UX Consultant Project:Communication Solutions for a Startup Incubator.
USER RESEARCH / ORGANIZATIONAL DESIGN / CONSULTANT
Because we were dealing with a complex organization of many different moving parts, my team and I knew that we had to really understand how StartEd works, who were our users and how could we address both the members' needs and the client's needs simultaneously
We dove into our research process and soon learned that we needed to use different methods than we would usually for a digital product.
By speaking at length with our client and casually chatting with StartEd members who were physically at the StartEd incubator co-working space at NYU, my design partner Jeb Kampil and I were able to get the lay of the land. Here is how StartEd works:
It was clear from our conversations that StartEd has a complex organizational structure, and that different classes of users would have complex and different kinds of needs.
Because of this, we decided to skip our original idea of conducting a quantitative survey and go straight to conducting in-depth user interviews so we could comprehensively understand each user's needs.
Because our client's goal was to grow their off-site membership we realized that we needed to prioritize the needs of off-site members first.
From there, we created a highly detailed user stories document to organize and prioritize the needs of all of the interviewees in order of importance as well as feasability. Here are a few of the user stories:
|As an...||I want to...||So that I can...||Priority|
|Off-site User||Have weekly Google Hangouts||Feel better connected to other members.||High|
|Off-site User||Have easy access to an online calendar||Plan ahead and digitally attend important events.||High|
|Off-site User||Access a section for member skills||Know who to ask for specific help.||High|
|On-site User||Have nametags for every company at the workspace||Know other members better and talk to them.||High|
|Incubator User||Sort member profiles by tags on Slack||Find members with specific skills.||High|
|On-site User||Have more icebreakers||Feel comfortable talking to other members.||Medium|
|Accelerator User||See more Slack Channels||Organize my information better||Medium|
|Accelerator User||Know if other founders are in the same development stage||Share ideas and tips||Low|
While all of these needs were important, some of them required solutions that were outside the scope of the project. By identifying what was most important we decided the focus should be on creating:
These 6 problems were identified by prioritizing all our user stories. To see them all, go here:
Identifying that "effectively asking for help" was one of the biggest frustrations across the board, we visually drew out how the exact pathways a user would need to take to accomplish that goal through this user flow using both technological and non-technological options:
Intrateam communication is common problem. However, because the client didn't want to invest a lot of money into the solution, my team and I had to think strategically about what solutions were not only already available, but also financially possible.
Although we knew that a technological solution would not accomplish all the goals we needed, we started out at least seeing what technologies already existed.
Since StartEd was already using Slack and many members also use Slack for their other projects, it made sense to explore what kinds of plugins might work well with Slack. We also explored different ways to organize the Slack channel itself and see if that could be a part of the solution.
However we found that most plugins that achieved what we needed only became truly effective at a paid level. Even Slack's functionality is limited until you become a paying subscriber. For StartEd that meant about $1,000/month.
Simpplr is one of many platforms that has all the functionality that StartEd could need, however also at about $1,000/month it became a non-solution.
Donut was one of our favorite finds; a free Slack plugin that randomly connects members within a Slack channel who have not been introduced yet for a coffee or skype date, it was a perfect solution to Off-site members' problem of needing more direct human communication.
After scouring the internet for other solutions, we realized that because of the financial constraints we couldn't rely solely on technology to fix the StartEd members problems, we needed a comprehensive, holistic approach.
StartEd already has in place all of the resources that their members are wanting. Their issue is not having what Don Norman would call "Signifiers" - explanations, labels, guidelines etc. that tell the members how to access what they're looking for.
Our job as UX consultants therefore was to suggest different ways that StartEd could provide better "Signifiers". We divided up our solutions into 4 broad categories:
Many of the StartEd members' issues centered around simply not knowing the best way to go about doing certain simple thing such as: 'How do I appropriately introduce myself to someone over Slack or in person' and 'How to I effectively contribute to the #GiveFirst internal culture promoted by the StartEd management?'
We came up with the suggestion to create simple FAQs, housed within the Slack group, that would define appropriate protocols, alleviating members' anxieties and helping with overall internal communication.
We defined several issues to be addressed by the FAQs, however we suggested that StartEd see our suggestions as a starting point. The overall solution is to have an easily accessible FAQ section in the first place.
Although the StartEd management's long term plans were focused on making the experience better for off-site users, we couldn't help but offer some simple solutions for how to reorganize the physical spatial layout of the incubator site to improve the current on-site users' experience.
Because for many of the off-site members, planning ahead and video conferencing were top priorities, this required StartEd itself to think about programming differently.Planning Ahead
We suggested that the StartEd management not only create a static channel within Slack to house the URL to their calendar - allowing members to see farther out - but also that they should plan the events themselves farther out in advanceVideo Options
Because off-site members wanted to feel more emotionally connected with other members, adding more and better video conferencing events and options was a big priority.
We suggested that StartEd not only make sure that their AV equipment was top notch, but also figure out ways to make those events more personal to off-site members. We suggested:
In order to address specific problems with Slack as well as creating space to house our new protocols and solutions we knew we needed to reorganize Slack itself. We decided that Slack would be the go-to destination for all StartEd infomration and created clearer channel titles as well as designating some channels as static - such as the FAQ and Calendar channel - to simply house information.
We also made sure to add more "Signifiers" in Slack wherever we could.
We came up with the titles for the Slack channels by conducting a card sort with 3 StartEd members:
This card sort activity showed us that there were two different ways to organize the channels. We had the option of:
1. Organizing by discussion topic. For example:
2. Organizing by actions. For example:
With this information in hand, we created two different approaches for the Slack group layout.
Using A/B testing with 20 StartEd members we found that 85% preferred the 1st option because they liked its simplicity. They preferred having channels be either a static channel such as #calendar or #faq or have it be a marketplace of asking and offering (#forum-ask & #forum-offer).
The members valued having overlap with members and did not want to be siloed by their areas of expertise.
We then created several mockups for how StartEd could improve each Slack channel.
The StartEd Incubator has many great resources to offer its members, it was just a matter of creating easy methods of communication from management to the members as well as among the members themselves, to improve the program's overall experience, efficacy, and as a result member retention.
With these 4 areas (Protocols, Spatial Design, Prorgrammatic Changes & Technological Solutions) in combination, my team and I felt that the StartEd communication system was greatly improved and that we had solved our initial problem of helping members take the best advantage of all the opportunities provided by the StartEd Program.
Working at the StartEd Incubator was a great opportunity to expand my practice of UX Design Thinking beyond the scope of the screen.
One of the lessons I learned was how to adjust my design process to best fit the situation. As StartEd had many layers to its organization, I found that some of the quantitative techniques I wanted to use, simply weren't appropriate for this project; I needed to shift my focus onto collecting qualitative feedback.
I also learned to not simply assume that the client knows what problem needs to be solved. In this case, the client came to us with a specific problem that seemed from the outset like it had a simple technological solution. However, once my team and I scratched the surface, we realized that the problem was much more complex and called for a much more holistic, multi-faceted approach.
I personally don't believe that technology can solve all of humanity's problems. So it was great to try my hand at solving a complex human problem with a Design Thinking lens. I hope to have the opportunity to work on more projects like this one.