Crested Tit

UXD & Me

This article will hopefully give an insight into my Major Project idea, specifically in regards to User Experience Research & Design. The first section will display some of the background research I’ve carried out until now, the second part will explain some of the possible UX Design solutions to try and solve some of the problems which have come out of my research, and the last portion will focus on some of my proposed research methods moving forward and how I will try to keep the ongoing balance of research and design throughout my project.

Final Major Project Idea

“To create a website to encourage birdwatching outside its traditional demographic. The site will include a common UK bird guide that users in urban areas are likely to observe, along with having information about birdwatching in general, including its various mental and physical health benefits”

UX Research Process

Following the UX Research workshop with Steph, I realised I needed to clearly state my current assumptions and hypothesis on my topic area, both those that are conscious and unconscious in order to gain a better understanding of my research moving forward. I broke these down into five key assumptions:

Assumptions

  • People’s mental health in general has suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Lockdown in particular has highlighted the importance of being able to go outside and enjoy nature
  • Birdwatching has a positive effect on your mental and physical health
  • The stereotype around birdwatching being for a certain demographic, i.e. older white men, has deterred many who do not fall into this demographic away from enjoying birds and birding
  • Younger people are less inclined to read physical books and are therefore more likely to prefer a digital guide to birds – as opposed to a physical book

From these assumptions, I made the following hypothesis to be a key part of my preliminary research.

Hypothesis:

“If people in the U.K, especially those who fall outside the social demographic of older white men, had an easy-to-access guide explaining the benefits of birdwatching, how to identify common birds they are likely to see, and perhaps most importantly feel more connected to birding, they would be much more inclined to do so.

This would in-turn benefit their mental and physical health, as well as being a free, enjoyable activity that can be done almost anywhere, individually or within a community.

Importantly, as my target demographic is predominantly younger audiences (30 years & under), they would be not only comfortable but more than likely to prefer using a digital version to access this information – with a website being the most easily accessible option for a variety of devices”

UX Background Research

From this hypothesis, I undertook some preliminary background research online, with my research objective being to discover whether or not I could find any data to support and/or challenge my assumptions and hypothesis. I searched through online articles, both academic and non-academic to see how the information I found correlated to my original assumptions. I deliberately kept my searches as neutral as possible, e.g. ‘covid/ lockdown mental health’, ‘birdwatching mental health’, etc, to get largely unbiased and objective view on these topics.

Existing Evidence

There is an abundance of academic and media articles on some of my assumptions, for example on how COVID-19 has affected people’s mental health both in and outside the U.K. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these articles – such as this – heavily support my assumption that COVID-19 has negatively impacted young people’s mental health.

As well as this, articles such as this highlight the vast number of benefits to birdwatching – particularly for your mental and physical health.

During a search of ‘birdwatching young people’, I found several articles – such as this – which display how young people are becoming much more interested in birdwatching – now largely due to lockdown and the pandemic. This is very encouraging for my proposed project idea. One article explained that the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’, the largest annual wildlife survey in the world, had twice as many logged sightings in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Perhaps more crucially, three times as many 18 to 29-year-olds and more than twice as many 30 to 34-year-olds participated that same year (see Vice’s article with FlockTogether). These figures from a highly reputable source are very encouraging and help validate some of my early assumptions that lockdown has significantly increased the likelihood that people – younger people in particular – are becoming more interested in birds and birding.

This research was useful to help solidify some of my first few early assumptions. However, some of my other assumptions I have made, i.e. people’s views and opinions of birdwatching, are much more attitudinal in nature and are therefore more difficult to accurately measure from online research alone. These assumptions will need to be further validated with appropriate methodologies which will be mentioned in a later on, though this early research felt like a good starting point to begin thinking about developing an appropriate design.

What else is out there?


During my research, I looked into other websites to see if any preexisting websites solved my problem stated in hypothesis, if to any extent. From that, I found two websites that would be the most similar to my proposed project – the first being the RSPB website, and the second being FlockTogether’s website. The RSPB site offers an unrivalled amount of information on UK birds and is a truly excellent resource to identify birds. However, it can be quite overwhelming for those just looking to get into birdwatching and carries many connotations of the traditional stigma around birdwatching as whole.

Another site that fits into the same niche as my proposed project idea is FlockTogether’s site, which is an organisation set up in lockdown to create a safe space for people of colour (POC) to enjoy birdwatching and get more POC involved in nature.

By creating an organisation specifically set up to make birdwatching more accessible for POC, FlockTogether addresses this issue of stigma amazingly well and has gained massively in popularity. With that said, their website itself has relatively little content and is much more focused on meet-ups and being a collective rather than being a bird guide/ offering information on birdwatching itself.

As it was set up by and for POC, FlockTogether is predominantly focused on making birdwatching and enjoying nature more inclusive for POC specifically. Whilst this does overlap with my site’s aim, my site will be more focused on making it more appealing for anyone who does not fall under the typical ‘older white male’ demographic more generally.

User Personas

From my hypothesis and preliminary research, I was then able to more clearly identify my target audience. This would be those who do not fit into the typical ‘old white man’ demographic, i.e. people in the UK largely aged around 30-and-under, all genders (with an emphasis on making it more inclusive for women and other gender minorities), and all races & ethnicities (with an emphasis on making it more inclusive for those who are non-white/ people of colour). My target audience, being younger people in the UK, are also those comfortable using technology such as smartphones to access websites.

I then began creating some user personas which included profiles, stories and scenarios along with common ‘pain points’ of these scenarios. This helped identify some of the key problems in this area, which gave me more chance of creating an appropriate solution to these issues.

Design Process

Following these user personas, I then began looking into how I might solve some of the problems which were found in the user personas pain points, as well as how I can create a better user experience compared to some other existing similar websites mentioned before.

These pain points can be largely summarised in the following statements:

  • Users find similar websites corporate, dated or irrelevant
  • Users find searching for a bird time-consuming, confusing, or overwhelming
  • Users feel disconnected to birdwatching/ feel embarrassed and would not know where to begin
  • Users are not aware of the mental and physical health benefits of birdwatching

From these statements, I was then able to make some proposed design solutions to these issues. My site would need to be attractive to younger audiences, trendy and only contain relevant information to get users started with birdwatching. Examples of this could be including modern-looking illustrations of the birds, rather than images or scientific drawings. I believe this would make this more inviting to those brand new to birdwatching and give it less academic connotations and a more welcoming feel. With that said, this would be more time-consuming and difficult to create illustrations that have enough likeness to the bird to be identifiable, whist being creative and artistic. Nevertheless, I think this would be a nice feature to add to the site to improve the user experience.

In terms of content, I would reduce the 400+ birds on the RSPB site to around 40 birds that are commonly found in gardens, parks, and woodlands in the UK. As the vast majority of beginner birdwatchers will not encounter the majority of these 400+ birds very often, having a simplified UI and cleaner-looking content would make the site more visually appealing as well as looking less daunting to beginners.

The information architecture of the site could be organised so that birds can be separated into sections according to their environment e.g. woodlands or ponds. This way users can see other similar birds they might see in the same area which can help identification. Also, having size comparisons between very common birds e.g. pigeons/ sparrows/ crows would help people who find it difficult to visualise size in grams and centimetres, which most sites use.

Other Design Considerations

In regards to accessibility, having clear concise descriptions of each bird would help those who are audibly or visually impaired, such as people with colour vision deficiency. Also having audio of each bird’s call would also be a feature which could help those with any visual impairments to identify a bird.

SEO would be a major priority because if a user searches ‘small brown bird’, my site would need well considered SEO to should show Sparrows, Dunnocks, and other common small brown birds. This would go back to having clear concise definitions of each bird in order to improve the SEO of my site.

Mobile responsiveness will also be a major concern, as many users will likely be outside when using the site. Illustrations, text, and the rest of the UI will need to be developed with a mobile-first approach. This way I can keep a consistent positive user experience on a variety of devices.

UX Research going forward

From all of this background reserach, I will begin creating some simple wireframes using pen and paper to get an idea of how my site could be structured. Once I am happy with a basic wireframe, I will then collate all of my UX research until now to create a digital wireframe using a tool like Whimsical. Along with this, I will create some mood boards, colour schemes, font stacks, illustration inspiration, and other components of the site to get a clearer vision of what the prototype will look like.

I will then begin creating a simplified prototype using a tool like Adobe XD or Figma, whilst beginning to work on my illustrations to get a more realistic idea of how long it will take so I can adjust my content if necessary. Once I have a working prototype, I will then like to do some usability testing to find out any key issues users have with my site. I currently aim to have around five usability tests once I have a working prototype, as Chris mentioned in his workshop this is a good benchmark as around 85% of issues are usually found within five tests.

During this process, I would like to conduct some user interviews to get a better understanding of younger people’s attitudes towards birdwatching and the stigma and/or sterotype that it carries, as well as gaining an idea of what potential users could get more out of my site. Areas such as the Walthamstow Wetlands would be great to find people who are likely to be somewhat interested in birds or have the potential to become interested. Asking students at Greenwich would be another useful way of interviewing potential users, as Greenwich park is an ideal place for users to test my site and get involved in birding.

Time-permitting, I would also like to create a Facebook account (including Facebook surveys account – which looks like a very useful tool), Twitter, TikTok and Instagram account for the early stages of my site. There seems to be various communities to reach out to on these platforms that would be an excellent way of marketing the early ideas of my website, as well as gaining a better insight to my target audience’s wants and needs.

Last thoughts

To summarise, the research I have done until now has given me a much better understanding of the problem my site will try to solve, as well as giving me a clearer idea of who I am solving this for and why. Whilst I still have a lot to do in terms of both the research and design of things, the main takeaway I have found from my UX research and design journey as of now is that UX is an ongoing process that will continue indefinitely.

I realise much more clearly now that my proposed design solutions will not be the be-all and end-all of solutions – and that only by actually taking my site to users and discovering issues throughout the development process will I be able to truly create a well-rounded user experience for my website. I will therefore continue to refine my research and proposed solutions little-by-little, using the techniques I have learned from Steph and Chris’ sessions throughout to continually hone in on both research and design to try to improve the user experience of my website overall.

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