UX Research Project – Climate Change
In late 2016 I took a course in UX Research & Strategy. I was interested in learning more about UX Design and this felt like a logical first step.
Throughout the course, I completed a UX research project that was comprised of the following stages:
- Research Plan
- Interviews & Surveys
- Creating a Persona based on research results
- Creating an Empathy Map based on research results
- Defining the Problem
- Competitor Analysis
- Solution Brainstorming
- Storyboards (Existing & Planned Experiences)
- Prototype of a possible solution
Research Topic: Climate Change Actions for Everyday People
As a nature lover and concerned citizen, I’ve been thinking and worrying a lot about climate change lately. Climate change is not new news, and it’s something that’s been on my radar for several years. However, other than trying to make environmentally sound decisions in my personal life (recycling, driving less, etc), I’ve pretty much felt powerless to make a real difference. But now more than ever, I feel a strong desire to do something…I just don’t know exactly what to do.
I’m confident the powerless feeling I’ve experienced in regards to climate change action is something a lot of people also experience. It’s a big, complex problem, but I decided it was important to research a topic I really care about, even though obviously I am not going to solve this problem on my own.
Research Plan Summary
I decided to focus on surveys and interviews for my research methods. In a “real-life” project I would’ve included contextual inquiries and/or life observations, but those weren’t practical for my project’s timeframe or for me to do all on my own.
The interviews and surveys consisted of the same set of seven open-ended questions about climate change. To read my full research plan, including more information on the background of the project, the participants, specific questions asked, and schedule, click here.
I conducted 7 interviews and received 16 survey responses. In a “real-life” project I would’ve like to have collected a lot more, maybe 40-50 responses.
I learned that the challenge of having all opened-ended questions was that some of the answers were quite long, and because the respondents came from significantly varied backgrounds, the answers varied a lot. However, because of the differences, a lot of unique perspectives were offered. There were many answers I didn’t anticipate, which was really interesting and offered a lot of insight I never would’ve discovered on my own. But because of this, I found it challenging to summarize the results and make them succinct.
In the future, I would consider doing an additional survey with fewer open-ended questions to help produce more quantifiable answers. I’d consider yes/no, true/false, scale, and multiple choice questions. I would not eliminate the open-ended questions though, as I felt they provided very valuable insights.
I would also record the interviews (with interviewee permission). I found that listening and typing was challenging and realize I may have missed important points within the answers I received.
Read more on the results:
Based on my research results, I created a persona that represented common threads among the research participants. I was able to recognize patterns in behaviors, motivations, and attitudes that occurred across the respondents. Creating a persona allowed me to connect more deeply with the project and feel more passionate about brainstorming a solution for the problem I identified. Making the data “human” through a persona allowed me to empathize more with my user as I moved into the next stages of the project.
Framing the Problem
After reviewing and analyzing research results, I created two statements to help frame the problem that the participants were experiencing. After brainstorming several different iterations, these are the statements I settled on.
User Point of View
Young professionals want to do more to combat climate change but have feelings of frustration, helplessness, and complacency because of government inaction, corporate greed, and in some cases being surrounded by people who are not like-minded or deny climate change.
How Might We
How might we help young professionals recognize additional actions they can take to combat climate change, and motivate them to take those actions?
These two statements helped me to define the problem in a succinct, understandable way, and prepared me for exploring possible solutions.
Before starting my brainstorming for a solution, I decided to see what solutions might already exist in the world. I researched and explored mobile apps and podcasts that addressed climate change action (or at least promised to). I noted issues I ran into when using them and areas for improvement.
In “real life” I would also consider researching other types of existing solutions, like websites/web apps, blogs, radio programs, etc.
To brainstorm possible solutions to the defined problem, I used the “Crazy Eights” exercise to quickly sketch out my ideas. I set a time limit of 10 minutes and generated eight ideas within that time. The purpose of setting a time limit was so that I didn’t have time to judge or analyze my ideas. I wanted to see what I could come up with, even if those ideas were out of the space of my previous experience in web and graphic design.
To walk through the user’s experience of searching for, finding, and using a solution for their problem, I created two storyboards. I honed in on one of my eight ideas, a web app that helps a user easily write a personalized letter to her congressman.
Storyboard #1: Existing Experience
I created a storyboard that demonstrates the user’s existing experience of searching for a way to help fight climate change, deciding to contact her congressman, but then getting stuck on how to accomplish this task.
Storyboard #2: Planned Experience
Next I created a storyboard for the experience that I want the user to have when she decides to contact her congressman. Rather than getting stuck, she finds an easy and fun app that guides her through the process. She accomplishes her goal, feels good about that action she’s taken, and shares it with her friends and students.
Creating the second storyboard helped me identify all the possible steps needed in the proposed solution to the problem. I recognized holes in my idea (or steps I hadn’t considered), and identified what I wanted my user to feel as she used the web app (ease of use, comfort, simplicity, accomplishment).
I created a prototype of my web app so I could potentially share my idea with users for feedback and to hear about their experiences. In “real life”, I’d also share it with my teammates. Like I found in my initial research, I am sure there are perspectives and points I won’t think of on my own. Having a semi-functional, visual protoype to share allows us to test the idea without investing a lot of time and money into actual development.
Additionally, as I moved through the process of creating the prototype, I recognized more steps/screens that were missing, and added them in. These were steps that I had not identified in my storyboard. Making something a little more “real” or tangible than a storyboard really helped to iron out some kinks (for example, not having a plan for where users would be directed after they saved an email for later).
There are a few elements I could still build, but felt weren’t important at this stage. For example, I currently don’t demonstrate what happens when a returning user logs in. I felt it was more important to get the basic premise of the app set up and tested first.
I used Sketch and Invision to build my web app prototype. Both are relatively new to me, so that added an extra layer of challenge, but I enjoyed learning the basics I needed to create my prototype, and look forward to learning these programs more thoroughly.
As a designer and an artist at heart, I must admit that this was my favorite stage of the project. The prototype probably could’ve been a bit more more visually basic, but I loved creating an experience that was inviting, friendly, calming, and simple to use.
In conclusion, I realized how many assumptions I have made in past projects. For the several years I was employed at one internet marketing company, we really touted that we were experts in our niche and knew our type of client very well. However, we barely spent any time getting to know the users! We assumed we knew what was best for them and that we were getting the best results we could for our clients. User experience research was much more of an afterthought, not something that we considered from the beginning of a project. Although I left that company in early 2014 and User Experience Design wasn’t as “hot” back then, I realize now that we could’ve been serving our clients and users even better than we did.
The UX research process was fairly new to me and I enjoyed moving through the different steps. Although I don’t necessarily see myself on a career path that is research heavy, I learned the importance of research, empathizing with the user, and using the research to build something that really makes sense for the user. I’m now motivated to create solutions for users that legitimately solve a problem, and don’t just look pretty. I’m excited to be a designer on a team that puts the user first!
Although I don’t have immediate plans to actually further test or launch this project, it’s something that I will keep on the back burner for future consideration. Even if it never goes anywhere, I’m happy with what I accomplished and learned up to this point.