Mobile app

The Challenge

Brief: This brief is part of the design curriculum at Ironhack. Smart People, Inc is a language education company that’s best known for their annual language-learning summer camp. They wish to go digital and expand their services to help a wider range of people learn English or Spanish.

Problem: People often give up on digital language learning tools. I sought to learn why, in order to design a product that users would stick with long-term.

Tools: Sketch, Marvel, Maze, Adobe XD

01. Discovery Phase

I first researched competitors by reading app store reviews and online articles. I learned that users appreciate positive feedback, and dislike impractical content & the inability to correct mistakes.

One app store review for Duolingo wrote, “making mistakes is essential in language learning, we shouldn’t be punished for it.”

I signed up for popular language learning programs, then made a feature comparison chart. This helped me determine what features users have come to expect, like goals and feedback.

Feature Comparison Chart

I then devised a survey which yielded 106 responses.

I only considered responses from people who have attempted language-learning outside of school, to ensure I was only considering data from target users. Many users quit was because they were forgetting what they learned or had lost motivation.

To gain more insight into the problem space, I interviewed 3 people who had attempted to learn a new language.

One user "felt hopeless" when trying to learn a language. Another complained that online language learning was excessively repetitive (“it was ridiculous”). Another person said he was "barely able to communicate" when traveling, despite having made progress on Duolingo.

I also posted a question on reddit asking why people may have given up on a particular language-learning method. Most people said because it became too “boring” or “tedious." This research provided insight that the app should be fun and enjoyable to use.

I synthesized my research findings in an affinity map to see patterns in the data. This served as a place to organize and digest all my findings. The act of writing out responses and quotes also helped me empathize with the users.

Affinity Map

Using the data I gathered, I created a user persona that represents the target users. The biggest user needs are having an enjoyable and not overly repetitive way to learn Spanish, as well as retaining progress and learning about Spanish culture. This persona helped me clearly envision who I was designing for. Whenever I hit a fork in the road, I'd simply consider what would best suit Casey's needs.

User Persona

I then created a journey map to visualize the pains encountered throughout a language-learning session.

Journey Map

According to the survey and interviews. the top the most cited pain points were:
1. Excessive repetition
2. Forgetting what they’d learned, and
3. Loss of motivation.

Next, I researched learning techniques and learned that spaced repetition is effective. With this method, users review difficult material more often than easy material. In testing, recall (used for fill-in-the-blank questions) requires more effort than answering multiple choice questions, but is a better indicator of learning.

I also researched learning and motivation. Interestingly, extrinsic motivation (points or grades) is easy to instill, but is short-lived. Intrinsic motivation (passion and genuine interest) is harder to instill, but leads to continued learning.

02. Ideation

To guide my brainstorming, I devised “how might we?” statements for the 3 main user pain points (excessive repetition, forgetting what was learned, and loss of motivation). I like to use sticky notes during ideation, I find I generate more ideas this way as opposed to typing out my ideas digitally.

Generating Ideas to Solve the Problem

I loved so many of my ideas but sadly, implementing all of them wouldn't have been feasible. In comes the MoSCoW method!

Considering impact on the user vs effort for the business, I determined which features would form the minimum viable product.

Feature Prioritization

The minimum viable product is a mobile language-learning app for people interested in learning Spanish, that
• Allows users to rate session difficulty,
• Has few multiple-choice options, and
Suggests music to complement lessons

The features solve the following pain points:

Pain-Points Addressed by The Solution

I hypothesize that this app will enable users to obtain longer-lasting knowledge, avoid frustrating & excessive repetition, and inspire motivation to continue language-learning. I'll know I'm right when users continue using the app long-term and the app is highly rated on the app-store.

03. Prototype

The user flow helped me determine what screens I would need to devise lo-fi wireframes for.

User Flow

I sketched a variety of lo-fi wireframes for each needed screen, then selected which ones to prototype and conduct usability testing for.

Low-Fidelity Wireframes

I conducted 7 usability tests to identify room for improvement in my design. Average task duration was 108.5 seconds with a 14.3% mis-click rate.

Users preferred a numerical scale to rate lesson difficulty, rather than simply choosing “easy” “medium” or “difficult.” I also learned that being given a suggested list of music after each lesson could interrupt learning and ultimately result in less lessons being completed. I made the needed changes in the mid-fidelity prototype, then did another round of usability testing before moving onto visual design determination.

Mid-Fidelity Wireframes

04. Visual Design

I explored various options for the visual identity of the app. When conducting desirability testing of an early option, users described this style tile with words including "earthy," "money," and "brains."

Initial Style Tile

I honestly cringe a bit looking back at this early version but it was part of my process!

I identified target brand attributes to help guide my design choices: modern, smart, fun, and cheerful.
I revised the colors and typography, and searched for icons with a consistent look. Users described the final style tile as being "fun," "clean," and "bright."
Final Style Tile
To facilitate effective branding, I changed the app name to one different from that of the parent company (which is "Smart People"). I drew inspiration from online brand-name generators.
I settled on the name "gluent," a play on words of "fluent," and "glue," since their language-learning will stick.

Finally, I arrived at the high-fidelity prototype! Check it out below.

High-Fidelity Prototype

05. Conclusion

In the future, I'd explore the possibility of updating the music section to be called media, and adding Spanish TV shows and movies. The purpose would be to further cement learning, as well as to inspire cultural appreciation and thus intrinsic motivation to continue learning. I hypothesize that this would help minimize the amount of users who give up learning.

Success and failure metrics that would be used to determine product performance include amount of weekly active users, proportion of users accessing the curated playlist, rating on the app store, and churn rate. Being that this is an MVP, I'd like to get baseline metrics for these factors, then use the change in these metrics to help gauge future design changes.

Throughout this process, I learned the importance of having a clear idea of what characteristics the product should convey before jumping into the visual design process. I spent a lot of in time in trial and error, unsatisfied with the app's visual direction (colors, iconography, typography). When I set some characteristics I was going for, I finally nailed the visual feel of the app.

Thanks for reading!