The theme this project explored was staying connected with people who are important to us but live far away. I was in Hawaii at the time, and interviewed a deployed military man, an up-and-coming creative director with industry contacts all over the world, and a college professor who lived in Hawaii most of his life and had made friends with many folks who had come and gone back to the mainland.
Interesting things come out when you keep serving up follow-up questions for an hour. In addition to some not-at-all-surprising tidbits (e.g. “I like to use Facebook to keep in touch”), some really great deeply human questions surfaced about the nature and purpose of our communication in this digital age. Why, for example, do we feel that (justifiable?) indignation when someone who is not in our inner circle presumes to call in the evening? Or that internal turmoil of navigating the moral decision of turning on or turning off the text message read receipts... or the unresolved frustration of never knowing if you’ll get to have a text conversation in real-time or if your text will be treated as more of an email and will be addressed ... eventually. What became clear is that there is a deep dark underbelly of questions about this etiquette that have not been directly addressed so we could arrive at a shared understanding (... in part because it benefits each of us to have this grey area of information asymmetry at various points in our social maneuvering).
In a process called Affinity Mapping (also affectionately known as post-it hell), various interviewee's comments are grouped by theme and a few distinct pain points or blockers are identified. In this case, one of the main take-aways was that to truly connect and catch up, your thirty-somethings felt that nothing quite topped a phone conversation. However, our own and our friends' availability for a live chat seemed unpredictable at best and led to an endless game of phone tag. What was needed, it seemed, was a way to alert your friends to your being available without also inadvertently inviting unwanted calls from others (thus ruling out a facebook post of 'Dying to talk to someone!').
My favorite part of the UX process is a playfully whimsical technique called a "Bad Idea Party." As you may have guessed, it involves calling out some really bad solutions to the problem you've identified. It's a great way to get the creative juices flowing and let off some of the pressure to come up with great ideas immediately. This is followed by a "Good Idea Party" that takes advantage of the newly refreshed mind muscles.
Finally, you get into some more formal deliverables like feature prioritization, card sorting, site content map, a user flow schematic and at long last, low- and high-fidelity wireframes. These are tested by users at each step, with each iteration building on their input.
What can we conclude about the role of technology in our communication and connecting to one another? I think this is a fascinating area to continue exploring. There's a lot of opportunity left to meaningfully improve that experience. There is so much that technology can do to holistically approach more of our emotional needs from an experience - for example, not just a place to write down your list of things to do, but a place that will celebrate with you when you check one off the list.