design challenge? I bit the bullet and forged ahead.
In case the image is too small, this is the brief…
Design an edit settings form for a book discovery app to help baristas.
I gave myself 45 minutes this time and started the clock.
Going from Design Challenge #2, I started with the question “what use would baristas have for a book discovery app?” Right off the top of my head, the answer was “none.” Note that this is barista, a person who makes and serves coffee at a cafe, not a barrister, which is a legal eagle. I dare say it would make more sense to design a book discovery app for barristers but anyway…
After racking my mind for five minutes, I found myself going down the route of turning this challenge into a chat with potential client. I was a UX consultant who had been called in by the founder of Beans & Books (BnB), a cafe that nourishes the mind with thought-provoking ideas from their favourite books. Below is the “interview”:
Founder: Baristas play an integral part to the positive experience of the patrons. They don’t only take orders, make coffee and serve it all up with a smile. They are people too who come from all walks of life. We here at BnB (Beans & Books) not only look for people who have the ability to make great coffee but for those who are passionate about thinking.
Every day, we challenge our baristas to come up with a point of discussion from a book that they have read. Across a morning and afternoon session, they hold open-ended discussions that enrich the mind and promote deep thought. We’ve found that our concept has taken off over the past year and a half. Our sessions were consistently standing room only and people spread the word. Now, we’re at 10 stores and have plans to build our own app to share the thoughts of our Baristas anywhere, anytime.
(I realised that I started playing the role of the founder too long, so I hurried things along. Would definitely have helped having an actual person to speak to!)
Designer: So you asked me to help you design the first concept of an app. What big problem is it going to help your baristas solve?
Founder: We have 80 baristas all trying to come up with interesting topics to talk about. I thought having a book discovery app to help them share their ideas amongst them would help them stay on top of it instead of trying to do it themselves every week.
Designer: OK. What solutions have you tried to do this?
Founder: Not many. We tried Google Docs for a while, but it doesn’t work so well on smartphones.
Designer: Why is using smart phones important?
Founder: Because it allows them to take their ideas with them wherever they are. Whether they’re commuting on the way to BnB or at home.
Designer: OK. What do you think would happen if you didn’t have a solution to manage this?
Founder: We wouldn’t be able to consistently produce high quality talks for our patrons. Also, it’s important to me that they have their own network where they can lean on each other for ideas and inspiration.
Designer: So would they just find out about the books from each other or is there a feed from patrons or somewhere else online or…?
Founder: There have been already quite a few instances where our customers have provided the spark that has helped our baristas for a future talk.
Designer: Great. So the book discovery app would be used by your network of baristas at BnB to get inspired so they can give great talks based on the books that they have read. Patrons will be able to suggest books directly through the app to the baristas.
Founder: That’s right.
Designer: OK. So now I want to design a possible interaction. Through this, I’ll be able to understand the particular screens involved. *looks at different interviewer* can you be one of the baristas?
Barista: Sure can.
Designer: Thank you. OK, so can you walk me through how you plan for one of your talks?
Barista: Well, I usually start four or five days out. I look back at the books I’ve read and think about…
(Me: so I’m down to 8 minutes left. I’m going to skip forward and start looking at the Edit Settings screen itself, just so I have an actual design to show).
In the last 10 or so minutes, I hack out the below design:
- I put in the patron suggestions tick box to give the baristas an option to receive updates from book recommendations from customers. In hindsight, this makes more sense as a sliding switch, since a switch communicates turning something on or off. In this scenario, BnB would be getting a lot of user feedback and it would be like turning a tap on or off.
- I put tick boxes for genres, but the link to the core design isn’t strong. The way that I had envisioned the app was that baristas in the BnB network would share books with one another and get updates on those. Genres suggests that each book is categorised, but I didn’t touch on that in my interview because I ran out of time (more on that later).
- The “Sync with Amazon.com” is an afterthought that I added because it made sense at the time. Now, it doesn’t make so much sense. I just thought, when you think of “books”, what else do you think of? The big ‘Zon.
What Went Wrong
I got caught up creating the fictional BnB rather than actually designing. You’ll see in the above interview the notes in brackets where I realised I was going overtime. I ended up going over time and not spending nearly enough time looking at the important stuff, i.e. creating a design, asking more questions, outlining assumptions and calling out constraints. As a result, it ended up sucking again.
For what it’s worth, I think it’s slightly better than Design Challenge #2, but not by much. Admittedly, it’s not my fault. I went with a brief that was more difficult and spent too much time on the wrong thing. If I had someone who could act as the interviewer and create the scenario, I could actually focus on the design stuff.
Doing these last couple of Design Challenges have been helpful. They’ve helped me identify my shortcomings, but have also pointed out constraints of my own as I’m trying to do these challenges. Namely…
- If I have someone to act as the interviewer, I can focus on doing the design stuff. Time to rope the missus in.
- In a timed situation, I’m slowed down by writing. I need to get my thoughts out on a whiteboard, so I might be doing this from home where I actually have a whiteboard.
- I learn best when I watch someone doing it first. I need to go to YouTube and see if there are videos of people doing real-time design challenges and how they approach it.
- I also need to see if there are any resources where I can look at best practice UX screens to help me decrease the time it takes to create a rough design. I don’t have that experience so it’s something I need to study up on.
- I might take out the initial part of of the Designercize brief so I can focus on the application at greater length. That, or find a different site to get my briefs from.