IBM crowdsourcing platform

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 a new crowdsourcing platform, called ECrowd.

IBM Design Thinking

The department developed ECrowd as part of many new and ongoing research projects. With the ECrowd platform, users can create 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. This was all part of my graduation project and included the writing of a thesis.

GOAL: How can the interface and user assistance of ECrowd be designed in such a way that users can manage their own crowdsourcing application independently?

The IBM Design Thinking Loop The IBM Design Thinking Loop

The design process

The design project was a continuous way of observing, reflecting, and making. I started with identifying stakeholders and conducting user research by interviewing potential users. I created personas and empathy maps - partly on my own and partly by involving others during brainstorm sessions.

Empathy Maps brainstorm

As a result of user research, I summarized pain points and processed them in several ways, such as by mapping the current workflows into As-Is Scenarios to explore areas of improvement.

As-Is Scenarios

I organized an ideation workshop with the team and stakeholders. This resulted in many ideas on how to improve the platform.

Brainstorm

Similar ideas were grouped and presented to the team. We prioritized based on feasibility in terms of resources, time, and value brought to the user. Throughout the process, regular talks with other ECrowd team members were useful to see what was possible within the system and what was realistic within available time and resources.

Prioritized ideas

Literature research was a useful way to improve my understanding of the business context and relevant practices in designing the interface and user assistance.

Literature review

Next, I created three Hills: an IBM Design Thinking approach for setting project goals. Hills serve as a good way to work on solutions seen from the persona's pain points. I made hills that focus on onboarding and assisting users and designing an easy way for non-technical users to manage ECrowd.

Hills

I designed low-fidelity prototypes and implemented this into the platform. I tested the prototypes with the 'Sponsor users' to see how they responded and to find out what they liked and what not. Several parts of the prototype were changed according to their feedback.

The design

ECrowd was created because of the department's need for a crowdsourcing tool. In the beginning, there wasn't a focus on the interface so I had the opportunity to define a global design for the platform. I based this on the IBM Design Language.

Global design

To simplify the application, I restructured the menu. Users said they were lost after accessing ECrowd for the first time, so 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 assignments to be completed by the end-user. The ECrowd user creates those tasks in ECrowd, but they could only do this by coding templates in HTML and JavaScript. Surprisingly, non-technical users did not find this to be the biggest problem: they liked the flexibility of ECrowd and could ask a colleague for help if they were stuck with coding. Their main concern however was that they didn’t know how to start at all. Experienced technical user said the same. After the interviews, I found that the most important differentiator between the personas was related to their technical expertise.

ECrowd could potentially deal with users with a wide range of technical backgrounds, so it was a challenge to find a solution without losing the flexibility of the platform and while keeping it modular. I chose to implement a drag and drop system with an advanced code editor and live preview.

ECrowd Templates

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

ECrowd Templates: Define custom variables

Learning experience

Working on ECrowd has definitely helped improve my 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 challenging and working in a multidisciplinary team with people from different backgrounds was a great experience.

Besides working on ECrowd, I got the opportunity to work on a lot of other things. For instance, I designed the interactions for this 'smart home' Internet-of-Things dashboard. It was used during multiple IBM client/partner events to show in an interactive way how IBM's IoT solutions can help clients.

IoT Dashboard for IBM client/partner events.