Focus Brands (Summer 2017)
Role: UX Strategy and Analysis Intern on a team with one UX Strategist
Timeline: Summer 2017
Key Activities: User Interviews, Persona Generation, User Journeys, Think Aloud Studies, Experience Mapping, Wireframing, Prototyping, Card Sorting, Business Model Canvas
TL;DR: Over the course of a 10-week internship, I worked through the entire digital experience design process as a part of 3 main website re-designs. I took on the responsibility of a full-time employee, leading meetings and taking the lead on both research and the Carvel project. My deliverables for each project were user personas and journey maps for Carvel, wireframes for Schlotzsky’s and benchmarks and small tweaks for McAlister’s. I also improved the overall wireframing process and conducted a catering research study.
Focus Brands is a traditional franchise-based business that relied on agencies to do most of their digital work in the past. As a result, there were inconsistencies in the websites and a lack of maintenance. I was part of the relatively new tech team, on their first project to re-design all of the existing brand websites. These redesigns had the goal of increasing revenue in franchises through a stronger digital brand.
The Digital Experience Process at Focus can be broken down into a high level organization of the following:
As a part of the UX team, I was involved in every aspect of this process in the context of redesigning several brand websites (except the Release step, led by the development team).
For Carvel, I was responsible for the Discovery and Research phases of the process. Much of this involved speaking to representatives of the Carvel team to understand how their business was structured and how they measured sales, so we could properly design with their business goals in mind. For example, we discovered that all Carvel grocery products are sold by a company called Rich’s and not by Focus Brands. As a result, we had to reduce the prevalence of references to grocery products that would take sales away from the Focus Brands-run Carvel shops. I mapped out the functions of the business using a business model canvas that could be references throughout the design process.
After discovery, we conducted research, primarily through user interviews with Focus employees that didn’t work for Carvel but enjoyed ice cream. These user interviews focused on the steps that users took in order to get ice cream, especially when deciding to visit a new place. Combining the context from interviews with analysis of customer complaints of the current website, I developed personas that would serve as a concise reference through the design process.
I also mapped user journeys to further understand the way and all possible contexts in which they could interact with the product. Based on these journeys, we would tweak designs to make these situations easier and avoidable if they were negative.
Disclaimer: User Journeys omitted for confidentiality.
For Schlotzsky’s, I mainly focused on developing the wireframes, the primary deliverable for my team. This process began with a brainstorming session with the members of the Schlotzsky’s team.
From there, I synthesized the output of the brainstorm and built low-fidelity wireframes in Sketch. Certain features that we brainstormed were entirely brand new, explored different design directions for each idea. We ran a variety of tests from paper prototypes to higher fidelity prototypes in InVision, using used the results to inform tweaks into a greater detail.
Disclaimer: Wireframes omitted for confidentiality.
For the McAlister’s website, I was in charge of creating benchmarks for how well users could accomplish basic tasks on the McAlister’s website before the redesign. Users were given the same tasks with our final website in order to demonstrate progress. After the tests were recorded, I watched many user think-aloud studies and identifyingthe most significant issues apparent on the website.
Once the website was live,I conducted an accelerated version of the UX process (forgoing testing in favor of direct qualitative feedback from stakeholders) to addresssome of the smaller issues apparent on the final website. The main issue we discovered was that newer locations of McAlister’s stores had no place to list career information since they didn’t have their own Store Pages yet.
There were a variety of possible solutions to this from a user-perspective, but I was able to come up with a solution that both seemed the most intuitive from the point of view of a user and minimized engineering work. Rather than developing new Career components with all of the application information, I had the team just create basic mailto links that would populate with all necessary information, cutting dev time to a few minutes from the hours a more complex solution would’ve taken.
I wireframed a simple page that would list all the locations opening soon that needed to hire employees:
In between projects, the Moe’s Catering team decided to finance a study into the quality of online catering systems for several of our brands and some of our competitors: Moe’s, Schlotzsky’s, Panera, Chipotle, Domino’s, and Corner Bakery Cafe. The team was looking to see how their current vendor for catering stacked up with the competition.
I created tests on Validately for users to order catering online for ten people, including one person that was gluten-free and one person that was vegetarian. By testing for this situation, I was able to gain insights into the use of the entire ordering system. After the tests were finished, I parsed through hours of footage, taking careful notes about the users’ interactions with the systems. To make sense of all of this information, I created an experience map to show where all of the issues manifested for users. From this experience map, I captured the most prominent pain points across the systems we tested for.
The results of the study showed that our systems performed poorly in comparison to the other systems. However, the competitors weren’t much better, indicating that online catering systems were an opportunity for improvement. At the end of the project, I presented my findings to the CIO of Focus Brands to help influence the direction the Digital Engineering team will take going forward and also for use as a leveraging point for negotiating our contract with our catering vendors.
Throughout the summer, I also dedicated some of my time to improving the general workflow for the design and development team. This involved cleaning up the Sketch workflow, detailed in this Medium post.
Through a variety of tools and techniques, including including very useful Sketch plugins and recognition of repetitive text styles, I was able to simplify the base Sketch file that we built all of our wireframes from. When I began my internship, getting the wireframe done for a single page could take hours, but now it can be done within minutes.
My manager gave me a LinkedIn recommendation that explains most of my impact during my summer:
I learned an extraordinary amount during my time at Focus Brands, but if I had to summarize it, I had two main takeaways:
- The user isn’t the only person that matters - Although I had heard this in my design classes, I never really understood who else could matter other than the user. I had to spend a significant amount of time understanding how the business operates to maximize profits while providing a good user experience. Getting to know the capabilities of the engineering team was also key in informing design decisions, since a design is only as good as its implementation.
- Selling UX to stakeholders doesn’t have to be hard - I knew I was going to have to sell the process to the stakeholders (representatives of each brand), since they didn’t necessarily understand the process. However, simply hosting brainstorming sessions and letting stakeholders sit in on user interviews and tests were enough to demonstrate what value we were providing.
Ultimately, the experience was incredibly valuable. I didn’t realize that it was possible to learn so much in a single summer and I’ll always be thankful to Focus Brands for giving me my first opportunity to design professionally.