Blooprint

Project Overview

BLOOPRINT is a strategic writing tool that has two main components: 1) an online resource community with access to education, services and mentorship, and 2) an integrated web app designed to streamline the writing process by providing a strategy and feedback system to monitor productivity.

Users will have a virtual coach assist them with management of their writing projects/goals, monitoring progress and areas of concern, which the virtual coach can then suggest actions to help resolve those issues, integrating services and resources provided by the online community.

Course: Designlab’s UX Academy Program

Client: Kre8Ed Co. (Independent Project)

Timeline: 8 weeks

Key Activities: Secondary research, primary research, ideation, wireframing, prototyping, interaction design, usability testing, user interface design

Tools used: Sketch, Illustrator, InVision

Research

Interviews and questionnaires were conducted with participants from various backgrounds to get a more rounded qualitative and quantitative understanding of educational communities, and writers with varying levels of experience. I interviewed educators and mentors from different disciplines who have experienced using online platforms as tools for teaching and/or advising, as well as an online content creator who specializes in e-learning. I also strived for a variety of writers ranging from age, experience, and different styles of writing such as journalism, blogging, playwriting, fiction and nonfiction. I wanted to understand the behavioural habits, wants and needs of new and established writers. The goal was to determine what sorts of tools and community they would value most for their own writing aspirations and goals, and how BLOOPRINT could meet those desired needs in the most viable ways.  

Problem Space

Many writers tend to have some internal and/or external struggles that challenge their path to accomplishing their goals, and the issue tends to stem from the fact that they are lacking a strategic plan and guidance to overcome these roadblocks. Their struggles can come in many forms such as inexperience, motivation, lack of time or finances, doubt and other emotional matters. Whether it’s through more concrete lessons, a plan, organization, accountability, or just valued advice, there needs to be an accessible and affordable service that would encourage writers to stay motivated to reach their goals within their own desired timelines.  

Key Insights & Guiding Principles

Through interviews, questionnaires, and competitor analysis, these research findings have helped to determine and clarify a direction to try and address the needs and knowledge gaps for a more relevant service to writers. Taking all the research results into consideration, I’ve highlighted these 12 key insights and design principles (in no particular order).

1 - Hybrid Learning

Craves the convenience and accessibility of logging online from anywhere, at any time, to absorb reliable research and educational material or relevant topics of interest at their own pace, yet maintain certain levels of engagement and interactivity that is normally associated with face to face interactions.

Principle: Provide lessons and materials that can be consumed passively and individually at their own pace with concrete exercises and examples, yet include daily/weekly group critiques and discussions as part of the service so that writers can get social interaction and constructive feedback to help strengthen their work and confidence. Sessions can be moderated by professional facilitators, mentors, or other community writers.

2 - Guidance & Clarity

Wants help to focus and strategically plan effective steps, yet have flexibility to request additional guidance from mentors/coaches when necessary, such as working on solutions to overcome certain road blocks or struggles, mental motivation, clarification on topics/questions, in-depth learning, honest feedback and advice, as long as the guidance matches their needs.    

Principle: Provide a comprehensive step-by-step guide of the entire process from start to finish that is customized and tracked by the user. Also provide a flexible system to request personal one-on-one sessions with experts that are compatible with their needs at whichever step they are at in the process, ranging from writing advice to marketing advice. Mentors can be requested on an as-need basis.

3 - Accountability & Consistency

Have a reliable system to help keep them accountable to their writing goals as it can be very easy to neglect writing priorities when struggling with motivation and other roadblocks, yet still be somewhat flexible to account for unexpected conditions.  

Principle: Having writing partners or groups to keep you motivated, focused, and prioritizing your writing time, makes it much harder to drop off the radar. This can come in the form of a virtual coach being your accountability partner, and/or providing a system of allowing members to match up with other members looking for the same type of accountability. Ultimately, the process of accountability should help build up a habit for writers to continue writing.  

4 - Affordability

Many writers may struggle with a lack of finances to support their writing needs, or have been burned by investing their time and money into other writing-related services that have ultimately not panned out.

Principle: Having a freemium payment model with some free services, and an affordable subscription for more proprietary features and functionalities can encourage writers to initially join. By continually providing more value, useful resources and ongoing support, members can continue subscribing. In terms of mentor access, if that service was provided on an as-need basis, they could just pay for those services when necessary, but keep prices at a competitive rate, perhaps include packaged specials, etc.  

5 - Flexibility

Most writers will usually have other day jobs or financial priorities, yet need to have flexibility to carve out some dedicated time to concentrate on their personal thoughts, research and writings, which can require breaks each day/week/month/year to accomplish their writing tasks. This can be especially difficult to maintain if their jobs are demanding, and sifting through multiple resources can also be extremely time consuming.

Principle: Provide concise and impactful lessons that are flexible to review, and access to vetted research experts, assistants, and resources so that writers can feel confident that the information they are receiving is correct and trustworthy.   

6 - Confidence Boost

Confidence issues can be very intimidating and cause paralysis of progress, as pain and fear of rejection and ridicule are constant negative voices to creative endeavours. Positive and communal support can help writers not feel like they are alone in their troubles.  

Principle: Providing group critique sessions and personal mentorship can help with on-going community support and act as a lifeline for members, other writers can share in-depth advice, tips and guidance for dealing with rejection, etc. Include a showcase section for writers to post up abstracts for comments from the general community as well, with emphasis on supportive and constructive feedback.

7 - Networking

Lacking access to reliable industry experts for research purposes, publishing needs, mentoring advice, etc. It can be especially difficult for those who lack previous connections to foster new relationships, and those who may not live in/near big industry hubs.

Principle: The service should give members access to build up their connections by accessing subject matter experts via an expert network in different fields (e.g. historical researchers, editors, cover designers, marketers, etc.). The online community is a networking hub that will allow them access to vetted experts.

8 - Monetization

Most writers are looking to be published and hopefully gain enough financial support in their writing endeavors to be a full-time writer, or at least have their writing subsidize a portion of their financial security. However, some find it difficult to tackle the business side of monetizing, usually finding the process, at least initially, very out of their comfort zone and rely on others’ expertise to guide them through the process. Not knowing where to start, which services/methods may be more trustworthy, or being barraged with options and resources, can be very intimidating and overwhelming.

Principle: Have a step-by-step guide with recommended resources and access to advisors and subject matter experts in the community, providing support and helping writers feel less overwhelmed to deal with the monetization of their works.

9 - Recognition & Impact

Whether or not a writer wishes to monetize on their writing, they desire to be recognized and have an impact on their ideal audience of readers.

Principle: Being able to showcase their work and receive feedback from their audience will help them gage how their work is being received. The showcase features of the product could work in two tiers, one for only internal review by members to gain supportive and constructive feedback on abstracts, and perhaps an option to publicize some pieces and open up comments to the external public. However, the customized strategic plan from the virtual coach should address a writer’s desired level of recognition and suggest methods and lessons on how to find their ideal audience, and increase it.

10 - Assistance & Organization

With time and financial constraints, assistance to find, build and organize information would help speed up their writing and production process, especially for areas of repetition, research, or non-expertise. Also, assistance with a plan to success.

Principle: The virtual coach should assist writers with building a strategic plan for success and helping them to automate their tracking process, such as organizing all their data, files and research in one location, and provide compiled pattern libraries for formatting templates that can be modified and reused for repetitive formatting (i.e. screenwriting). Accessing assistance for other areas of non-expertise can be provided through the expert network associated with the community (e.g. researchers, historical experts, etc.).

11 - Focused Feedback

Specifically, writers are looking to have focused feedback on their work and if their ideas/concepts are coming across clearly, or the way they intended. As most support groups are widely for everyone in the community, there also tends to be a lot of distraction as well with people discussing other things that aren’t writing/feedback specific, and although there may be a time and place for all these things, some just need less distraction to accomplish their goals.

Principle: Provide (Slack) channels for specific topics and focuses where things that are not on topic can be dealt with in other channels. Similarly, group critiques could also be topic specific depending on the genre or other interests, they can be voted on every month, or pre-defined and adjusted depending on level of need (e.g. humour writing, fantasy fiction, blog writing, dealing with rejection, etc.).

12 - Motivation

Accounting for all the struggles previously stated above, in terms of time constraints, accountability, lack of confidence, etc., any one or a combination of them can drastically demoralize and diminish motivation to keep a writer, or aspiring writer, from continuing or finishing what they started. Sometimes it’s hard for people to objectively see what kind of progress they’ve made and need to be reminded of the work they put into something, what their end goals are and remind them of why they are doing it.

Principle: The virtual coach can prompt them on a regular basis to remind them of what their goal is and why, including inspirational quotes, experiential examples, and relative nuggets of wisdom to remind them that their writing should be a priority as well. This can also come in the form of a vision board, short compilations of the work they’ve done so far, snippets of positive comments from their showcases, all to help remind members of their progress. The group critiques, showcase board, mentor sessions, and accountability features/services can all help contribute to positive feedback that will help keep members motivated.

UX Strategy & Ideation

From the research, the platform tool of preference for this digital product was a web or desktop app over a mobile app. Although some writers indicated that the product should be available across multiple platforms for quick resource reference (audio, articles, etc.) or light editing, their initial choice was the desktop as most of their writing work would be done on a desktop or laptop computer. It would be more convenient to access, consume, upload or download any material they need from their computers rather than their mobile device, when it comes to writing. To test the concept within the time limitation, I focused on designing sections of the online community and web app for this first iteration.

  • Personas
  • Sitemap
  • User Workflow
  • Wireframes
Personas
Sitemap
User Workflow
Wireframes

Interaction Design

User Testing

Testing was done with mainly less technically proficient users to determine ease or difficulty of use with the prototype, along with any reoccurring themes for workflow issues that need to be clarified. Categories of focus were related to user behaviours, interaction insights, and areas for improvement/clarification. Based on the test findings, I was able to identify some common issues that needed to be further developed in the next iteration of the UI designs.

Iterative UI Designs

Implementing changes from the user testing, I’ve mocked up a few key screens to showcase how the online community and web app would look. 

  • Homepage & Member Dashboard
  • Expert Network
  • Project Files & Actions
  • Document Canvas
Homepage & Member Dashboard
Expert Network
Project Files & Actions
Document Canvas

Project Findings

Of the 12 key insights, I tried to address all of them in some form with the list of features and services specified in the design principles, however due to time constraints, I was only able to focus on a few areas for this first iteration of the online community and web app. By focusing on two key workflows of the product, document editing and mentor session scheduling, I felt that the initial testing revealed that navigation was relatively straightforward for those processes, with some minor adjustments to clarify labels, placement of buttons and product features to make the user flow more intuitive.

Of the remaining features that were not explored in this cycle, I would like to delve deeper into testing those screens and workflows for future iterations, as well as expanding the web app features to the desktop and mobile app versions for a more complete integration. In theory, most features for the product would be feasible, and if tested and reiterated properly, should potentially streamline the writing process.   

Future Challenges

  • Having users recognize the value in the planning tool and the overall streamlined integration with the new writing app and organization system.
  • Helping non-technical users overcome the onboarding process to use the writing app/system, and being comfortable using it, allowing them to switch from their previous word processors that they’re accustomed to.
  • Having the virtual coach monitor and prompt the user beyond only the active use of the product during writing sessions, to mimic a real-life coach who could follow up and prompt users so that they can’t avoid activities that are meant to keep them on track.
  • Overcoming previous skepticism and negative connotations with other writing programs/tools that have claimed to help, but ultimately did not work for the user, or lacked support and features that the user desired.
  • Getting users familiar with the freemium/subscription business model for writing products/services that haven’t traditionally followed this model type.

Next Steps

  • Complete additional screens for all of phase 1 features of BLOOPRINT product, with screens for phase 2 and 3 features to follow.
  • Create updated prototype with UI compositions and user flows to test interactions and determine further design iterations.
  • Build compatible screens and interactions for desktop and mobile app versions of the product, to complement the web app version.

Personal Reflections

As this was an independent project, the process of coming up with my own original concept was very rewarding and quite a learning experience. I placed myself in the role of a client to communicate what I wanted in a project brief. I took my experience of Designlab, combined with my interests in Writing, to come up with a concept of an online space dedicated to writers, ranging from education, mentorship, resources to building a community. Essentially I was looking to create a “one stop shop” for writers, whether they’re novices or experienced. The product would help them with their writing goals, everything from producing great content, building an audience for their content, to publishing and marketing. Initially, the concept was very education focused, following a similar course syllabus and mentorship framework as Designlab, but as my research progressed, I discovered some insights that altered the roadmap of the product, but not the ultimate goal. 

This discovery process was invaluable in showcasing how research can really reshape how we design solutions, even if they differ from initial concepts, but know that our solutions are more effectively reflecting and addressing the wants and needs of our target users. Also, with unique perspective of being both the client and designer in this project, it gave me more opportunity to consider more realistic design decisions based on the business side of the product in how it could be financially sustainable and profitable, but also to see the future roadmap for the product to be available and integrated across multiple platforms.

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