Since my first rapid ideation project was research focused, I decided that for my second RI I’d like to focus more heavily on UI design and use it as an opportunity to learn how to use Adobe XD. I decided on XD over Figma as I enjoy using Adobe illustrator & photoshop to create custom elements and illustrations. For this to happen in such tight time constraints, I decided that I would settle quickly on a concept, and treat it as a creative, conceptual project to combine my visual design skills with mobile-first design, user journey mapping and wireframing.
The idea was sparked by a personal experience. During the pandemic, my dad started sending me soundclips of birdsong in his garden. I live on the other side of the world and was unable to travel, so these familiar nature sounds brought comfort and connection.
I started to think about how it must feel to be stuck indoors in a city at this time, and began my research into how sounds from nature impact on human wellbeing. I discovered that I was not alone in my curiosity on this topic, that the BBC & University of Exeter were conducting a large-scale research project on how virtual nature experiences, including sound, can boost wellbeing, and even feed into therapeutic modalities.
The ‘Virtual Nature Project’ based at The University of Exeter has been gathering data on how virtual natural environments can boost wellbeing and how best to bring the benefits of nature to people who can’t get outside. “Our research is focusing on several overlooked elements of digital nature experiences; probing the importance of sound, memories, and music. Our outcomes will feed into therapeutic interventions aimed at those who cannot access ‘real’ natural environments.” – (Virtual Nature. 2021)
Their most recent research in collaboration with the BBC gathered a data set of over 8,000 people, these are extensive studies still in the data analysis phase (so unfortunately I didn’t have their statistics to help inform my project as yet). Yet the breadth of interest and funding in this project lays a foundation for me to speculate that digital nature experiences could be used as therapeutic solutions in the next few years. Since investments in the mental health space have quadrupled since 2015 and have steadily increased over the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Investing News. 2021), apps which focus on wellbeing practices are only going to get more popular and diverse.
Fig 1 – Virtual Nature. 2021
Though I observed in the BBC study that people in the 40 + age bracket were more interested in exploring soundscapes for wellbeing, I also observed that social app use is the highest among young adults, decreasing steadily within the older age groups. According to a 2020 Ofcom study, in the UK 16-24 year olds are the highest users of social media, closely followed by 25-34 year olds. (Statista. 2020) Therefore I decided that my persona should be a woman in the 25-34 age range who is living in the city, yet seeking more connection with nature.
As LSN global tracked in their insight ‘Nature Repackaged’ focusing on the young adult market, brands are tapping into new formats and channels to deliver the sensory qualities of the outdoors – from scent to sound. Considering we spend so much time inside, there is an opportunity to find novel ways to reconnect with nature. ‘Bringing nature into the home is one way to hack our senses, through scents, but also through plants, nature soundscapes and even the idea of digital nature,’ says Charles Spence, a world expert in multi-sensory perception. (Hawkins & Houghton. 2021)
Since I had limited time for this rapid ideation, my research had to grind to a halt. I felt a sense of frustration here as I know that I have just scratched the surface of the interesting topic of sensory nature experiences for wellbeing, it’s something I’m bookmarking to study further. I would also have liked to interview a group of people to design the features around my chosen demographic’s behaviors. However for this quick project, I interviewed a friend who fit my age demographic and intended profile, and used my findings to create a user profile based on her lifestyle and goals.
The design process
Since it was my first time using XD for a mobile app, I wanted to play around with the software before I applied it to my project. A peer from the masters course kindly shared a Behance & Adobe creative challenge in our Discord group, which was an excellent tool to get started. I spent 2 half-days almost completing the 10-day challenge through video tutorials, and found that Adobe XD was similar to Figma and Illustrator so I took to it relatively quickly.
The next stage was UI research, which took me to some of my most-used apps. I analysed the interfaces of several music & radio platforms, noticing how the designs pack a lot of information and functionality into a small space by using horizontal scroll, clever hierarchy and modular elements which repeat over several pages. My screen research for music apps can be found here and used for your own reference.
Then I used crazy-8s (which I see as the perfect fast ideation method) to sketch out wireframe ideas for the app, and sketched out user journey maps by hand. I found this paper prototyping method valuable as it allowed me to sketch several iterations at a fast pace, without getting attached to my ideas. As Nielsen says – this ‘primitive’ style of prototyping offers immense value at the beginning stages of a project, as quick changes are best made early. (Nielsen. 2003) It allowed me to identify the components & icons that I needed to design for each page, so I started with this, however as I developed the screens and concept, other icons & elements were added along the way.
I knew that I could spend the entire RI task solely creating a visual identity. Therefore as I started the process, I gave myself some time constraints. I gave myself 30 mins to gather imagery to create a mood-board, using Pinterest and some album covers I had saved on my phone. I used the Gene Harris album cover to spark the ideas for the visual elements of the brand, using one visual reference as a guide meant that I saved time on decision making and gave myself some creative restraints regarding illustrated elements. Then I gave myself the rest of the afternoon to create a loose visual identity. I built my colour from 2 images in my initial moodboard, with the view to tweak the shades as I went along and observed accessibility guides.
Moodboard & UI guide
The post-project reflection
If I look back on the SMART goals I set in week 5, I’m happy to say that I have completed one of them, which was to take a short course to improve my proficiency in a UI design tool. I named Figma in my goals as I had been using it previously, however I switched to XD so I can make the most of Adobe Creative suite. I also recognise I have made an improvement in the interpersonal domain on my course as I presented my work in our group seminar, though with the short time-frame we were not able to get much feedback. I’m hoping that further along the course we’ll engage in small group crits so that we can make the more of peer-to-peer learning and receive more specific, challenging feedback. I was also conscious of the short time-frame, so I didn’t present the context of the project in as much depth as I would have liked. Next time I will plan my presentation with a time restriction and practice beforehand to make sure I get all the info I’d like to across within the timeframe.
On one hand I’m happy with the result of my RI as it certainly pushed me to improve on my high-fidelity prototyping skills, and I have ended up with a visually pleasing prototype which will act as a transitional piece in my portfolio, crossing the bridge between branding & illustration & UX / UI. However on the other hand I’m unsatisfied with the project as a whole because I can now see so many gaps in my concept, and I know that there’s so much to be explored in the field of sensory wellbeing. This dissatisfaction does show me that I’m on the right course, as I’m reminded that I want to make human – centred products which solve real-world issues. I’m continually seeking the balance between this and retaining beauty and playfulness in my design work.
In light of what I learnt in week 5 regarding reflective practice, that questioning and challenging my own work will help me to become a better designer, I wrote some post-project questions which I aim to answer next week, they can be found here.
Here’s a link to the finished prototype portfolio page.
NIELSEN, Jakob. 2003. ‘Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code’. Nielsen Norman Group [online]. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/paper-prototyping. [accessed 30th July 2021].
HAWKINS, Alix & HOUGHTON, Livvy. 2021. ‘Synchronised Care’. LSN Global [online]. Available at: https://www-lsnglobal-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/macro-trends/article/26947/synchronised-care. [Accessed 24th July 2021].
SMALLEY, Alex. 2021. ‘8,700 Research Participants’. Virtual Nature [online] . Available at: https://virtual-nature.com/blog/music-data. [Accessed 24th July 2021].
Investing News. 2021. ‘Follow The Money: Investments in Mental Health’. Investing News [online]. Available at: https://investingnews.com/innspired/investments-in-mental-health. [accessed 30th July 2021].
Fig 1. ‘8,700 Research Participants’. Virtual Nature [online] . Available at: https://virtual-nature.com/blog/music-data. [Accessed 24th July 2021].
Fig 2: Persona profile. Including photo of Sophie (with permission). By author. Created August 2021
Fig 3: Design elements. By author. Created August 2021.
Mood board image sources: (from top left clockwise) 1. Neuralink Branding. 2021, Available at : play.studio/neuralink. • 2. Birds & Wildlife in Cumbria Natural History Report. 1985, Available at: cumbriabirdclub.org.uk • 3. Adapt Climate Club. 2020, Available at: instagram.com/adapt_____ • 4. The Art of Meditation Poster, artist unknown, via Pinterest (if anyone knows the artist let me know) • 5. Gene Harris, Astral Signal, 1974 • 6. Co–Star, 2020, Available at: apps.apple.com/us/story/id1458814851)
Fig 4: Illustration. By author. Created August 2021
Fig 5: Featured image of screens. By author. Created August 2021