Encourage is a mobile progressive web application that connects new parents to tailored information about pregnancy, parenting, education, health, and more.
By undertaking this personal project, I was able to leverage my background in research, content, and design thinking while expanding my skills in information architecture and usability into the realm of mobile experience.
ESTABLISHING BACKGROUND: RESEARCH REVIEW
Without firsthand knowledge, I could only assume new parents experience gaps in their information needs at one time or another. Recognizing the importance of validating this assumption up-front, I kicked off discovery work by combing existing research for high-level evidence. I learned that:
Certain social and economic trends could be contributing to some parents' (increasing) needs;
There are critical gaps in the supply of health information and care around the world, from the least developed to the highest-income countries;
Online parent-to-parent networks have proven effective as learning and coping tools for certain segments of parents; and
Demand for (and access of) online info will likely increase over time.
GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE: EXPLORATORY USER SURVEY
Equipped with a few new assumptions after fact-finding, I conducted an online survey of parents of children under the age of five. By initiating low-stakes user research early on, I uncovered topics needing further exploration and, after discarding invalidated ideas, was able to better allocate my time.
GAINING FAMILIARITY WITH THE FIELD: COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS
To better understand how information and advice are currently delivered to parents online, I embarked on a four-stage competitive analysis, gaining inspiration and identifying opportunities in the process.
ESTABLISHING DESIGN PRINCIPLES
Reflecting on new understandings gained during discovery, I determined that a mobile-first solution to connect new parents with experts could help to improve their experiences with online information.
But bridging gaps between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders for certain users wouldn't be enough in the new parenting context. This pointed to three principles for a truly successful solution.
DIGGING DEEPER WITH USER RESEARCH: INTERVIEWS
To gain a thorough understanding of real-life users within a compact timeframe, I conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with eight parents of babies and young children.
Inspired by constructivist grounded theory, an inductive approach to social science research, I translated my main research objectives into an interview guide to be adapted over time. After each interview was transcribed and coded, new observations and topics were addressed with the following participant. Once all interviews had been conducted, the coded data were categorized, then synthesized, in two rounds of affinity mapping.
 Interview guide, participant profiles, data (notes and transcripts), and affinity maps are available by email.
RECONSTRUCTING A NARRATIVE: MISSION AND VISION STATEMENTS
During the second round of affinity mapping, I reconstructed a narrative of users' end-to-end-experiences. These insights pointed to a central takeaway: that quality of information is far from the only key concern. In order to improve new parents' (online) information-seeking processes holistically, it would be necessary to address additional needs.
Synthesizing research insights into design goals helped me focus on users' practical and emotional needs, and not on technical and functional requirements. These goals were summarized into mission and vision statements expanding upon, and validating, the principles established earlier.
ESTABLISHING POINT-OF-VIEW: USER PERSONAS
Drawing on insights from discovery work, I developed four user personas to reflect different circumstances, habits and attitudes, needs and goals, preferences, and pain points.
Due to time constraints, the remainder of the project focused on supporting the goals of Anne and Silvia. I plan to support Jacob (a secondary persona) in the next possible iteration, with Jenny (an edge case) addressed further in the future.
CREATING FOCUS: USER NEED (PROBLEM) STATEMENTS
As a bridge to ideation, I drafted two user need (problem) statements for each primary persona. Connecting user needs to goals, these four statements acted as pillars during ideation and design, helping to ensure user-centered decisions and steering me away from feature-creep.
DEEPENING EMPATHY: SCENARIOS, STORIES, TASKS, AND JOURNEYS
Referring back to user research insights, I drafted scenarios in which the two primary personas (Anne and Silvia) would be most likely to seek information online. Alongside personas and need statements, these scenarios acted as constant reminders of (some) new parents' conditions and constraints.
Once grounded in the personas' circumstances, I created user stories to clarify what Anne and Silvia would want – and why they would want it – to accomplish their goals. Each user story was detailed through hierarchical task analyses, when I began imagining how complex processes could be simplified for users with inherently limited (cognitive, time, and other) resources.
To capture additional facets of Anne and Silvia's experiences, I combined their stories and tasks into linear user journey maps. By mapping future journeys, I was able to brainstorm more opportunities for improvement, again from a more emotional and realistic perspective.
CONSIDERING FUNCTIONALITY: USER FLOWS
Having decided on a mobile-first solution, I turned to user flows to explore core tasks at a more granular level. The combined flow map became a critical reference point for functional requirements.
DRAFTING THE INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE: SITEMAPS
After conducting card sorting exercises with prospective users, I began organizing high-level content into a sitemap (also) from a flow perspective. As a result, I could determine how content and features should be encountered in real life – not only how they could be organized in theory.
KICKING OFF DESIGN: LOW-FIDELITY PROTOTYPING
After compiling business and functional requirements alongside a content strategy, I sketched layouts and UI patterns, ideating on how actions and content could be translated into screens. A number of sketches were then translated into a low-fidelity prototype covering the primary personas' user flows.
Starting with a manual prototype also forced me to consider interactions between and across screens. After finding some processes overly complex, I tweaked user flows to produce more direct, but also more escapable, routes to key decision and action points.
PREPARING TO TEST: MID-FIDELITY PROTOTYPING
To provide a more realistic artifact for usability testing, I translated my low-fidelity prototype into an interactive mid-fidelity prototype, designed in Sketch but prototyped in InVision for time's sake.
While continuing to iterate, I decided to apply Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. By working with an established design system and familiar UI design patterns, I was able to guarantee baseline accessibility and usability from the start (and save a lot of time).
Based on experience, I knew that usability testing can expose more than functional and logical errors. For that reason, I drafted full (UX) microcopy in order to evoke more genuine reactions during testing.
Testing & Refinement
EVALUATING EASE OF USE AND MORE: USABILITY TESTING
With agility in mind, I chose to conduct formal usability testing at the mid-fidelity stage. I was then able to make course corrections quickly and easily, without having become too attached to my initial design.
Though no major usability errors were exposed during testing, I did identify a number of opportunities for improving task efficiency and emotional experience throughout the prototype.
For example, though testers had been able to complete the onboarding questionnaire and reacted positively to the outcome, unintended friction had led to momentary delays and, at times, confusion.
Believing that new parents' real-life circumstances would only exacerbate these issues, I decided to streamline the decision-making process, optimize screen layouts, improve user feedback and control, and overhaul copy across the questionnaire and its results.
REITERATING & REFINING: HIGH-FIDELITY MOCKUPS & DESIGN SYSTEM
After making further adjustments based on usability test results, and after running preference tests to inform the choice of color palette, I began transforming wireframes into high-fidelity mockups.
Along the way, I performed usability heuristic and accessibility evaluations, followed by a review of emotional design and cognitive psychology principles. As a result, the entire on-screen experience was optimized not only for aesthetics, but also for use under a range of conditions.
Last but not least, as a compliment to the high-fidelity mockups, I compiled a design language system to support consistent additions and changes in the future.