In 2013, as a junior-year psychology major, I was invited by three design-major friends to team up and head for the 5th UXD Award (overseen by UXPA China). Our project, the "I am here" app, was finally made to the semifinals (45 out of 280). It was the first time I collaborated with designers, and the first time to work on a mobile product. This is a story about how I started to "research for design"... 


Team Members: Danyang Liu, Fengjiao Cai, Yaomiao Dong

Duration: June 2013 - Oct 2013, 16 weeks

Research Methodology: Interviews, Competitive Analysis, Survey, User Empathy Mapping


Research Procedure

In the era of Internet, people in China found themselves crowded with all kinds of information on SNS and other online communities, too overwhelmed to pick out facts from fictions. In response to the call of the slogan "keep in touch by UX", we set our scope as "to design a platform for user generated content to support quick submission and convenient consumption of news, a mobile app that distinguishes timely, informative facts from other kinds of feeds on SNS".

Our exploration started with a series of interviews with various types of news readers, i.e., people that differ by frequency of checking news, time spent on news reading everyday and favorite access to news. We conducted competitive analysis on the news products mentioned by our participants, so as to compare how various needs of different users could be met by multiple news media. The most compelling discovery was that the factor of age could profoundly influence people's preference of searching for news/digesting information/managing news resource. Hence, we conducted a survey among people from age groups of 20+, 30+ and 40+ to verify our discovery within a larger sample group. 


Results & Analysis

Generally speaking, news readers across age groups all expressed acknowledgement of the advantages of online news: it would be updated timely and it would be easy to follow up. They all paid attention to the hot news. On the other hand, news readers also shared the same concerns on online news: the lack of structured organization and categorization made online news confusing and hard to filter. The difference between age groups was that those who aged from 30 to 39 did not take SNS as a "news resource", even though they were active online, while people aged from 20 to 29 took SNS as the main source of news. It was kind of out of our expectation that the eldest age group was actively involved in SNS and took user generated content as a news resource, although they read edited news (i.e. from TV or professional news website) too. 

Why would people at their 30+ not take user generated content as a news resource? Compared with the eldest age group of our survey, these people were too busy to browse SNS for news. Meanwhile, unlike the youngest age group, they kept the habit of following official information, so there was no need for them to rely on SNS to catch up with the latest news. Hence, news readers at their 30+ were not refusing the convenience and timeliness of user generated news on SNS. They would welcome a better-organized platform, one that could help them to catch key points with a glance. 


News readers also demonstrated their hope that news could be more related to their own life. It is a psychological principle that people care about what is relevant to themselves, and participants of our survey did show their interest in getting involved in news submission. However, not everyone would get the chance to witness an event himself/herself, especially for the busiest age group - people at their thirties. Also, there would be no guarantee for authenticity of the submitted information. 


Based on the results and analysis of our user study, we came up with the core features for our app as below: 

  • Real-time evidence: to submit news, a user has to take a photo/a short video on site and upload it immediately. The submitter can come back to edit description for the evidence later, but the evidence itself cannot be re-edited or deleted by users. This is to guarantee the authenticity of user generated news. 
  • Information regulation: to control the quality and amount of information, there would be no function for textual comments. Users can either follow up by submitting more onsite evidence to the timeline of an event, or report existing evidence as "useful" or "inappropriate" to help with information filtering. 
  • Events nearby: the system would rank news by popularity or amount of evidence and inform users with most valuable events happening around. This would make hot news quickly caught by readers. Also, such news can help readers to keep in touch with events relevant to their life. 

It was a pity that our project end up at semi-final and we did not get the chance to further implement our design. However, I was impressed by how research and design could influence each other - my enthusiasm for user experience was then ignited. This was why I decided to apply for the master program in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University...