Personas are a common design research consolidation technique to make sense of user research data. Here findings from observations, interview transcripts, and organizational document analysis were synthesized and a set of representative user types were created to allow the design team an abstracted view of a range of user types, their needs, motivations and use cases to continually consider in decision-making as the design evolved .
Below are a fictionalized set of personas we created based on our data to characterize typical users of Macroinvertebrates.org. Personas developed by CMU design student Adrian Galvin.
By Estelle Jiang and Alice Fang
Moving to a higher fidelity prototype by following the design system.
After showing our low-fidelity prototype to the entire team and developers, we decided to move forward by applying a more detailed design and developing the visual + design system. We also figured out how to showcase the relationship between orders, family and genius on the mobile application, and the UI components for each type of 'page'. It was one of the biggest challenges we met previously.
For the color theme, we followed the guidelines the project used on the website and applied the blue color to highlight actionable parts. To keep the app clean and concise, we used white for the major user interface design. As for the typography, the body font is Nunito Sans and the title font is Roboto Slab. Due to limitations with the database information, and in an effort to bring about the features of the specimen in photography, we also worked with the gigapan background color, creating a floating, borderless 'under a microscope' look [see image on the right].
Changes we made for the high fidelity prototype after discussion:
Homepage - We thought the card view can be bigger to attract people’s attention and intrigue their interest. Since we only have 10 orders, we did not have too many concerns about accessibility at the very beginning. The ID key button is also replaced on the home page.
The dropdown menu was also changed to help user easily navigate and get back to main page.
We also added icons to explain the functionalities and applied color for the side menu to make it stand out more. As we mentioned on the previous post, we were struggling between a button to expand, and swiping up. Since we were worried about the experience of swiping up which is too hidden on the bottom of the screen. we iterated and created a button on the bottom for accessibility instead.
Planning and preparing first round usability testing
To conduct our first round of testing, we started with writing the testing protocol, thinking about the purpose of the testing and the goals we want to achieve.
The purpose of our testing was to test the logic of the user flows, and to identify potential navigation and usability issues. We wanted to understand if the application is engaging to users, and is useful in identifying macroinvertebrates and learning their characteristics.
We assigned a few small tasks for users to finish during the testing:
Pre-task: Users will be given 30 seconds to get familiar with the application before doing task.
First task: Users are asked to browse the different orders though different ways. This way, we can then tell whether the design makes sense, and take note of how users navigate through the different levels of information.
Second task: This task was focused on the detailed Order & Family page designs, users are asked to find out more detailed order and family information, as well as specific diagnostic characters for a specific family. By asking the users how difficult the task is, we can evaluate the slider design idea we had, and how accessible / noticeable the actionable button is.
We also asked additional questions at the end of testing to check whether they can have a clear understanding about our application throughout the testing process, including:
Synthesize the findings to guide our next iterations.
Overall, we conducted five user interviews, with macroinvertebrate experts, people familiar with the site, and a novice user; I also got feedback from my friend who knew nothing about the concept or field in order to get additional novice learner’s insights.
Rather than use the normal user research method - affinity diagramming to synthesize the testing findings, Alice made the excel sheet to list out the key points the interviewee made for each task. It helped us highlight the common suggestions and feedback.
Here are the findings that guided our next iterations:
Iterations we made.
Since the first version of high fidelity prototypes are hard for novice learners to learn and understand the additional information, I quickly brainstormed two other versions to display the information and hierarchy between orders and families.
The first version allows users to swipe and learn along the way. The experience is more immersive and easy to follow if the users have no idea about the insect and the order. However, it doesn’t give enough freedom and choices for users to explore themselves, and quickly becomes repetitive for more experienced users.
The second version can cater the needs of both experienced users and novice learners since it allows them to quickly switch between various levels of information. The structure of the insects are also easy to tell and discover. The homepage was also iterated from showing only one order to display multiple orders at once.
The developers moved forward with this version, and worked to develop a beta version. It was interesting and difficult figuring out how to work in parallel; they were focused on setting up the database and structure, while we were iterating through the designs, but we couldn't progress too far or change too many things after they began developing the pages.
By Alice Fang
Re-framing with a new team!
Chelsea and I were joined by Estelle (Yi Cheng) Jiang and Dakota (Zi Qi) Dong in late May. Moving forward, Chelsea and Dakota will be working on development, while Estelle and I will be working on the design and user-testing of the app. There was an adjustment period as we introduced the project to the new members and got everyone acquainted while figuring out how to work collaboratively in a remote wfh environment.
Through this process, we've been utilizing google docs and spreadsheets, as well as Figma, but coordinating between design and development has been tricky. Accommodating and synching the design and development timelines was difficult, and it was a bit touch-and-go.
Spreadsheets and Organizing Data
Previously, I struggled with establishing a structure to the app that allowed for navigation in and out of orders/families. To make the taxonomy clear (as we are non-scientists and non-bug experts), and to organize the information for design purposes, I created a spreadsheet with the following:
1. Inventory of functions that exist on the website
In order to figure out the minimum viable product that can be developed by students within a summer, and to compare what needs to change from Order to Family, I listed all of the functions for Order/Family/Genus.
2. List of insect orders, the families in each order, and the number of specimen (genera) in each family, and the number of diagnostic characters for each family and order
While many of the families have similar numbers of specimen, there were a lot of outlier cases we needed to keep an eye on, and account for while designing. The length of names, both common and scientific, impacts the typographic system, and the number of diagnostic characters affects how we visually set up that information. Some of the cases are as follows:
*Dev team has to set up the database (I don’t know the exact details). We ran into a challenge late in the summer [early August] where the Gigapan database had to be moved, and there was no way to extract some of the family traits and text information, requiring manual copy and pasting
Collecting References and Resources for Ideation Round II
Getting the design team on the same page.
I showed Estelle the previous mockups and ideas that I had for the mobile app, but in order to refresh and sort of create a mutual visual language, we took the time to research and look at other apps. We compared and discussed field guide apps, quiz apps, and other text-based apps like news/media.
*Referencing Headspace, AirBnB, Medium, WWF Together
*Referencing Twitter, Google Maps, Medium Merlin ID, Audubon
Lo-fi Version 2
New Ideas and Changes
Estelle quickly mocked some basic page structures, and documented user stories. This allowed us to see possible entry points and user profiles for the app. What are possible ways people would use the app? What would they be looking for? And how do we prioritize that development at the same time?
She also created this flow diagram of entry in the app and access points to different functions; however, it didn't include navigation and returning to previous pages, or other major functions we hope to implement in the future, like a quiz.
*Comparing what a bottom pop-up that scrolls up, and a button on the bottom, would look like.
Between a button to expand, and swiping up, we originally decided on a swiping up action, but were worried about the screen experience that it would be too hidden on the bottom of the screen. As we moved into user testing, we created a button on the bottom for accessibility instead. It stood out more, and for someone holding a phone, was located in a position that was easy to access.
Through this process, we also started to get into the look and feel of the application. As the focus and beauty of the collection is the high definition images and close-up thumbnails, I really wanted typography to play a role in the visual style while staying close to what the desktop site looks like.
Hello! My name is Tom Garncarz, and I’m a new member on the Learning to See project. My role for the next few months will be to design and develop an interactive game to help new learners better test their ability to identify macroinvertebrates and consequently, water quality. I will be posting occasionally to document my research and design process throughout the semester.
Over the course of the past two weeks, I’ve been conducting secondary research and ideating on early designs for such a game. Given my unfamiliarity with macroinvertebrates prior to this project, my research has been primarily focused on developing a broader understanding of this domain from a scientific perspective. However, because I have the unique opportunity to teach myself a knowledge domain directly before creating a design to teach others, I can examine the materials I’m using to teach myself on a meta-evaluative level. The first section of this blog post will discuss the resources I’ve looked at, how they teach their content, and what insights I can derive from them towards the design of an interactive game.
Guide to Aquatic Insects
The first resource that I examined was the Izaak Walton League’s Guide to Aquatic Insects and Crustaceans. This book was recommended to me as a primer guide for getting familiar with the domain of macroinvertebrate research, and as such, it seemed like a logical place to start my investigation as well. The Guide is written largely in prose, and reads somewhat like a textbook. Different classes of macroinvertebrates are anatomically and contextually detailed, accompanied by black and white illustrations. Guide describes each of these organisms in terms of what anatomical features can be used to disambiguate it from similar-looking macroinvertebrates, which comes as a welcome feature for new learners. These descriptions, in conjunction with the provided illustrations allow for a high-level understanding of what features define each class of macroinvertebrate. However, because this resource is written in prose, it’s definitely designed to act as a book to be read front-to-back, rather than a field resource or a teaching tool to be quickly consulted. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it distinguishes Guide from some of the other resources to be mentioned in this post.
Flashcards of Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America
My next resource was the Voshell/Wright set of Macroinvertebrate flashcards, a set of flashcards that detail 30 different EPT insects. Each card has a large color illustration with a size key on one side, as well as information about its insect on the other. This information includes the insect's categorical info (phylum, class, order, etc.), as well as what visual features define it, what habitat it lives in, how it moves, and what its presence means in the context of water quality. There a couple of interesting features of these flashcards that set them apart as a useful resource; each card has a size key, indicating the range of possible size that each insect could be. Additionally, indicating not only the insect's visible features, but also its habitat and how it moves, is likely useful when attempting to identify insects in the wild. I do wonder if it'd be useful to have some sort of visual indicator of habitat, however; it's difficult to visualize habitats purely from text at times, and in the context of a training game, it would be good to train players on stimuli as close to the real thing as possible.
Leaf Pack Macroinvertebrate Identification Flashcards
I also looked at a series of macroinvertebrate-focused Leaf Pack flashcards as part of my research. These flashcards are similar in structure to the Voshell flashcards, with color photographs of each macroinvertebrate on the front and descriptions and information on the back. The backs of each cards are less verbose than the Voshell cards, but they also contain annotated black and white top-down illustrations of the insect in question. Key characteristics of each insect are bulleted and outlined. Additionally, the set contains a glossary card that details macroinvertebrate anatomical terminology, as well as a high-level, generic overview of macroinvertebrate anatomy with annotated illustrations. The presence of this glossary card is the most interesting thing about this set when compared to the Voshell flashcards; since the client has indicated that they would like learners to be able to talk about EPT with the appropriate terminology, this seems key. A game should strive to incorporate this (though it does run counter to the idea of a more visually-focused experience).
Since my role on the team is to develop a game, it seemed prudent to look into other efforts to create games around the topic of macroinvertebrates. Macromania! is a game about water quality determination by identifying cards with EPT on them. Each card has a black and white illustration of an insect on one side, and its common name, class, order, family, life stage, and pollution group on the other. Students are tasked with identifying these cards, then understanding whether their presence in certain ecosystems (farm, forest, or city) is indicative of what quality of water. I'm intrigued by the idea of categorizing insects by the ecosystems where they are found; because the game focuses primarily on water quality identification, this makes a lot of sense. It's definitely the most comprehensive teaching aid in terms of covering the entire process of water quality testing; it does seem to lack a little something to make it fun. However, taking players through the entire process (rather than just focusing on the EPT ID) is an interesting idea that might be worth exploring.
Electrocity is an online game in which players have to act as mayor of a virtual city and make meaningful decisions with regard to how the city is powered. Building different kinds of power plants can impact cities' productivity and electricity output, but can also impact the environment. Although it has little to do with macroinvertebrates, and its scope isn’t really possible given the development timeframe of a few months, it provides an interesting perspective on designing an educational game. Electrocity puts students in a position to learn through these very high-level actions; building rapport with these concepts because of their impact on the player's city (something the player cares about!) is an interesting way to make players want to learn. I wonder if something similar couldn't be done for our domain.
Based on my research, I generated a few high-level takeaways as reference points for the design of my game. The first is that some way to introduce players to the terminology used to categorize and define macroinvertebrates is important. Because most trainers (and indeed, anyone else in the community) will likely refer to macroinvertebrates by these terms, it’s important that my game help players use these terms to describe and understand the subject matter.
My second high-level takeaway was that providing a context in which learners must identify macroinvertebrates is important. Although the illustrations present on the Voshell flashcards and in the Izaak Walton guide are great for anatomical identification, it’s important to show that these organisms exist in a real-life context. Telling players that these organisms are usually found in a forested area feeding on leaf detritus, for instance, will help with field identification, as learners who have played the game will be able to narrow down their possibility space to something much smaller than if the macroinvertebrates were taught independent of some local context.
Finally, water quality is a personal issue; my game should make it feel like one. Often times these kinds of tasks can seem too heavily abstracted to feel meaningful (its impact on memory notwithstanding, the Greeble recognition task comes to mind). It seems important that players, when identifying different macroinvertebrates with my game, be able to understand the significance of what they are doing. Tying this work to environmental health is key to making the task feel important and meaningful, and will hopefully encourage understanding of the weight of the real-life identification task as well.
By Jen Liu
In preparation for the website redesign, we are conducting in-depth background research on existing guides and keys for identifying macroinvertebrates. The goal of this research is helping us develop a framework that maps out the design techniques and learning strategies used to scaffold the identification process, and compare those approaches across multiple sources. This framework and inventory of solutions will help us reference and address challenges in the redesign process.
Some of the guides and key we are using for this analysis include:
Our sources were selected to include a diverse range of users from novice identifiers to trained experts. This selection was made to reflect the range of users that we anticipate will be using our website.
In redesigning macroinvertebrates.org, we are focusing on three levels of the current system: the macro, or the architecture of the site, where pages go in relation to each other, and what the general structure and flow of the website is like - whether the site will be structured more like a key or a guide, for example. At the meso-level, our concern is with the interactions on the page – what the layout and structure of each page will be like, what content and how it will be available. At the micro level, we are concerned with the microinteractions, the various cues and feedback mechanisms that the user will encounter interacting with the site.
I’ve been assembling a list of precedents looking at macro and meso level strategies in dealing with content. The Great Animal Orchestra is a great example of a website that seeks to train people to listen and identify various biomes and animal sounds. It encourages the user to put on their headphones, and leads them through a selection of various regions, using circular spatial metaphors to slowly train users to isolate specific sounds. A multiple choice game that asks you questions about what you’ve just heard is an interesting way to evaluate if users are learning.
The British Museum’s website has an interesting way of isolating and highlighting various paths the user can take to view information. While the current site follows a chronological format, the user can isolate specific areas to view chronologies of. The website also uses overlays to give away information in a neat, concise manner.
Codeology is interesting because of the way that the grid structure is laid out, where hovering the mouse over a specific square causes it to animate and rotate. Possibly could be used as a precedent for interactions for the website where hovering over an insect square enlarges and magnifies it.
The Harvard Art Museum website uses a more standard grid interface, but interestingly allow for panning and zooming into the high resolution images on the site.
The Google font gallery uses a detailed sidebar with the ability to use sliders to change variables and update things in realtime. In addition to this, the various modules in the grid also allow for changing around variables and being able to see how the type changes and looks - this is really important as an example of how to manipulate and compare different images without necessarily diving in a level deeper.
By Lauren Allen, Learning Media Design Center @CMU
By Jen Liu
The Diagnostic Charactier (DC) annotation tool we are developing for the Macroinvertebrates.org project builds off of the original Interest Point (IP) annotation tool which was developed for museum curators to create, edit and manage the multimedia content overlays associated with interest points placed at set zoom levels in a high-resolution, multiscalar image (e.g. CMNH/Stories in the Rock, Museum of the White Mountains/Beyond Granite).With funding from the Benedum Foundation, Meadowcroft Rockshelter & Historic Village is currently using the IP Tool to annotate gigapixel exhibit images of their archaeological site in Western Pennsylvania that contains evidence of the earliest human presence in North America for online learning.
To get a better sense of the disciplinary content management, curation and annotation requirements of different subject matters, we conducted a semi-structured task analysis with Andrew Donovan, the Program Coordinator at Meadowcroft via a video call. He is currently using the tool to annotate Gigapan images of the site to be used as an educational tool for teachers to use with students before and after visiting the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter national historic site.
By Lauren Allen
Part of designing a new content management system (CMS) for our online teaching collection is thinking about and understanding how the entomologists who will use the system and who know the insects best already organize their information and online workspaces. In particular, we have looked at two different spreadsheets that our entomology team shared with us to understand how the data are structured, and how they think about the Diagnostic Characters (which are the distinguishing features of the insects being annotated) to identify insects.
Another example of how entomologists organize their thinking around these insects comes from the entomology graduate student who will be creating the majority of the diagnostic character annotations for the expanded collection on www.macroinvertebrates.org. She shared with us a spreadsheet she created based on Merritt, R. W., & Cummins, K. W. (1996). An introduction to the aquatic insects of North America, the dichotomous key used to identify stream insects in a step-by-step fashion.
Two screen shots of that spreadsheet are featured in the gallery below. Notice the sequenced order of captions for each paired set of diagnostic characters. This organization strategy is influencing how we design the content management system that she will use to upload taxa information and annotations to the expanded teaching collection.
The realization that there are many, many repeated diagnostic characters across orders and families was important for how we are designing the content management system. In the past system, for only 12 insects, it wasn't so terrible to have to input each diagnostic character for each individual specimen. But when we are dealing with multiple views of 50+ fully annotated specimens, our entomologists will need to be able to enter the order, family, and genus level diagnostic characters and want to know that they will be automatically updated to all the insects within those orders, families, and genera, while bearing in mind that custom overrides are need for special cases.
We are excited about the the new kinds of digital possibilities this highly structured, hierarchical organization of information, annotated diagnostic characters in sub-sampled areas of the images and the ensuing affordances for brand new visual ways of filtering, comparing and contrasting views of different diagnostic characters within and across different orders and families of insects.
An interdisciplinary team