Reimagining in-store mobile devices to be context-oriented instead of task-centric to make store associates’ lives easier.
In efforts to simplify associates’ jobs and make in-store processes more efficient, The Home Depot (THD) has invested in a batch of 30,000 custom mobile devices called First Phones for associates to use in their day-to-day tasks (such as inventory management, tasking, and in-store communication). In the next year, THD plans to roll out a new batch of updated First Phones. As the world’s largest home improvement retailer with 2,286 stores and over 400,000 associates, ensuring the effectiveness of the tools that they deploy— and designing them with the user in mind— is absolutely imperative.
(Note: This project was completed for a class project with THD as an industry partner and is in no way related to the work from my internship.)
Our team was tasked with solving the problem of ‘Too Many Apps’: the First Phone currently has 37 apps on it, which is difficult for THD Corporate to maintain, and makes finding relevant apps difficult for associates, especially new associates.
I led the design and analysis of a survey, conducted observations and contextual inquiries, created wireframes of our initial concepts in Balsamiq, created storyboards to illustrate our concepts to associates, and conducted in-store design feedback sessions with THD associates, which included a card sort. I also created the moderated user-testing protocol, created the prototypes for testing in Adobe XD, and conducted 3 user-testing sessions.
What I gained:
Through this project, I experienced the all-too-familiar, UX-researcher dilemma: not having ready access to real users. We had to get creative, be efficient, and stay persistent while conducting our research to make sure that we got the right amount of information at the right time, so we could move forward with our design.
User Researcher & UX Designer
August 2018 - December 2018
Hank Duhaime, Zhong Hu, Siyan Zhou, Me
From our interviews with stakeholders and desktop research of THD associate job postings, similar products to the First Phone, and previous iterations of the First Phone, we were able to better understand the structure of the teams within stores, the jargon, and the common tasks that associates typically perform in their day-to-day work. At the end of this phase of our research, we had determined that Customer Service & Sales Associates are our primary users, and we mapped out some preliminary research objectives:
Preliminary research objectives:
How do associates currently use the First Phone to perform tasks?
How does First Phone use vary among associates?
What are associates’ current pain points?
Understand context of First Phone use
Identify potential problem spaces
Allows for flexibility to learn about a range of scenarios; which was helpful at the beginning of our process since we hadn’t yet defined our specific problem statement.
7 participants (all Customer Service & Sales associates, from a variety of departments)
Conducted observations as a team, in pairs
Took notes on phone by typing and voice memo
Analysis & Findings
To summarize our findings from these observations, we came together as a team, presented our individual notes, and combined them into two hierarchical task analyses: one for locating a product, and one for finding information on an out-of-stock product. The task analysis for locating a product is displayed below.
Understand why associates prefer to use their personal phones over the First Phone (and in which situations)
Understand how much access Customer Service Associates have to the First Phone (compared to their managers)
Allows us to ask what associates think and feel as they’re going through task flows on the First Phone; (especially helpful understanding task flows on the First Phone that were not customer-facing)
Allowed us to probe at associates’ unconscious actions or behaviors while using the First Phone
varying levels of experience (ranging from new-hire to 10+ years)
Asked participants to complete a task that they use the First Phone most often for
Obtained clearance from store manager on duty
Analysis & Findings
To analyze our findings, we used affinity mapping to quickly sift through qualitative findings. One team member was assigned to reading our notes aloud, and another was assigned to writing them down on a sticky note. We then grouped related notes and came up with 4 high-level insights:
The UI and app organization on the First Phone does not afford quick access to information that is pertinent to their main job— helping customers.
Switching between apps in the First Phone (which is often necessary, given the point above) is time-consuming and takes time away from the associate that could be spent with the customer.
There are usually only a few First Phones per department, and Customer Service Associates typically have to borrow the First Phone from Department Heads.
Managerial associates (such as Department Heads) have more frequently used apps on the First Phone than Customer Service associates.
Understand who current First Phone users are and how often they use First Phones
Understand why they don’t use them more frequently
Understand what factors affect how often they use them
Allows us to quickly gather data from users who might work outside of our geographic area and our windows of availability
71 responses in one week, 36 of which were from our primary users
distributed (via r/TheHomeDepot) in parallel to conducting contextual interviews
created using Qualtrics, analyzed using Qualtrics & SPSS
variables we hypothesized might be associated with how often associates use the First Phone, and sought to measure using this survey:
How much experience the associate has working at THD
The associate’s perceived level of proficiency when using the First Phone
How long it took the associate to learn how to use the First Phone
The associate’s perceived value of the First Phone to THD as a whole
The associates perceived relevance of the First Phone to their particular job
Analysis & Findings
I took on analyzing the survey data. After running linear regression analyses on our data, I found 2 significant predictors of First Phone use, even after controlling for other related variables such as experience at Home Depot and perceived expertise at using the First Phone:
Refined problem statement, after considering research findings:
How might we consolidate First Phone functionalities so that it allows Customer Service & Sales associates to transition between customer-facing and non-customer-facing tasks in seconds?
Goal: divergence; creating multiple solutions to the same problem
Approach: create one single ‘point-of-entry’
Scan-to-Start: entry to task flows through scanning barcodes
Speak-to-Start: entry to task flows through speech input
Task-to-Start: entry to task flows through task list
I illustrated and annotated these storyboards so we could present these concepts to users for feedback.
We then conducted brief feedback sessions with store associates to identify strengths and weaknesses of each of these concepts. Overall, our findings were:
Scanning barcodes is the most familiar method to associates.
Although speech recognition allows for hands-free operation, it also presents significant accessibility issues and may not be a good fit for the noisy, store context.
Beginning with a task list represents to associates additional responsibility and accountability, on top of their already-extensive list.
Goal: convergence; distill multiple solutions into one
Approach: combine strengths from each concept, based on feedback from users
Search by scanning barcode
I created these wireframes using Balsamiq so we could present these concepts to users for feedback.
We then presented this set of wireframes to associates for another round of feedback.
The main finding from this round of feedback was that task claiming was the real pain point for associates, not reporting task completion.
We also conducted a card sort using Trello to understand how associates conceptualize product information, so we can better reflect this in the product detail screens.
Goal: increase fidelity for fine-tuning feedback
Approach: create a ‘First Phone Lite’ (a distilled version of the current First Phone, catered specifically toward Customer Service & Sales associates’ needs)
Solution features: detailed below
I created these mockups using Adobe XD for our evaluative research.
We found in our research that our users' task flows typically start with a specific product or a specific bay. To reflect this in our design, we used scanning (product barcodes or bay barcodes) as the starting point for all relevant information and tasks.
(Note: the barcode scanner is an external attachment to the First Phone, so we simulated this ‘scanning’ by creating a hotspot on the prototype.)
Consolidated Product Information
Another pain point we uncovered in our research was that our users were having to switch between devices in order to find relevant information to help customers: some pieces of information were only located within the consumer app, and some information could only be found in specific First Phone applications. Hunting for this information often took several minutes at a time.
Therefore, with the First Phone Lite, instead of hunting down these individual pieces of information (such as all of the various locations of one specific product) users can find all of the locations in store one quick glance.
Similarly, with the existing First Phone, users had to hunt down the various pieces of information in various apps. In response to this pain point, we consolidated all of relevant bay information for our users into one place, with filtering options for searching through products located within the bay.
Task Claiming Through Messaging
Currently, tasks are most often communicated through word of mouth. However, it's often unclear whether or not certain tasks have been claimed. To address this pain point, we integrated tasking with messaging.
From a specific task-related message, users can add tasks to their personal notepad, and the other members within the group message will be notified.
The notepad allows users to jot down notes, long SKU numbers, and keep track of the tasks that they have claimed, as well as mark these tasks as completed.
To evaluate our design, we decided to conduct two different tests: a user evaluation, to ensure that we were adequately addressing our users’ needs, and an expert evaluation, to ensure that we were addressing their needs well.
MODERATED USER TESTING
Understand whether our design adequately addresses user needs, from the user’s perspective.
Allows for most imperative tasks to be tested individually, and gives us a chance to ask users followup questions
5 participants: all current THD employees who have used the current First Phone in-store
Find alternate locations for a product that is out-of-stock in its home location.
Confirm that a specific product is located within a bay, and identify when the last quality walk was performed on the bay.
Claim a specific task through a message, and mark the task as complete.
During the actual testing sessions, we framed these tasks as customer queries. For example, for task 1, we asked users to imagine that we were customers and we were asking them, “I’m looking for more of this specific product [holds up product with scannable barcode] Can you help me figure out where I can find more of them?”
We also interviewed users after all the tasks were complete to dig a bit deeper into their interactions and feedback about specific features, and administered the System Usability Scale (SUS) questionnaire.
Quickly identify general usability problems, from an expert’s perspective.
Having worked very closely on this project for several months, an outsider’s perspective allowed us to identify issues that weren’t as apparent to us.
3 experts in the First Phone and THD (2 Senior UX Designers, 1 Project Manager)
Instructed experts to explore the prototype for a few minutes and then fill out a chart indicating the severity of each heuristic violation
To analyze the data, we sat down as a team with a whiteboard, churned through the quantitative and qualitative data, and distilled it down to several high-level insights. Below were the 5 most pertinent issues that we found:
Issue 1: Insufficient Contextual Information (Task Claiming)
Associates explained during our feedback sessions that they decide whether or not they’re going to claim a task based on contextual factors of the task, such as its location, priority, and estimated duration. Without these pieces of information, this task claiming feature could make associates more hesitant to claim tasks and require additional clarification communication, which may lead to confusion.
Make pertinent details about the task (such as location, priority, and estimated duration) immediately visible to users when claiming a task.
Issue 2: List-View Unfit for Large Inventories
We designed the bay view to allow users to see all of the products in a list view. However, we learned from both our users and experts that some bays (such as the ones that house screws and washers) can include hundreds of products. Thus, scrolling through a list of products may not be the most effective way of locating a product in a bay.
Power up the search functionality by including a means to search by product attribute or classification. (Similar to when you’re looking up the PLU # in a self-checkout at the grocery store.)
Issue 3: Unclear Iconography
We found during our user evaluations that when we asked users to claim a task from a message, the iconography for buttons was not clear to users. For example, the ‘+’ icon did not effectively communicate that it allowed them to claim the task, and the arrow did not communicate that it allowed users to ‘send’ the claim.
Change the ‘+’ icon to a hand-raising icon, or simply replace it with the text of ‘Claim Task.’
Issue 4: Limited Error Recovery
The most pertinent issue we uncovered through the heuristic evaluation was error recovery. More specifically, our experts raised concerns about how users might ‘undo’ submitting an unfinished note about a bay, sending a message, or accidentally claiming a task.
Add a confirmation message before submitting a note
Include an option to delete or edit a sent message (with revision history)
Create a functionality that allows users to release a previously claimed task
Issue 5: Accessibility Concerns
Last but not least, we also uncovered a few potential accessibility issues. The two most pressing issues were about the contrast of the grey against the white background and the size of touch targets.
Darken the shade of grey
Increase the size of small touch targets
If had a do-over though, I think the main thing that I would do differently would be to use the Material Design guidelines when creating our prototype, especially considering our timeframe. Our highest-fidelity prototype drew from several different sources of inspiration, and this resulted in a somewhat fragmented user experience. While we didn’t have access to THD’s style guide, piggybacking off of another existing one may have saved us time and communicated functionality through our design a bit more clearly.
Moreover, I think it would have been helpful to have an additional level of fidelity between Balsamiq and Adobe XD. I think that if we had done so, we might have realized (before we invested time in creating our final, highest-fidelity prototype) that having a cohesive style guide would do us, and our users, some good.
Overall, however, my main takeaways from this project were the experiences of applying such a wide range of research methods, and an awareness about the amount of planning necessary to stitch these different research methods together in a compelling way. In order to do so, we developed research plans that were the most detailed and thorough that I have ever worked with, and I think this resulted in a smoother data collection process and more robust findings.