During the first months of my one-year internship at the IBM Center for Advanced Studies in Amsterdam, I researched and designed the look and feel of their new crowdsourcing platform, called ECrowd.


IBM Design Thinking

With the ECrowd platform, users can set-up their own crowdsourcing application and generate an application for mobile phones out of this. Unfortunately, setting-up a new app was a very technical and complex process. ECrowd users were not able to get started on their own. I used IBM Design Thinking to design ECrowd and improve its usability.

How can the interface and user assistance of ECrowd be designed in such a way that users can manage their own application independently?
The IBM Design Thinking Loop The IBM Design Thinking Loop

The process

Designing ECrowd was part of my graduation project and included the writing of a thesis. To know how the interface and user assistance could be designed, I started with identifying the stakeholders and conducting user research. I interviewed (potential) users and created personas and empathy maps. Some of those artifacts I created on my own, others I created in collaboration with my mentors or by organizing brainstorm sessions. I also regularly checked with team members to see what was possible within the time and resources available.


After the first weeks, I worked out the current user workflows and summarized user pain points. I organized an ideation workshop with the team and with stakeholders where we came up with ideas to improve the platform. I also conducted literature research to better understand relevant practices in designing user interfaces and user assistance. After that, I prioritized the ideas and created three hills (an IBM Design Thinking approach for setting project goals) focusing on solving specific persona problems.

Empathy Maps brainstorm

The hills mainly focused on onboarding and assisting users and designing an easy way for non-technical users to manage ECrowd. I created low-fi prototypes and implemented them into the platform. I tested the prototypes with 'Sponsor users' to see how they responded and to hear what they liked and not. According to their feedback, I changed some parts of the prototype.

The design

Before I started working in the ECrowd team, there was no focus on designing the interface. Therefore, I had the opportunity to define a global design for the platform, which I based on the IBM Design Language. To simplify the application, I restructured the menu. Also, users said they were lost after accessing ECrowd for the first time. This is why I created a knowledge base and a Dashboard landing page with basic information and guidance.

ECrowd Dashboard

With the ECrowd platform, users can create a custom crowdsourcing application. Each application consists of tasks: questions or small assigments that have to be completed by the end-user. The ECrowd user creates those tasks in ECrowd, but until now, creating this could only be done by coding templates in HTML and JavaScript. After research, I found that the most important differentiator between the personas was related to their technical expertise. Surprisingly, non-technical users did not find this code editor to be the biggest problem: they liked the flexibility of ECrowd. Their main concern was that they didn’t know how to start making tasks. Experienced users also said they didn’t know how to start. Because ECrowd could potentially deal with users with a wide range of technical backgrounds, it was a challenge to come up with the best solution without losing the flexibility of the platform and keeping it modular. I chose to implement a drag and drop system with an advanced code editor and live preview functionality.

ECrowd Templates

More experienced users are still able to have full control over their application. They can create custom variables if they feel they are limited by the drag and drop system.

ECrowd Templates: Define custom variables

Learning experience

Working on this project really helped me in improving my web and UX design skills. I did a lot of research to inform design decisions and I learned how I could apply IBM Design Thinking to build a better product. Because doing research was an important part of my thesis, I sometimes found myself putting too much emphasis on researching and analyzing the user situation, especially at the beginning of the project. Now, I would start prototyping much earlier. The complexity of the project was really challenging and working in a multidisciplinary team with people from different backgrounds was a great experience.