For the last several weeks, our team has been researching a small, local community of Muslim immigrants, based around the Islamic Center of Eastside. In particular, we explored the challenges faced by these people when it comes to buying Halal food (food which meats the Islamic dietary requirements). We found that while there are several small businesses within the community which provide halal products, there is often friction between consumers and business owners. Customers often complain that their suggestions and feedback are ignored, and customer service is below par. On the other hand, we found that these small businesses often lack the manpower and resources to deal with customer feedback. Most of them don’t have a presence online, so feedback can only come through verbal communication on the premises. As such, it is difficult for busy staff members to figure out which complaints are most common or serious, and give them the attention they require. Since both the business owners and consumers were members of the same community and rely on each other, we wondered how we could bring them together in such a way that would allow them to benefit each other more effectively.
As we began to think about solving this problem, we focused on removing the bitterness that seemed to be associated with giving feedback to staff. We wanted to create an environment where not only could customers give constructive criticism, but also express support and appreciation for what a given business is doing right. However, rather than limiting the conversation to a back-and-forth between staff and individual customers, we decided to bring the entire customer pool together with the staff as a single, thriving community. In order to achieve this, we designed a mobile application aimed at small businesses, which supports communities centered around a single business. Anyone with the app can select a business and join the discussion. Customers can talk about their experiences, give suggestions, express appreciation, and simply get to know the business better. Business owners on the other hand, can respond to feedback away from the rush and bustle of work. They can also better understand their customer base, allowing them to grow and develop their services. For example, if an owner sees that a request for a certain product is gaining significant traction in the discussion, they can take the opportunity to provide it.
Prototyping and Testing
The next step in our design journey was prototyping. We built a low-fidelity paper prototype using an app called Marvel, and finally brought our idea to life. Once it was complete, we decided to put it through three usability tests in order to find any flaws. Our thought process was to find as many issues early on as possible, before finalizing our prototype and moving on to a higher fidelity mockup.
Testing was quite an interesting experience for our team, as it shed light on some areas for improvement which had escaped our notice. One thing we had overlooked was providing a way back to the landing page after joining a community. Another recurring complaint was regarding our wording. In the prototype, we had set the link to the discussion page to “Customer Suggestions”. This gave off the impression of only referring to criticism and complaints, excluding purely uplifting contributions, such as appreciation posts. This was contrary to our intentions, and we replaced that wording with “Community Discussion”. People also complained that our prototype was ambiguous when explaining the difference between “public” and “private” posts, and that there were no posting rules or guidelines.
Having completed our testing, we took the results along with our paper prototype and moved to the next stage of our design process. We decided to use Figma to build an initial digital mockup. Then, we decided to put it through one final round of collecting feedback. Our color scheme was quite dark, and we received a suggestion to use more dissimilar colors. Another thing that was pointed out was the lack of timestamps in our discussion, something which would be useful for both customers and business owners. Finally, one of our testers also suggested that we use a scrolling instead of forward-backward buttons for viewing the discussion. Interestingly, we had overlooked scrolling because of the technology we had used to build our paper prototype. The reason it hadn’t occurred to us was that there is no obvious way to implement it in the Marvel app.
Having collected feedback, we began modifying our mockup and implementing the new changes we had decided upon. The final mockup is now complete and can viewed here: ▶ Page 1 — Digital Mockup for Group 18 CSE 440 (figma.com)
Looking back, this project began with our team’s research on the community of The Islamic Center of Eastside. We identified a common problem among small businesses in the community. That problem was friction between business owners and their customers, a friction which continued to exist despite the fact that both groups were part of the same community and reliant on each other. In order to solve this problem and bring the customers and staff together for mutual benefit, we designed a mobile application that would function as a platform of communication for each individual business. Having built prototypes, done multiple rounds of user testing, and finally created a digital mockup, we are nearing the end of the design process. We envision this solution to be a means for bringing shoppers together and making them feel like they are valued. It will allow their voices to be heard, and their feedback to reach the staff in a constructive rather than destructive manner. We hope to replace the frequently bitter and acrimonious conversation starting with “I want to speak to the manager” with something stress-free and rewarding for all parties involved.