UX Case Study: BalanceMe App
2020 — the year of a global pandemic and Zoom calls
2020 gave WFH a whole new identity — and need. A large group of people went from occasionally working from home to it being a full-time gig.
Working from home has its perks, but it also has down-sides — depending on who you ask. For me, it’s the lack of connection and the constant struggle of separating work from personal as they’re both in the same physical space 24/7.
So I got curious. How are other people coping and changing with the times, and what are some pain points that can be relieved through a solution that doesn’t quite exist yet?
User interviews and pain points
I selected 5 individuals ages 25–45 with slightly different working experiences currently working 100% remote to better understand the user experience and pain points. I conducted user interviews to explore their experiences, feelings, needs, and wish-list items for this “new normal”.
- A healthy blend of both remote and in-person work is the preference, as they both have unique benefits and drawbacks.
- The days are running long and meetings are consuming people. Although users are saving time from a non-existent commute and productivity is increasing, people are finding themselves working longer hours than when they were in the office. The culprit — a significant increase in meetings.
- More flexibility, time to focus, home-made meals, and sweat pants. These are the main benefits of remote work.
- Face-to-face time is well missed, and it seems to be taking a toll on people’s mental health. The lack of quick touch-points with colleagues are leaving people feeling disconnected, isolated, and causing communication breakdowns.
- Some urgent needs include ergonomic equipment, prioritizing well-being, shorter working days with more breaks built-in, and access to more reliable technology.
User journey map and opportunities
I mapped out the user journey, based on findings from user interviews, for a different lens to both better understand the user experience and help pinpoint opportunities.
This map includes the trigger event, stages of remote work, what users do throughout a typical day, and what they think and how they feel at every task.
Displaying the user journey via this map helped me analyze the data in a different way, resulting in a better view of the user experience and the opportunities present to help enhance their daily remote work experience.
Competitive teardown — what’s already out there?
I analyzed four apps already in-market and assessed what’s currently being offered, what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s missing. On the list, we have Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Instagram.
Key findings and common elements found:
- Chat: all four apps have their own chat feature, with unique strengths and weaknesses, to help make up for the lack of in-person connection.
- Conventions: to avoid unnecessary learning curves, all four tools adopted universal conventions for features like screen sharing, sending files and emails, and accept and decline call buttons.
- Side menus: whether the app has many or few features, they were all stored and easily accessible via a side menu.
- Video: a critical element that cannot be missed. Also, notable that all apps provide the option for users to opt-in or out of video whenever.
- Customization: just like how users have some control over their in-person working environment, all four apps allow for some level of customization throughout for a better user experience.
At this stage in the process, I experienced two side effects — a meltdown and realization. Up until this point, I was overwhelmed by the number of problems to solve. This was the hardest part of the entire process for me. But thanks to the competitive teardown, I was able to pinpoint exactly what problem I wanted to solve by understanding what’s already out there and works well.
I realized that there are already solutions for high-level issues that come with a lack of face-to-face connection and collaboration, which was my initial path for this project. I decided to tackle something else that doesn’t exist today — an integrated tool to help people with organization and prioritize work-life balance. Bingo.
Putting navigation on paper via a flowchart
Taking bits and pieces from all the findings I’ve gathered up to this point, and with inspiration of best practices found from the competitive teardown, I started my first tactical step to bring my solution to life — a flowchart. I mapped every single step a user would take to accomplish the core tasks on my app. Although tedious at first, I now consider this process the cornerstone in solving the identified user problem. It allowed me to get into the (necessary) weeds in order to eventually create as seamless of a user experience as possible.
Sketching, sketching, sketching
I took the flowchart and sketched it out, evolving my app even further. Through sketching, I identified redundancies and features initially considered from the flowchart that doesn’t actually solve the user problem. I was able to distill my ideas, keeping user needs top of mind, to make the final decision on three core features: Calendar, To-Do, and Goal Planning/Tracking.
I tried to sketch out different variations of each core page to push myself creatively. This helped me think outside the box and was a blessing down the road, as I was able to combine different elements from different variations to get me a design that worked best. Through this process, I also learned the art of simplicity and started turning the wheels on button placement and other critical navigation elements — which came in handy during the wireframing stage.
Wireframing — sketching 2.0
I took sketches to the next level and created wireframes to show the main screens, each with two variations, instead of three like the sketches. This exercise placed a greater emphasis on the detailed incorporation of user and business goals with functional needs, with interactive elements to accomplish those needs.
Once I finished wireframing, I conducted a guerrilla usability test on one user to help me further think through the intended user behavior and the content requirements to allow for those behaviors. This resulted in an easy transition to prototyping.
Digital prototype — static wireframes come to life
I cannot stress the importance of testing enough. Although it was just a quick and informal usability test, it allowed me to easily revise the initial wireframes to enhance the design, based on user feedback. This gave me confidence that the changes I made were on track to help me align this app with user needs.
Once I revised my wireframes, I created a site map to showcase all the main screens and how they’re connected. The site map, combined with revised wireframes, immensely helped a UX newbie create a digital prototype.
From creating, and then testing the prototype myself, I was able to identify fundamental gaps that didn’t come to light prior. From here, I reworked wireframes some more. And once the prototype was in a better place, I was ready for the next step — usability studies.
User testing: a vulnerable, fun, and much-needed process
Because BalanceMe is such a straightforward app, I had two main goals. First, I wanted to confirm if an app like this is desired by my target audience. The second goal was to identify opportunities for enhancement.
I conducted 3 in-person usability tests by having users interact with the digital prototype. I asked a total of 7 main research questions, with additional follow-ups, to gauge user feelings and expectations while interacting with the app via several assigned tasks.
Testing confirmed that BalanceMe is indeed needed by users who work remotely and would like to better manage their work-life balance. Today, users are using multiple apps to accomplish the tasks that BalanceMe can provide in one place. A success that emerged from testing was that the current design is successful in that it’s straightforward and easy to use and navigate, with an almost non-existent learning curve.
My second goal was also satisfied. I was able to identify enhancement opportunities for future iterations, including:
- Sizing, placement, and icon choices for various buttons, including upping the size of “weekly/monthly view” buttons in Calendar and moving the “done” checkbox for To-Do to the right instead of left.
- Remove the “snooze” button altogether in To-Do and instead, add it to the list of more action options, including edit, move, and delete.
- Re-work the Goals tab to add in more visual elements and make the process of creating, tracking, and changing goals more intuitive and integrated with each other.
- Eliminate unneeded text and add in more visual elements where possible to help the interface appear less cluttered.
The BalanceMe app has come a long way. It went from trying to fulfill the unrealistic purpose of solving every single problem that comes with remote work to focusing on one particular but crucial problem — better organization and work-life balance for users. BalanceMe is able to combine a user’s work and personal events, tasks, and goals in one place, while also helping users re-evaluate where their time is allocated. More testing and tweaking will be required to get BalanceMe to successfully launch in-market.