The Overarching Challenge
I wanted to find a way for both beginning and seasoned writers to establish habits that would improve their writing lives.
Understanding the Problem
I conducted both secondary and primary research with the following goals in mind:
- Learn about existing habit-tracking apps, such as Stickk and Flora, and conduct a competitor analysis.
- Learn about writers’ habits.
- Learn about writers’ motivations.
- Learn about writers’ frustrations.
- Learn about writers’ existing communities.
- Learn about the ways writers share work.
- Learn about how COVID-19 has impacted writers’ lives.
- Identify pain points and positive experiences writers have when using existing habit-tracking methods, if applicable.
Secondary research allowed me to gain insight into how habit tracking apps function. There are many apps on the market, so I chose to focus on two apps that added financial penalties and two others that provided a simple, clean user experience.
Challenges and takeaways: It was tough to sift through the many existing apps and focus on the ones that provided the user experience I was hoping to emulate. I learned that many apps with complex interfaces and animations were actually quite difficult to use. This motivated me to focus on a clear, straightforward user experience.
Primary research was also a big part of this project. I conducted Zoom interviews with six writers at various stages of their careers, from MFA students to those who have been writing and publishing for at least a couple of years.
I gained the following insights:
- Many writers find word-count goals to be beneficial to producing work.
- Many writers find time-based goals to be beneficial to producing work (i.e. write for 1 hour).
- Many writers benefit from writing at the same time each day.
- Many writers are stymied by emotional issues.
- Many writers struggle to write when they have the external distractions of TV/phone/internet.
- Many writers feel motivated by others reading their work.
Challenges and takeaways: Through my interviews, I gained a lot of insight into how needs shift with years of practice and experience. It was interesting to realize how key emotional motivation/sense of purpose is to writers throughout all stages of their writing lives. Since I'm a writer myself, it was challenging to avoid projecting my own experience onto the data I got from the interviews. This interview experience helped me learn how to be more objective.
Defining the Problem
After my research was complete, I decided to create two separate personas to denote early and later-stage writers.
Challenges and takeaways: It was a bit difficult to distill information into two discrete personas. There is definitely cross over in the experiences of different types of writers. This step helped me understand the whole persona process better as it is focused on different needs rather than an exercise in creating a perfect amalgamation of research findings.
Writers need an app that will help them create time-based or word count-based goals so that they form positive habits, ultimately allowing them to meet their creative goals.
Writers need an app that will allow them to connect to other writers, giving them a sense of community and, as a result, increased motivation.
After my research stage, I communicated my findings to the client and got a better sense of the key features we wanted to focus on in the next stage. I put together a feature road map, tasks flows, and user flows.
Challenges and takeaways: This was my first opportunity to work with a client on a product that was slated for development. It was an exciting chance to communicate my research findings to justify the elements that I thought we should add. For example, we had never discussed a time-based tracking feature, but I was able to justify this addition based on my research.
Sketches & Lo-Fi Wireframes
I began sketching out layout ideas for my pages, focusing on the onboarding, goal setting, home, and stats pages. I got some ideas from existing apps as well as designs on Dribbble and Pinterest.
Challenges and takeaways: It was sort of overwhelming to consider all of the layout options, and it was easy to get sucked into the animations and effects on Dribbble. However, I went back to my insights and flows to focus on the most important functions of the app. I found the onboarding flow to be relatively straightforward, but I experimented with more layout ideas for the home and stats pages.
The client was happy with the initial flows I created, so I moved onto branding. It was important that the app have a very simple, accessible feel. They were unsure of a name for the app, so we moved forward with Inkling as a placeholder.
Challenges and takeaways: The client initially said they wanted a purely black and white color scheme without any use of imagery. I was worried that this would leave the app rather flat and uninspired visually, so I had to come up with solutions to keep a simple, clean feel while making sure the UI was visually interesting. I fought for at least one color but kept the rest of the palette neutral. In terms of imagery, I utilized simple pen and ink illustrations to give the design some flair while keeping it minimalistic. Once I presented the client with the style tile, they were pleased with my suggestions because they still fell in line with the initial vision.
With my branding approved, I moved on to creating high-fidelity UI screens. I ended up removing the goals page as it seemed superfluous with goals cards available on both the home and profile screens. I also ended up simplifying the payment flow. Thinking ahead to development, the card scanner seemed like something that could be sacrificed in the name of simplicity.
Challenges and takeaways: The issue of how to upload/update word count continues to be a topic of discussion. We'd like to have a way for it to be automatically validated, such as through a Google Docs plugin or even a desktop upload feature. While this will be an area we continue to discuss, I decided to add a feature that will allow users to update word count manually. This way, the feature is at least functional immediately.
Home - Stats - Profile
New Project - Update Word Count
Testing the Flows
I conducted usability testing with five participants over Zoom in order to test out onboarding, updating the word count, and adding a new goal.
Task 1: Onboarding-set a word count goal and add payment stakes
- Timeframe: 1 minute 30 second to 3 minutes
- 3/5 users encountered issues of moderate severity on the goal setting page—they were confused by the wording of the prompt.
- 4/5 users encountered issues of low severity on the payment page—they didn’t immediately scroll down to the “I Agree” button but instead initially interacted with the buttons for external payment options.
Task 2: update daily word count
- Timeframe: 12 to 30 seconds
- 5/5 participants moved through this task swiftly without any issue.
Task 3: add a new goal
- Timeframe: 10 to 25 seconds
- 5/5 participants moved through this task swiftly without any issue.
I made the following minor revisions to the onboarding flow:
- The goal setting language seems to be confusing—it should be rewritten in order to make it clear that it is about the type of goal the user is going to be setting.
- The payment page seems to present some issues because users need to scroll in order to reach the “I Agree” button. A scroll indicator could be added, the hierarchy of the page could be adjusted, or the page could be shortened, all of which would reduce ambiguity.
I grew significantly with this project, especially since it was the first time I was working with a client. I had to learn how to communicate my research findings in a way that justified every decision that I was making. On an internal level, this made me even more focused on making decisions based on user needs rather than what simply looks cool and current. There were also times during which I disagreed with the client's suggestions, such as those surrounding branding, so I had to find a way to present solutions that respected the client's desires while also producing compelling design work. I grew in confidence and learned that it's okay to push back on the client as long as you are able to provide new solutions to make everyone happy.
It was so encouraging to hear that the client was happy with the designs. When we began this project, they were unsure if they wanted to move forward with development. However, it was so gratifying to hear that this first round of designs inspired them, and they are planning to move forward to develop the app.
During the next phase of design, I plan on focusing on the following features:
- Design a method of automatic word count validation—this could be in the form of a Google Docs plugin or could involve a desktop version of the app that would allow for document upload.
- Design a system of reminders to help writers stay on task.
- Build out the community section of the app—think about how writers can interact with each other to increase accountability and motivation.