8 week long process
When I was initially thinking about what it was I wanted to accomplish in my time with the Residency, I kept coming back to my interest in the intersections of these spaces. I wondered what a year-long solo project with this backbone of interdisciplinary fusion might look like- and configured my Residency around the large, open-ended, ever-present question: how might we make and design future technologies more equitable and human-centered?
I’m pursuing answering this question within multiple areas that I’m passionate about, all while focusing on how I can make my creative process feel ownable and personal. In this piece, I wanted to consider professional networking- I’ve been thinking on solutions that make professional networking feel more meaningful, sustainable, and personal.
My overall process starts with secondary research and primary research, which turn into insight and principle generation, which form the backbone of my brainstorming and prototyping phase. These brainstorms and prototypes are tested and worked on, and these revised pieces eventually help make a final deliverable.
This process looks a little like this:
It might sound strange, but I think my current favorite part of my design process is doing research. Thorough, dedicated research is so critical in designing something- even a prototype not intended to become entirely real. For this project, I started by research the current scope of products in career services, issues in receiving and finding jobs, and articles describing the space.
I found that many products gave users opportunities to virtually see and apply for many jobs, but few gave opportunities for users to meet professionals or interact with anyone 1-on-1. This troubled me, as I found in a Glassdoor report on jobs that, on average, for every 1 job open there are 250 applicants. The current services make finding a job stressful, impersonal, and difficult to actually find and receive jobs.
Much of my secondary research findings led me to the idea that finding meaningful jobs isn’t about how many jobs you apply to- it’s about the personal connections you make with people in your field. With that idea in mind, I wanted to frame my primary research within an audience currently dealing with the issues I’ve described: millennials. According to GPS University, “72% of students, as opposed to 53% of workers, consider having ‘a job where I can make an impact’ to be very important or essential to their happiness.”
I interviewed 6 millennials about their past job experiences, how they like to meet people, and what stresses them out about finding work. These interviews each took around 45 minutes to an hour, and gave me terrific insights into problems facing millennials getting employed at workplaces they felt aligned with their values and interests.
I also had each interviewee participate in a research activity called the circle of trust. In the activity, participants rank how uncomfortable to comfortable they are with certain ideas by placing cards with professional networking behaviors from close (comfortable) to far (uncomfortable) from them.
Finding Insights & Principles
My general process for finding insights after interviews is simple yet effective: I write down everything my interviewees said on post it notes (labeled with a number representing who said what) and places those post-its on a (big) wall. After getting all of the notes up on the wall, I start to cluster post-its together that have similar statements, or stories that have similar trends running through them. The more time I spend with the notes, the easier it becomes to identify patterns. I then write down those patterns, and those patterns start to get clustered. Eventually, all of this clustering of patterns turns into meaningful insights from my interviewees.
Here were my 11 insights from my research:
⁃ Job boards feel unlikely to actually foster getting a job.
⁃ Most every job was received by having a connection or meeting in person.
⁃ Casual interactions in meeting places like coffee shops feel less overwhelming.
⁃ “Networking” events feel forced and overwhelmingly large.
⁃ Getting an introduction is most comfortable when meeting a new professional.
⁃ Job boards have so many jobs it is difficult to discern which are trustworthy.
⁃ Recruiters feel like automated robots.
⁃ Talking to a professional is most comfortable 1 on.
⁃ Linkedin is used almost solely for messaging or finding mutual connections- not for it’s news feed or job posts.
⁃ Meeting in person trumps meeting over Skype or over the phone and those connections are lasting.
⁃ Networking has a negative connotation of being superficial.
These insights then turned into general principles for the solution I made. Making principles is important, and different from finding insights. While finding insights is all about learning about habits, motivations, goals, fears, etc. from people, generating principles is all about how you’ll take those learnings and make sure they apply to the service you come up with.
My principles for my solution were simple:
⁃ My solution should promote one on one, in-person conversation.
⁃ My solution should make all interactions feel personal and organic.
⁃ My solution will not attempt to do all things- it will primarily help connect people to have conversation in the first place.
I decided on furthering a concept I had worked on while brainstorming: an app that helps people meet other people. This might sound simple, but all you need in order to begin prototyping is a simple idea and the understanding that your idea might completely change.
I then worked on thinking up the most critical elements of my platform and considered what sort of architecture that might look like. This is an element that I constantly edit while I’m continuing the prototyping phase.
I proceeded to take the structure I had created in my site map and begun sketching out super basic wireframes in Adobe XD- below are basic ideas of what the home or discovery page might look like. This process- even of making wireframes I know for certain won’t work right- is incredibly helpful in figuring out all of your options and beginning to narrow down on concepts, rather than starting entirely with one concept and fleshing it out to high fidelity.
Higher Fidelity Prototyping
This process- of going from UX sketches to low-fidelity wireframes to higher-fidelity prototypes- can be tricky. It’s easy to get attached to something you like and you think looks good without seriously considering if the service is even doing what you’d hope it’d do in the first place. Thus, I test. Test, test, test, test, test. I test the prototypes to see if people understand the interactions, if they have feedback, if they feel like it’s confusing. I’ve found that testing early and often always provides key insights that I would’ve otherwise overlooked.
For example, in this situation I put the word ‘matches’ as the title above the four professionals in your area the service’s algorithm would place a user with. However, everyone who began using the prototype in my tests associated the idea of ‘match’ with dating; it felt too intimate a word to describe a potential professional connection.
High/Medium fidelity concepts Below I’m showing a view medium/high-fidelity screens done in Adobe XD. Something I’ve been able to do with XD that’s been huge is design and prototype on the same application. In the past I’ve been designing (in Illustrator/Sketch) and then doing low-fidelity prototyping in something like InVision, so it’s crazy helpful to be able to have everything live in one home.
Above shows (from left to right) how someone would go about seeing the day’s professional matches, checking on their profile, and scheduling a meet up with them (with an integrated calendar feature so times that are shown are those that work on the calendar of both the user and the user’s invitee).
Some of the comments I received in doing testing was that the mutual connections the user has with the match should be more obvious and have an opportunity to be called upon within the app. Another prototype-tester commented that everything felt too crammed and small and that they feared accidentally tapping something they didn’t entirely mean to.
Above (from left to right) shows what would happen post time-scheduling; picking a location to meet at, typing a message (short and sweet- a huge observation I saw in my research that proved high results for professionals contacting the emailer back), and then sending the message.
Some of the comments I received in doing testing in this element was that there felt like too many option buttons- a back button near the ‘Schedule a meet up’ line, a forwards option to see different types of locations, a downward button to see more options of coffee shops/spots, and a review button to finalize. The users I spoke to felt like there were too many options- and I observed them hastily clicking around the screen, instead of seeing a clear, distinct option of reviewing their choices.
Above (from left to right) shows what would happen after sending an invite, having that invite accepted (shown as a notification in the nav bar at the bottom), and what expanding that accepted invite would look like.
Some of the comments I received in doing testing in this element was that the hierarchy was confusing (I’m paraphrasing here). Users weren’t sure if the day itself was the most important part, the title of the meeting, who you were meeting, or the location. The date needed to be more obvious- especially if it was a section titled calendar.
This got me thinking- does the calendar element need to be within the app, or since it’s integrated should it just move its way over to the user’s home calendar?
Above (from left to right) shows what would happen if the user tried to edit the content in their profile.
Okay. This part got a good amount of comments- so I’ll spare you all of the details- but mostly, those that tested this section of the prototype felt like the content was super crammed. As do I, now that I’m looking at it (thank you, user testers!!).
With most of the user journey completed, I worked on creating a visual identity and system that complimented and added to the current features of the product. As I tested these prototypes with people, I found that many liked a visual identity that was lightweight, in both color and typography- as the act of networking can often be a little stressful, making the identity light with bold, black elements of typography felt new and maintained a sense of comfort and ease.
In my research and prototyping, I found that more options does not always mean good options; in fact, I found that limiting how many people the user can connect with creates a sense of trustworthiness to those using the app. For that reason, within the app, people are given a set of four professionals they can reach out to per day- never more. These four professionals are chosen by Vit’s smart algorithm, which matches similar goals, interests, types of work, and more.
You might be thinking: why four? In order to understand this, you have to know that a huge design icon in my life is Tristan Harris, an ex-Google design ethicist and creator of Time Well Spent. His entire mission is to make sure people spend their time online in a way that is meaningful and goal-oriented; something I strive to ensure in my own work. Giving the user only 4 people to reach out to per day not only makes them more likely to reach out to those professionals, but ensures they won’t spend more time on the app than is totally necessary.
Users can reach out to professionals they are interested in connecting with, but only by setting up a time, date, and place to meet. In my research, I found that the most used part of LinkedIn was its people-finding and messaging services, but that often people were unsure how to go about actually meeting professionals in person. This is not dissimilar to general dissatisfaction with dating apps: while many dating services provide different ways to see who’s out there, the actual element of getting people to meet in person often falls flat.
I also found that once people met professionals in person, the more likely they were to feel that these people were part of their larger professional network and could be called upon.
Once they set a meeting, the professional on the other side of the app has 24 hours to respond to the invitation. After each meeting, the user can write a small note for their own viewing purposes about how it went, what the person was like, and attach that to the professional’s contact. They can then set more meetings with the professional, and have access to their actual email and contact info.
Here’s the catch: users can’t see exactly where everyone works- they can only see their title, mutual connections, location, and information. This might seem strange, as the point of the app is to connect professionals and place of work seems crucial; however, the more research I did, the more I learned how the ‘superficiality’ of networking mostly comes from its goal oriented nature. Those that talk to professionals solely as a method for getting a job at their place of work come off as superficial and rarely create meaningful relationships; however, those that talk to professionals in their industry for the intention of meeting like-minded (or, in some cases, not-so-like-minded) individuals pursuing their own passions in their space were generally received as friendly and genuine.
If you’re interested in seeing more of what I’m talking about, feel free to check out the video at the top of this page for a little summary.
Reflection & Moving Forward