Timeline Jan - Mar 2020 (3 months)
Role UX/UI Designer
Tools Figma, Illustrator, Whimsical
Role UX/UI Designer
Tools Figma, Illustrator, Whimsical
While I was a UX design student at BrainStation, I worked on a capstone project to experience the design process, from research to proof of concept. My mobile app design, Continual, helps consumers make more eco-friendly shopping decisions through an informative, community-centred platform for sustainable fashion.
Being new to UX design, I used the double diamond framework to guide my decisions throughout the process of designing Continual.
When I first started this project, I knew I wanted to tackle an issue in the fashion industry, but I didn't know where to start. I mapped signals and trends to get a better picture of the landscape, pick up on patterns or significant movements, and think about where things could go in the future.
Among the landscape of the fashion industry, the environmental impact of clothing stood out to me the most. I researched textile waste, resource consumption, and the demand for new products to understand the problem space and its severity.
Looking deeper into the problem
I soon discovered there were several facets to the problem, with many areas of opportunity. I considered tackling waste management or brand transparency, but looking further into the topics, I learned about the positive changes that were already being implemented towards optimizing textile waste on a large scale. I also realized that it's very difficult to aggregate sourcing information on a range of clothing brands, namely because companies who aren't super eco-friendly typically don't tell the public much about their production practices.
Noting the growing demand for products, I saw there was a large base of consumers continually wanting to shop. So, I decided to ask, "How might we help young apparel consumers make more environmentally conscious purchasing decisions?"
I looked into existing products to learn about how others were facilitating conscious shopping. Some solutions extend the lives of garments – social resale apps built communities for consumers to sell clothes directly to each other. Online secondhand shops made thrift and vintage shopping more accessible. Digital fashion took another approach by creating and promoting clothing without the need for physical production.
I then interviewed 7 apparel consumers between the ages of 17-28. My first goal was to validate my assumption that people actually had the desire to shop more sustainably. Here's what I found out about them:
From there, I wanted to uncover the factors influencing their purchase decisions and frustrations relating to their shopping experience. I was also curious about if they were using any of the products I explored during market research.
Uncovering user insights
As I was organizing the data I had gathered about my users, I started to notice common themes among them.
defining user needs
Based on research insights, I developed a persona emulating my primary user group, to better empathize with them and understand their needs.
From the information I received about my interviewees' experiences, I mapped Jules' journey of browsing & looking for a t-shirt to identify opportunities for design intervention.
Conceptualizing solutions and testing them
A deeper look into Jules and her experience showed me the opportunities to help her painlessly learn more about potential purchasing options & their environmental impact. I developed a set of user stories helping meet her needs, to be translated into product features.
With a working idea of my project's key features, I began to visualize what my solution would look like. I went with an iOS mobile app because the majority of my interviewees owned an iPhone. Since they value time, and are often on the go, a mobile app’s ease of access was ideal. Furthermore, the current market share of mobile e-commerce sales takes up 67.2% of total e-commerce sales, and is predicted to reach 72.9% by 2021.
Next, I looked at similar products, like sustainable fashion marketplaces and brand eco-rating apps, to get inspiration and discover areas I could offer improvements. While I found features such as easy browsing through eco-friendly fabrics and comprehensive brand impact summaries useful, I noticed there was room to improve when it came to the overall user experience. Some apps were difficult to navigate, and it was nearly impossible to find products from local Canadian stores.
From there, I started the user's journey on my app, which turned into the main task flow to be designed. I focused on the design of browsing & looking for a t-shirt, seeing as this was a common experience shared among my users, and made use of key product features.
With low-fidelity wireframes, I conducted 2 rounds of testing with 5 participants per round. Because of time constraints, I tested with classmates and friends, who did not necessarily fit in my target user group. I split the flow into 2 tasks: learning more about a brand and finding a t-shirt that matched their desired qualities in a piece of clothing. I discovered key areas to improve:
Opportunity to build a deeper connection between consumer & brand
The initial brand feature made users feel like they were reading a list of facts. This screen was the start of a consumer-brand relationship, so the UI needed to be more effective. Instead of a bulleted list, I decided to frame the text as a story. To humanize the brand further, I added photos & names of founders. To encourage users to support local and increase trust, I added a flag from the brand's origin country, and any relevant certification badges.
Error prevention, flexibility of use, and visibility of system status
When filtering search results, users would accidentally tap icons in the bottom navigation. They also wanted the option to move both ends of the price slider. After selecting filter options, some weren't sure if their preferences had been applied to the search results. I decided to hide the bottom navigation when the filter was open, and allowed two endpoints on the price slider. I made the total number of items visible as they interacted with the filter.
Lack of clear hierarchy & navigation
The product information design was not optimized for the amount of content, so users were scrolling back and forth on the same page to view pertinent product details. For greater ease of use, I introduced a segmented control, to view different sections of the description. I also fixed the price and "add to cart" button at the bottom. Giving the product image more real estate allowed users to focus on what was important to them.
Overall, I gained valuable insights about usability. But, if I were to do this again, I'd first focus more on screening & recruiting test participants who were actively looking to shop more consciously, and validate the usefulness of the idea itself, before testing the flow.
Crafting a visual identity
With mid-fidelity wireframes ready to go, I started to develop my brand's visual identity by putting a moodboard together, from which feelings and colours were extracted. The name "continual" along with an infinity logo was chosen because the objective of my app is to help close the textile loop and cultivate circular product cycles in the fashion industry.
Next, I designed a responsive product marketing website to highlight key features and fictional brand partners. Users would be able to sign up for an account, as well as download the app, from visiting the website.
Other Platform Exploration
Seeing as desktop is still a top channel for e-commerce, and more commonly used for high volume purchases, I decided to explore the idea of a Chrome extension called "continual check" that analyzes the content of a website a user is browsing. It presents to them an environmental impact summary of the product they are looking at. In the future, I would consider adding more visuals or icons to improve readability. For brands that aren't transparent about their production practices, it might be interesting to add a function allowing users to send them a message of encouragement.
Some last reflections
As time came to wrap things up, I reflected on Continual and how I got here. Looking at my problem statement – how might we help young apparel consumers make more environmentally friendly purchasing decisions? I’d say Continual does this, by connecting people to local & sustainable clothing brands, presenting relevant information about the impact of their purchases, and getting people involved with what’s going on in sustainable fashion.
However, Continual could potentially carry the unintended effect of encouraging consumers to buy more products in general. While it still offers a better alternative to fast fashion, a future consideration would be additionally helping consumers extend the lives of their clothes.
I learned a lot from the challenges I faced while designing Continual! In the beginning, it was super tough for me to narrow in on a specific problem. With sustainability in the fashion industry, I felt overwhelmed with all the different routes I could have gone. Do I target consumers or organizations? Do I focus on clothing donations, digital fashion, supply chain transparency, secondhand shopping, or something else entirely? I eventually had to tell myself – you can't solve all the problems. Define your constraints with yourself realistically. Listen to what your users are saying to you, and go from there.
Another issue I had was determining if people were being honest with me during interviews. If you straight up ask someone "Do you want to be more eco-friendly?" they will probably say yes. And it's not like I had a lie detector. So what I did was, I started off with general questions related to their shopping behaviours, then asked about factors that influenced their purchasing decisions, casually guiding the conversation to environmental factors and going from there. If I were to do this again, I'd look into getting more feedback on my interview script, or pursuing supplementary ways of collecting data, possibly through anonymous surveys.
I also made a mistake early on in the process, that affected my UI design decisions later on. When it came to forming Continual's visual identity, I realized that I was going off of my own idea of what the app should look like. If I were to do future iterations, I'd make sure to consult with users about apps they use and stores they shop at, to design a more familiar digital experience.
I'm super grateful for this experience working on Continual at BrainStation. It wouldn't have been possible without my capstone advisor, Jonathan Lee, my educators, Ann-Marie Sebastian, Joel Macleod, Jason Kogan, my TAs, Chloe Evoy, Veronica Sipos, Tridz Banerjee, Chris Zakrzewski, and all of my wonderful classmates ♡