In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Redfin Solutions team has shifted to working remotely. Because of the nature of the pandemic, some of our clients have tight deadlines in order to get information out to people as quickly as possible. A recent client with a special need for a quick turnaround is the Rural Aspirations Project, a non-profit in Maine committed to connecting parents and educators with resources, support, and networking opportunities provided by trusted local organizations. When the schools closed, parents and educators’ need for help grew exponentially.
Rural Aspirations came to us with the idea for Community Learning for ME. The goal of this project was to create a tool for educators and families to find reliable resources specific to their needs. We knew that for this to be successful it was crucial to keep our focus on the user. At the same time, we had to finish the project within two weeks, including design and implementation, all while adjusting to the new normal of remote work.
User personas + User journeys
Our first step was to get acquainted with the user audiences. Luckily, those at Rural Aspirations are very connected with who their users are, as they work with them personally. In their documentation for the site, they had already included a mix of what we refer to as user personas and user journeys. These outline rough groups of people who will use the website, and the situation they might be in at that moment.
One of our user personas was Caitlin, a mom of two kids, one in second grade and one in eighth. Her partner is an essential service worker and she has a job where she has to be in meetings during the day. She is overwhelmed by work and childcare but wants to help her kids more.
Each persona allows the Redfin team to understand a little bit more about one type of person that might be using the site including basic information, the challenges they face, and their goals. We also wanted to understand how they might be using the site – the user journey. For instance, when Caitlin uses this site she wants to get to content for her kids quickly (she may be minutes away from an important meeting) and not have to spend time figuring out if it’s safe and quality content. She would also benefit from discovering that there are resources to help her, in case she wanted to come back when she has some time.
Once we started wireframing (the first step in the design process where we map out different pages the website will need), we decided we needed to look at the user flow. The main difference between a user journey and a user flow is that the user flow takes a closer look at how the user interacts with the product once they are on the website. We looked at the main entry points of the website: the homepage and an individual resource, taking into account the possibility of these resources being shared on social media. The challenge was to orient the user, and then create a balance of quick access and discovery. We provided several paths from the homepage to the end goal of finding a resource, and included those filterable resource landing pages as the primary links in the global navigation. From an individual resource, we provided a link back to the filter landing page in order to create a loop from the filtered page to the different resources until the user found the right one for them.
Wireframes, annotated designs, and building in Drupal
One of the user personas that Redfin Solutions always anticipates is a content editor, so we kept the user experience in mind even while building the administrator side of the website. We used Drupal to create a content editor experience focused on clarity and ease-of-use, as well as automation, so that Rural Aspirations could focus less on updating the website and more on their jobs. We also gave contributing organizations the ability to add and update their own resources, making use of Drupal’s user permissions to limit them as needed.
One aspect of this project that made it successful was having key members of the team included in every step. We started meeting with our clients with a lead developer, a designer, and a project manager. Later in the building process we would involve others, but having both a design and technical architect from the beginning and throughout the entire project was crucial. It ensured we didn't waste time designing features that couldn’t be built in time, and that features were prioritized and adjusted based on the users’ needs.
The Redfin team was also able to test out some of our design processes and add new ones to make the most of remote collaboration. We used Invision to annotate and share designs, and we tried out Invision’s live whiteboard tool Freehand for the first time to create and share wireframes. Since we’re used to working together on a whiteboard at the office, this helped us to avoid designing in isolation and get quick feedback from each other.
Rural Aspirations’ main concern is helping people through this stressful and overwhelming time. As we worked on this project we realized the logic of sorting through these resources would be complex, but that it’s success would depend on making it all look simple, thus removing any extra stress from the user. With more time to spend on this project our next step would be to test the success of this tool with google analytics and live user testing, but for now we have created calls for feedback throughout the site. In times of crisis it is particularly important to focus on users first and building sites that relieve burdens.