Case Study: Problem Solving Steps

An App for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

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When given a problem, start brainstorming solutions. Something great will come out of that smattering of ideas. This is wrong. I previously explained how I better , and how understanding your user leads designers to a series of solutions. These steps below outline how understanding your audience brings you to a series of solutions, and iterating those solutions brings you to your best ideas.

Solving a problem in the service industry

After building upon our understanding of our user and recognizing themes, opportunity areas, and answering the “how might we” question: Ta-dah! First diamond of the double diamond design theory:

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[Double diamond design thinking from ]

My team consisted of a product designer, a technical designer, and myself in the project manager role.

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[Me, my team, and our Gantt Chart from ]

When given the wide open opportunity to build any solution we wanted for any problem in the service industry, we used this opportunity to do something fun.

Let’s tackle the aging and technologically-lacking Mineral Exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles:

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[Rows of rocks] & [No Interaction]

First steps: Research, Empathy, Insights

When you deeply understand your user, you can revisit your materials if you get stuck or need a refresher of your goals. Read those materials, and you should be back in her pain. I’m so uncomfortable with her pain-points that I need to find her solutions. Let’s fix this for her!

Our research of the museum and our early user ideas led to our proto-persona: the rough sketch of a person we believe we’re designing for. Then it was off to the museum to interview people who fit this proto-persona.

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[Proto-persona of a typical museum attendee] & [Fully-formed User Persona]

Upon returning from the museum interviews, we formalized the User Persona above. Meet Megan Wallace. From there, we used an empathy map to get inside Megan’s head. What was she thinking, feeling, saying, doing while in the museum?

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[Empathy map and making of the empathy map] & [My sticky notes are in pink]

Each of the team members took turns writing an Insight Statement based on Megan’s experiences. We filled in who Megan was, what was her need, and what insight could we glean from this need. Our particular process involved each writing an insight statement, then passing to the next person to iterate on each other’s ideas.

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[Insight Statement work]

Themes

We knew what Megan was thinking, feeling, saying, doing during her trip to the Mineral Exhibit. We next wanted to know the details of when Megan felt those things. Where were the biggest pain points occurring? That might show us where we can make the biggest impact in her journey.

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[Our User Journey’s journey]

This journey (the bright yellow line) walked Megan through her experience in the museum. We added smiles vs frowns for good experiences vs bad experiences. Then we took a second pass with orange sticky notes to insert potential changes to her experience:

What if purchasing tickets was done ahead of time? On an app?
How could we promote that?
What if there was a welcome app/map/other way to ask where to start?
What if we could adapt an app to each person’s browsing style?
What if we could learn what catches users’s attention by what they capture?
What if we gamified the museum experience?
Could the users share their experiences socially and promote us?

We then took a third pass with potential risks to our proposed ideas (in pink sticky notes). These risks help us understand what’s reasonable and what’s just brainstorming craziness.

Lastly, we took a final pass with blue sticky notes to see how easily mitigated those risks were. (I can’t help it: I’m a project manager by trade — risks are my business).

“How Might We”

This activity led us to narrowing our potential solutions. This was the “How Might We” activity that helped us solve our user’s biggest frustrations. The app was going to create unlimited interaction points for all items in the exhibits. This would educate the user and engage the user in “collecting” items throughout the museum. At the end of the experience, the user could have a collection of what they saw to share with others and promote their amazing experience at the Natural History museum.

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[Brainstorming Solutions] & [Drawing potential screens] & [Addtl iterations]

From there it was off to Paper Prototype and User Test:

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[Users testing our paper prototype - See the pencil? I can make changes in real time!]

Paper Prototypes take minutes to create, seconds to change due to user feedback, but save us hours of rework time either in high-fidelity form or (even worse) when the product has been coded. Each user’s feedback brought us closer to a human-centered, usable product.

High-fidelity Prototype

From there, my team member, Mat, built these prototype images in Illustrator and then transferred the flow into InVision. You can for more detail. I’m most proud of my contributions of the quirky additions to the app I called “delights.” For example, when a user snaps a photo of a trash can because the user is being cheeky, the app tells them they found “a rare artifact” and tells the user about the NHMLA’s recycling program.

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[Adding “delights” to the app]

I brought the “app” in InVision back to the Natural History Museum to test it with unsuspecting, potential users. These people gave us additional feedback we could have incorporated into the app before we took our final product to the stages of coding and finalizing the product.

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[Users simulating our InVision app at the museum]

What’s next?

This project taught me the value of team member contributions and playing to our strengths. I would work with this team again anytime, and we did get a chance to work together again on “The Ms Rock Again” project [link].

These stories coming soon, my friends!

, UX designer, product manager, life-long learner, weeknight warrior, chronic over-thinker, deficit levels of attention

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