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TOGETHR: A collaborative neighborhood app to promote local community building.


An easy way to communicate with your neighbors, share information, offer help, or ask for it.

The context

This project was developed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Social distancing, lockdown, and isolation place society in a difficult situation. But as it often happens during these circumstances, it disproportionally affects vulnerable people, especially the elderly, and those without economic resources.

It has been a situation of uncertainty, fear, anxiety and loneliness, but it also demonstrated the humanity and kindness inside of us. Social initiatives were carried out in every city, by citizens and neighbors wishing to support each other. The idea behind this app is to promote community building and facilitating mutual support within these networks.

The process

Source

Finding the right problem

I interviewed 5 people. 3 people living in Spain and 2 people living in The Netherlands. The sample was selected with the aim of capturing people’s wide-ranging diversity. The population of Spain under mandatory lockdown, versus the people in The Netherlands, under less rigid rules, imposed by their government. I selected varying situations, such as a parent with family obligations, single people living alone, a cohabitating couple, and a social worker.

I conducted market research by selecting apps related to social collaboration groups and that are used by neighbors.

Feature competitive analysis

All the ideas from the surveys, interviews, and competitive analysis were displayed in an affinity diagram to categorize all the information.

Affinity Diagram

Defining the problem:

With all this information, I defined a user persona called Maaike:

With Maaike's goals, needs, and frustrations in mind, I designed Maaike's current journey when trying to find a way to offer help. This journey helped me to clearly identify pain points and then started thinking about how to solve them.

Problem statement:

How might we facilitate the creation and support of local communities to help each other during COVID-19 outbreak?

Finding the right solution

After brainstorming ideas to overcome Maaike’s pain points, I decided to create a social network for neighbors that offers a simple and easy solution to communicate and help within the community.

Defining Maaike’s user flow helped me to start thinking about the content within the different screens, and subsequently, I designed the app sitemap.

Maaike’s user flow
Sitemap (Created in Octopus.do)

Once I started designing my paper prototype, I realized how difficult it was to categorize the information into different groups. Initially, I asked people to provide insight into the kind of things they have to offer or to ask in a neighbor group. Afterward, this information was cataloged by using a card sorting technique. I found it really helpful to decide how to organize the feed and the different messages that I gathered.

I later started sketching a mid-fi version of the app and uploaded it in Marvel app to conduct 5 usability tests.

Usability testing report

After conducting the usability test, I realized that the filter didn't provide a clear result for the participants. The ‘inbox’ icon leads to some confusion and the ‘shared’ and ‘reaction’ icons required more explanation. The participants felt that minimizing color was important in developing a streamlined look and feel. Considering this feedback I decided to change the ‘reaction’ and ‘inbox’ icons and improved a visual path to include the filter.

Visual identity

To start designing the visual part of the app I analyzed two direct competitors and this gave me ideas on how to differentiate my app.

I decided to use color-coding to differentiate the message types. The high-fi was initially distinguished with certain colors and the final result was later re-designed for a more inclusive audience, such as people with visual disabilities.

Buttons accessibility contrast

THE SOLUTION

High Fidelity Prototype

Learnings

  • I learned how important it is to structure the information and the feed content. Card Sorting technique helped me to uncover users’ mental models for better information architecture.
  • I learned to use InVision and discovered the importance of naming every layer and to gain a clear idea of how each animation should work. I’m proud of the results however I would like to learn more and improve my skills in micro-interactions.
  • Having a background in sociology and having worked in social inclusion projects makes me especially sensitive to inclusivity and accessibility. I learned to remember to check accessibility and understand the importance of combining it with beautiful aesthetics.
“What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.” (Ray Eames)

Conclusion

I really enjoyed learning and growing as a UX designer on this project. The UX research was really interesting, I loved getting to know the situation of each person, how COVID-19 lockdown affected their lives, and how they dealt with the situation so differently.

The growing popularity and success of social media apps in recent times has allowed me to gain insight into the complexities of these platforms. In this project, I overcame this complexity by ensuring a well-structured information architecture, based on users’ mental models, gaining meaningful data from the UX research, and creating a relevant and feasible solution.

Having some experience already and after developing some projects, I focused on fewer features for the first sprint. On next iterations I would like to;

  • work on the color consistency on the buttons
  • work on an events feature
  • incorporate a ‘tag’ system that would help people to be perfectly matched to each other, by connecting the ‘need’ and the ‘offer’

Give me a shout!

Thank you for reading the whole process! Please, let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Also, if you want to know more about me or my work feel free to check my Linkedin or my Portfolio.


TOGETHR: A collaborative neighborhood app to promote local community building. was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.