The fotonovela is a traditional narrative medium similar to a comic book that uses photographs to tell dramatic stories with a morale. The Rural Women’s Health Project has used printed fotonovelas for thirty years in community health education. On this volunteer project, I collaborated with the RWHP on an end-to-end product design for a digital fotonovela.
- Complete end-to-end product design on a novel online educational tool
- Conduct generative and evaluative research within an especially challenging user community
- Developed interactive prototype for a mobile-first web app
- Completed website will be implemented by health educators in rural community
Research methodology and challenges
The primary challenge on this project was research design and data collection. The intended target users were already identified as the same population served by the traditional fotonovelas of the Rural Women’s Health Project.
The target users are rural, Spanish-speaking, potentially undocumented, adult Latino immigrants in north central Florida.
My draft plan for foundational research included:
However, real world challenges intervened to complicate my plan:
- onset of COVID-related health risk to in-person contact,
- lack of insider knowledge or connections, and
- physical and cultural distance forced a revised approach.
Due to these challenges, I was unable to implement contextual inquiry or user surveys. I succeeded in conducting user interviews, though I modified my approach to incorporate secondary sources and participants. Along the way, I learned valuable lessons about recruiting.
A competitive analysis revealed few existing products of similar design and purpose. However, these examples served to inspire and shape the business requirements and overall concept for this product.
Project strategy and business requirements
Based on the market research, I created a business requirements document in which I articulated:
- the overall concept for the project,
- the scope of work,
- the functional requirements, and
- SMART business objectives of the project.
I established a delivery schedule (which proved to be totally unrealistic), but it was obviously impactful learning as an emerging UX professional to compare actual time spent vs. my expectations.
A flexible approach to user interviews
The difficulty of contacting primary users forced me to modify my approach to the interviews. I incorporated five secondary users to gain additional context.
- Characterize users’ online behavior, purpose, preferences
- Reveal insights to guide novel product design for digital fotonovela
- Hispanic residents in rural Levy County have limited access to internet due to multiple factors: cellular network, data limits, sharing device with other family members, work hours.
- Hispanic residents in rural Levy County (and nationwide) prefer Spanish language and/or bilingual content.
- Hispanic residents in rural Levy County generally find the English language as a significant barrier to information accessibility online.
- Hispanic residents in Levy County (and nationwide) are significant consumers and sharers on social media.
- A mobile-first website would serve time and data-limited users better than a mobile app.
- Bilingual content increases accessibility and engagement to wider audience
- A minimalist approach to site design - simplified navigation and interface, reduced animations and enhancements - will maximize accessibility to time and data-limited users.
I built two user personas based on analysis of foundational research. Based on these personas, I created user journey maps and user flows. These artifacts in turn informed the interaction design at multiple breakpoints with a primary focus on the mobile breakpoint.
I recognize the visual appeal of the user journey map as a deliverable, but I did not find that its utility justified the effort involved. As a UX team of one, I would find user scenarios and user flows, which are simpler to produce and easier to revise, more valuable.
Card sorting and site mapping
I employed cart sorting to design the information architecture of the site. Five participants sorted twenty (20) cards online (optimalworkshop.com) into three categories:
- “home page”,
- “individual chapters in home page”,
- “other site pages (top level navigation)”.
Results suggested that it made most sense to simplify homepage content and assign remaining content to other site pages accessible from the top-level navigation.
I faced the same recruitment-related and contextual challenges in usability testing as I had previously in the discovery research. In response, I opted for:
- remote moderated testing
- six (6) secondary users as participants (individuals with direct cultural and/or professional knowledge of target users)
- Determine usability problem areas, focusing on the navigation and accessibility features
- Assess learnability and satisfaction for first time users
- Identify opportunities for improvement based on participant feedback
- Assess the learnability of the site’s navigational scheme
- Assess learnability of the site’s accessibility features: the language and audio settings
- Identify problem areas and opportunities related to the site’s accessibility features
I conducted a quick round of preference testing to assess the best location to place the language selection toggle. 83% of participants preferred the top placement, which sealed the deal for me.
UI and styling improvements based on testing
I made final improvements to reflect the suggested changes:
- updated styling on audio UI makes functionality more obvious
- Horizontal page navigation with label makes navigation more obvious
- Updated color scheme increases contrast, legibility, visual interest
The final prototype reflects all recommended changes from usability and preference testing. [Include link and gif]
Next steps and final thoughts
The obvious next step for this project would be handoff to developers. In this case, there is no developer available, so I will need to build out the site myself to move the project forward. I’ll update here on any progress made.
Appealing additional upgrades would be those features that serve to build community, such as:
- buttons for sharing to social media;
- an ability to add comments;
- a calendar of community events,
- a searchable database of local organizations and resources
I learned from this project that foundational research is the most important stage in design (and it’s where I want to hang my hat as an experience designer and user researcher).
Primary research was difficult and labor-intensive. However, if I had settled for desk research alone, the problem would have been ill-defined. And no solution can solve a problem that is the wrong problem to begin with.