2020 was a historic year for activism, not only in the U.S. but in countries all over the world. There are surging movements of activism calling for social and environmental change, and many of these calls to action take place online. With many states experiencing spikes in COVID-19 and many people actively social distancing, online activism and communication emerged as a crucial tool in organizing.
With the rise of digital activism and the internet making it easier than ever to organize social movements today, it comes as a surprise that when I search for an app to assist in community organizing no existing app in the market suffice.
Design a community led app that allows users to post and share content, events and polls – as well as connect and organize with local and global organizations.
Create an identifiable brand and logo to differentiate from future or potential competitors.
A community-curated platform that connects people with opportunities to learn with and from each other, on topics ranging from local to ongoing global issues.
I began my research by framing questions and executing a research plan to better understand mobile app development trends and what competitors are doing to keep users engaged. For this project I also conducted 1:1 user interviews with five participants who are currently active within their community both digitally and in-person.
The competitor research revealed that there aren't many apps out there that focus on digital activism or community building. The main competitors I chose to study were Turn Up (app), Causes (app), ACLU's website, Relevant (app), and Democracy Now's website. This research helped to pinpoint what other apps and non-profits are doing or not doing to keep users active and engaged while building a community online.
After speaking with people about their experiences with digital and in-person activism, I asked them a series of questions to further understand how they stay informed on global / local topics and events. It was easy to see their main frustrations, motivations, and goals when it comes to community building and spreading awareness in a digital space.
The research concluded that the most common frustrations people face when sharing information and resources is not being able to decipher the validity of a source, and not being able to efficiently locate resources. Often times when using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit information can become obscured, overlooked or forgotten due to algorithms or an over saturation of content.
The research shows that the best features users look for are those that create opportunity for them to connect and collaborate with other users or non-profit organizations on both a local and global scale.
Based on the information I gathered from my research I created two user personas to illustrate a potential users motivations, pain points, and goals when connecting on important global and local matters. Defining the main user personas for Parallel was challenging because there are many types of users with different needs who could be attracted to using this platform. I narrowed it to two user persona profiles to define the typical user for the app.
When thinking about designing a content sharing platform, the first thing that comes to mind is the risk of it being over saturated by irrelevant content or being controlled by algorithms. What if I designed a platform that filtered content according to its importance given within the community – Then I thought... How can an online community collectively give specific content importance?
That’s when the idea of gamification came in, not only will having a points system within the app help to rank content, but it will also allow the users to be part of the decision-making process. It will give them an incentive for using the app. To implement the ranking system we need to build a community feed and give space for the content that the community cares about most.
I formulated an app map to organize how users would access all the different features the app has to offer. The map works to illustrate what a user would see when opening the app and how the information would guide them towards setting up their profile, engaging with the community, and potentially taking action and contributing to an existing cause.
There are three main user flows that represent the choices a user would be faced with while using the app. The main user flow illustrates a typical interaction a user would have within the app. The second and third flows shows a mid to high level amount of engagement starting from posting content or an event to donating to an organization and acquiring points.
I created a mid-fidelity prototype to test the usability of the app. The main goal was to determine if users could successfully complete onboarding, navigate, understand the features of the app, and enjoy the app enough to become a potential user. I also wanted to explore any areas of difficulty when completing the main user flow.
Was the point system clear understand? Would the points system for this app be a consistent motivator for using the the app? and what will motivate users to explore through the app's action center and motivate them to take action aka donate or contribute to a cause?
To answer these questions I conducted a usability test with six participants. Each study was conducted with a rapid remote testing app called Maze that asks testers to complete specific tasks. The remote testing app records the amount of clicks, time it takes for testers to complete each task, and if testers veered off the suggested path for completing the task. Everyone is able to rate the level of difficult or clarity for each task and in the end can comment on any major difficulties they had while going through the features.
Task 1: Sign up to create an event
Task 2: Navigate to find total engagement points
Task 3: Browse through the action center and search for climate change resources
The main issue with using Maze's prototype testing app was when a tester completed the task the screen did not show a success message, consequently forcing the tester to give up to continue to the next task. Fortunately all six participants reported they were able to complete the tasks, and that the experience was clear and intuitive.
Some took a bit longer and clicked around a lot more than others and other mentioned that finding the engagement points was less intuitive. Feedback from testers showed me that having a community feed could potentially turn off some users who do not wish to know about a specific topic. Overall the study was a success.
Next steps moving forward would be to implement a short onboarding tutorial for new users to help them learn and access all the features on the app. I also want to add an option in the settings that allow users to toggle back and forth between a general feed and their personal feed based on their location and following.
The keywords that came to mind when creating the brand's identity were Friendly, Approachable, Inclusive, Action, Community, Informative, Current, Reliable, Playful, Smart.
Based off these keywords I began searching for images that would inspire me - I put together an inspirational mood board on Pinterest with bright and playful colors, minimal logos, and illustrations to visualize the personality. I felt it was important to incorporate a variety of icons to represent the different global and local issues, the icons also serve as a way to guide the user in the right direction, to visually express an idea and to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the app. I chose bright and playful colors to make serious or tough topics easy to digest and fun to learn about. A variety of rounded font for a Friendly and Approachable feel. The main reason behind the name ‘Parallel’ was for its literal meaning, which is to be aligned and to work in tandem - this concept fit perfectly with the intention of the app as it is a platform where people can work together with their community to make it a difference.
It felt great to work on a project that could potentially solve the issue behind misinformation or over saturation of irrelevant content due to algorithms. It also has the potential to make a difference by providing users with a space that creates opportunities for greater and more organized involvement surrounding digital activism.
The most challenging aspect of this project was defining the potential user and deeply understanding the problem I was trying to solve. Spending more time conducting market research on different social media apps and websites could have helped to further understand what motivates users to engage with an app and what encourages them to post on that platform or share information.
Another learning curve I experienced was designing mobile friendly and intuitive components. Conducting research on current mobile app trends helped me to become familiar with how to simplify element for mobile. Moving forward, my next steps are to do a few more rounds of product testing and making iterations based on that feedback to deliver a completely seamless and delightful app experience.