Time to focus: User Interviews
I spoke to an amateur photographer who loved using film stock, but was frustrated with the long process of development. This got me thinking about methods to make his life easier. As I interviewed more people, some interesting patterns emerged.
I found that users were deeply attached not only to their work, but to the photography process as well. What I had always personally believed to be cumbersome was, for them, mediative. There was a deep satisfaction in the mastery of the craft, and a joy in slowing down busy lives to be present in the moment. A peace in the stillness.
There was a general attitude that found fascination in the story told by their subject matter, whether it was purely aesthetic or more directly related to capturing the complexity of life in a moment in time. (Note: subject gave blessing for this to be posted publicly)
I also found that most were frustrated. It was difficult to find good advice about the craft. Information was scattered over the internet, and when it came to getting answers to specific questions, the search was was often cumbersome.
Lastly, there was a fear of being judged. For many photography was a precious, personal, creative outlet. While they wanted to show their work, they were squeamish about having it criticized harshly.
While there are numerous sites and apps that feature photography and photographers, none exist that are created around their unique artistic and practical needs.
This began as a course project, and I have built it up slowly in my free time over the course of a few months as a personal and professional exercise.
Seek out photographers from different backgrounds and skillsets to identify features which would most benefit their needs and wants in terms of exhibition and artistic growth.
I mean, there's all those little worries and stuff like that of, you know, judgment and everything
…as an artist, when you're taking a still you're trying to tell an entire story in one single image… How is that one photo going to say all the things I needed to say?
I found [troubleshooting] so intimidating. Intimidating
and inaccessible. I couldn't get my head around it.
The frame was taking shape...
As I sifted though the notes on Miro, Affinity mapping patterns seemed to be bearing out the patterns interviewees appeared to be displaying. There were deep emotions tied to the practice:
"I love the process of shooting pictures."
"My photography is important to me."
"I am inspired by other photographers."
"I do not like the development process..."
"I find that getting advice is cumbersome."
"I am worried people will judge me."
"I have unseen work that I would like to share."
Click or tap to enlarge
A new lens...
As I was working on this I became enamored with Clubhouse, an audio-only social app. There was and remains a thriving, highly motivated community of creators speaking candidly about art and NFTs, which allow unique digital property to be minted on crypto blockchains.
I cannot express how valuable this app was for research...it essentially gave me free, 24 hour interview pools. I asked questions, listened to frank conversations, and began to realize the enormity of what crypto and smart contracts could eventually become as we transition to a more remote, digital lifestyle.
There was a general animosity towards Instagram for what they had felt was the theft of their work, and a general lack of respect for their contributions to the platform. From their perspective NFTs give the power back to the artists. I did some exploration on how NFT auctions were held and implanted it into the app as a key service. (I still have more research to do to effectively build it out.) But it had a major influence on my persona development.
The shift towards NFTs brought about serious moral concerns. While I was following the lead of research findings, there are serious, layered questions about the ethics of this technology. This is especially true under current regulatory frameworks, which are murky at best.
The potential externalities at hand include:
Scams,"pump and dump" schemes
Money laundering activity
Foundational ethics of individual currencies
This propelled me into a great deal of research into blockchain. Some concerns are not possible to quantify with available information, such as environmental impact and illicit activity. I did find significant differences between the structural integrity and resiliency of the most ubiquitous cryptocurrency--Bitcoin--and the chains NFTs are created on, such as Ethereum. In the end, I concluded that this is a space with many unanswered questions. Diving in head first into exploiting any new medium, particularly something as intrinsically impactful to humanity as a medium of exchange, requires a leap of faith. For the purposes of this exercise I followed my users' lead. If it was an actual product, the decision would not be so easy.
Click or tap to enlarge
"...an entire story in one single image..."
The affinity mapping and personas inspired a few different concepts. This wouldn't be just a place to blog, but also record annotated commentary. It would not only allow people to speak on their aesthetic, but really tell the story of their work in a human way to an interested audience.
Click or tap to enlarge
Tweaking the balance
An interviewee had mentioned frustration with the development process. While the vast majority did not work with physical film stock this inspired an Uberesque service called "Darkroom." Users with home setups could earn money by developing negatives mailed to them from the network. It became one of the primary menu items. The blockchain icon leading to an NFT marketplace was added to the high fidelity wireframe after additional research.
I also spent quite a bit of time figuring out the overall aesthetic of the app. One major challenge was finding a color scheme that had personality, but did not draw attention from users' work. In addition, it had to balance with a wide array of colors, shapes and styles. I researched colors typically used in museums.
Mistakes were made...
This was the beginning of a "kill your darlings" scenario. The Darkroom service was something that I had hoped would go over well, but most commented that they either had no need for it as they used DSLRs, or that they wouldn't trust negatives to anything but a brick and mortar. In addition, while I had added the NFT functionality in a fairly unfinished state it was, by far, the most popular aspect of the app. This was another reminder to stick to the paths that user research lays before you.
Adjusting the frame
While it will take significantly more work to make a realistic build of an NFT auction and minting process, I researched current UX trends on auction sites like OpenSea in response to user input. I made it one of the primary sorting items as well. In addition I removed the Darkroom function and replaced it with a view of users' profiles similar to Instagram, and adjusted icons and flow to adjust to user confusion during testing. Lastly, I focused much more on the NFT Marketplace.
As I was researching different NFT Marketplaces and listening to new users on Clubhouse, one of the biggest hurdles I noticed was confusion about how crypto wallets worked, and how they synched with online galleries. I decided to have a crypto wallet built directly into the app in order to avoid this, and to make transactions more in line with what people are used to currently.
As this was the most requested feature from user testing, I built out a marketplace to browse NFTs, easily purchase images, and mint. To make each major section distinct, I expanded the site's palate to differentiate utility while maintaining uniformity of shape. The wallet, marketplace and social areas have their own distinct color schemes for menu items and buttons.
I am in the midst of another round of usability testing, so this case study will be updated as I iterate. So far user reactions have been quite positive. There is universal want to see more of how the NFT auctions, purchases and minting functions operate. There is still lots of work to do.
Check out the prototype below.
An app for photographers and photography lovers alike.
Flow 1: You would like to add a text description and audio commentary to an image on your most recently posted exhibit. You've given the image the name "No Exit."
Flow 2: Add $100 worth of Etherium to your wallet via Apple Pay. Go to the NFT Marketplace and find NFTs that are both new and that you can "Buy Now." Purchase "Drone Shot #100."
Thus far, based on initial user tests some patterns are emerging, but I'll hold off on any decisions until I get an appropriate sample size. Early indications are pointing to:
Researching the minting and auction process of NFTs with much more detail.
Create a FAQ for NFTs and their relation to crypto.
Flesh out the Community Forum.
Work on making some of the animations, particularly the recording function, more realistic.