Graduates of the Night Owl Bakers Program can’t find opportunities. They need an on-demand work app to sell their baked goods and transition into trusted members of society.
The Night Owl Bakers (NOB) Program is a local training program in Pittsburgh that teaches ex-foster care children how to bake goods to help them learn who they are, why they matter, and where they fit it. Currently, the graduates of the program have trouble finding opportunities to apply their newly gained skills. The main challenge is to create an outlet for them to sell baked goods, but more importantly, build meaningful connections.
My Role | Wireframes • Interviews • Usability testing • Photography
Team | 4 Developers • 3 UX Designers
Duration | 16 weeks
Hi-tech ‘gig economy’ apps require reliable internet access and transportation.
On-demand work, part of a phenomenon called the “gig economy” include apps like Grubhub/Postmates (food delivery) and Uber/Lyft (ridesharing). They generally exist in the service industry, and their distinguishing factor is that they’re rapid and on-demand with matching enabled through a tech platform. But our users, the graduates of the NOB program, aka the “Bakers” have limited resources. According to our client, they are likely to carry ‘pay-as-you-go’ phones with limited data and rely on (not-so-reliable) public transportation for travel.
Existing on-demand work apps lack social exchange.
These systems mainly focus on a transactional exchange of service for money–there is little to no focus on social exchange.
In other apps, social exchange is encouraged through profiles when the relationship is long(er)-term.
Other apps like Grameen Bank and Kiva (Microloans) and IndieGoGo and GoFundMe (crowdfunding) have emphasis on social exchange. They do so through profiles where in which the customer/lender/backer learns beneficiary’s background goals, interests, history.
My team (3 other members), our client, and I visited the Center of Life, an after-school program in the Braddock neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Though not our direct users, our client organized this interview session because these students could give us insights on the Bakers.
I prepared semi-structured interview questions revolving their technology use, work experience, and thoughts on the growing tech industry in Pittsburgh. I conducted three rounds of interviews, the first with two female students, the second with one older staff member, and the third with one male student. I was able to collect insights which set the stepping stone of my design work.
▸ Insight 1
They own smart phones and are familiar with the latest tech and apps.
Unlike what our client suggested, the four young adults I interviewed all owned iPhones with unlimited data and used the on-demand apps that I didn’t think they’d use.
▸ Insight 2
Safety is an important factor when using work apps.
The users consider safety when signing up and taking on work from online sources–making sure the other users have been checked and that their privacy settings and data usage are transparent.
▸ Insight 3
Incredibly open to the idea of meeting strangers and forming lasting connections with them through the transaction of baked goods.
When I pitched the app concept to the students, they were surprising open to the idea. I assumed that they would either not be down to connect with strangers or not be too excited about learning to bake bread.
Based on our findings so far, we began individually brainstorming ideas for possible features of the app. Then we combined them all during a whiteboarding session.
▸ Initial Solution 1
Design a web-app (vs a full app).
Although nearly all the students at the Center of Life owned smartphones, I realized that they were not our actual users–the Bakers who graduated from the Night Owl Bakers Program. In fact, I found out later that most of them were not foster children. So I decided to pursue a more accessible web-app that can be accessed using any phone or computer with internet.
▸ Initial Solution 2
Land on a menu page with baked goods.
One of the two goals, the task goal of this app is to sell baked goods so Bakers can earn money. Putting a menu will ensure that buyers know that this app is a food delivery app. Using delicious-looking images will entice users to purchase.
▸ Initial Solution 3
Include full profile with interests, hobbies, goals.
I saw that many existing applications have basic information, but apps like Yelp and Facebook, have more extensive profiles that add a human, more personable touch. I thought these extra info would be useful to build connections.
▸ Initial Solution 4
Provide suggested questions to ask.
Trying to talk to strangers may be hard so I thought we can make that part easier by providing them with suggested questions. I looked up some questions and got some inspiration from NYTimes’ 36 questions that lead to love. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Using the initial solution ideas, I began investigating the UI for food delivery apps including GrubHub and Postmates (both of which I use more often than I should), specifically the profile, messaging feature, and order process screens. Then I investigated apps like Uber to see UIs for leaving reviews after a transaction. Then I created low-fi wireframes below using traditional pencil and paper.
USABILITY TESTING: THINK-ALOUD PROTOCOL
Does the current UI spark natural, social exchange?
Two team members and I conducted Think-Alouds using paper prototypes to test whether the screens allowed users to successfully order cookies, but more importantly, spark social exchange. For each session, I noted observations (both verbal and non-verbal) and conducted the post-interviews, asking participants clarifying questions on their choices and experience. We thanked the five CMU participants for their time with cookies.
The exchanges are abrupt and awkward.
From these sessions, I learned that students who use apps such as Grubhub or Uber are more often than not, uncomfortable and don’t see the need to speak with their service provider.
▸ Insight 1
NOB UI is too similar to existing food delivery apps.
The NOB’s similar UI with food delivery apps primes users to believe that the process for the this app will also be the same–order food, pay, and get the food. They don’t expect a social component, and the current interaction seems forced and abrupt.
▸ Insight 2
Lack of clear on-boarding.
Students didn’t understand the purpose of the app. Why are Bakers trying to sell cookies? How is this different from other food delivery apps? This suggested that there was a lack of clear on-boarding.
From these sessions, we realized that we needed to pivot, and include as much as we could into the application to foster a social connection between baker and customer.
▸ Design Decision 1
High-fidelity Wireframing with clearer interface for better testing
▸ Design Decision 2
Add an on-boarding page to introduce NOB’s mission.
Note: At this point forward, the programming members began working on the front-end development. At this stage, the interface was optimized for a web browser.
dive even deeper: focus group
Using these higher-fi prototypes, we conducted user testings at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, a local organization active in college/employment preparation in the Bloomfield-Garfield area. We interviewed with several residents of the Garfield area, as well as program directors there. We asked them questions relating to the following
Reaction to our concept/designs
Current job opportunities
How they feel about getting to know their employer
From this research, we were able to understand that our "bakers" were highly motivated when presented with monetary compensation, as many of them struggled to find steady employment. In addition, all of the people we interviewed were excited about the ability to share their stories with others.
▸ Insight 1
Users want to reach out to employers and learn more about their lives. They’re willing to share career goals, hobbies, values, cultures.
▸ Insight 2
Users have a need and find value in our app–they value each connection as an opportunity & seek relatable mentors.
Short video of the interview, filmed by me
▸ Design Decision 1
Add more intimate questions that tackle topics like values and cultures during the sign-up to better cater users’ wants
▸ Design Decision 2
Add example responses (in gray) to help fill out the sign-up
Our semester timeline was winding down and this is where we left off. We presented our process, research findings, and our working prototype to the class and our clients, and created a concept poster below. In hindsight, our project was more focused on user research than the design/implementation of the app. The insights gained can be used in later iterations by NOB staff and future students who take on this project.
Future additions to our web app
Additional features: nearby workshops, career opportunities, etc.
More usability testings
Investigate tools for developing authentic relationships between NOBs and employers
Spread awareness of the NOB Programs and gain more support
Overall, this project was incredible educational and impactful. This project was my first experience working with a client and users outside of the CMU community. Past projects included mainly interviewing student peers. Throughout this project, I had the opportunity to improve my UX research/design and collaboration skills, but also worked on something that could improve the lives of people who have experienced great disadvantage. As a team, we learned more about Pittsburgh and those who inhabit it, and more generally, that many of the great technological solutions of today leave behind many folks which the solution's creators did not account for.
Where is this project today?
Adopted by a new group of CMU students, more focusing on the development with our advisor
Since then, an NOB website has been launched (which didn’t exist during our project), using insights gained from our project