Organizing ad-hoc events with groups can be stressful and exhausting. The logistical gymnastics and delicate social diplomacy of event coordination present challenges to both organizers and attendees. How can a mobile solution help to reduce the complexity and tension of organizing these types of events with groups of people?
I explored four main groups who might benefit from a mobile solution to event planning: middle and high school students, college students, young professionals, and parents with younger children. Talking with family and friends in each of these groups, I explored the relationship between the size of each category's social circle and their degree of autonomy (as a product of their free time, commitments, and financial limitations).
The groups which seemed to have the largest social circles were the pre-college and college students, while the groups with the greatest amount of personal autonomy were the college students and young professionals. Because of their mix of large social networks and high degree of autonomy, and also my accessibility to members of this group, I chose to focus on college students as my main target user group, although many aspects of this design would benefit any user.
RESEARCH & key Insights
To get a better understanding of the problem space, I employed two research techniques: interviews with potential users, and first person experiences.
Over a few days, I sat down with six college students: three undergraduates and 3 masters candidates, to talk to them about how they go about planning events, what the biggest challenges were for them in organizing events, and what opportunities might exist for a mobile tool to assist in this process.
I got a lot of interesting insights from my conversations, and it was clear there were some similar themes across all of my subjects. The first thing that became obvious was that even though the tools organizers used to create and communicate about events varied based on the size of the group or type of event they were trying to put together, all of my participants seemed to go through a similar set of steps when creating and organizing events.
1. In all cases there is an prompting motivation for getting people together. Examples include: celebrating, venting, or just because it was Friday.
2. Next, organizers begin the process of recruiting other attendees.
3. After a group is created, attendees select and build consensus for their plans.
4. Attendees then mobilize and head to the destination.
5. In some cases, attendees make a concerted effort to continue the night after the original event has ended.
6. Finally all attendees head home.
I used this structure to organize my interview notes, hoping to identify a single step which was particularly challenging.
In almost all of my interviews, the "select and build consensus" step seemed to create the most pain for organizers and also be most important to complete to ensure the group actually ended up getting together. At this step I saw three things:
1. People often look for reasons not to do things.
2. Getting groups to agree on a destination can be time consuming and exhausting.
3. People want approval and fear rejection when making suggestions.
First person Experiences
In addition to the interviews I conducted, I also organized three ad-hoc events this past week; a dinner with my thesis advisors to discuss my upcoming exhibition, drinks with a couple of friends who were also tired of being stuck inside all day, and ice cream with my girlfriend (because I wanted ice cream).
Looking back, these experiences raised an interesting point. The reasons I chose to organize these events were quite varied: to talk with specific people about a specific topic, just to get out, and to get a specific treat. It became clear that when organizing an event, it's important to be able to build the event off of whatever motivation is driving the organizer to create the event, be it people, destinations, or things to do.
My research yielded three insights which later guided my design:
1. Event organizers often message the same few groups regularly, and tend to have specific types of things they do with each group.
2. For most organizers, building consensus seems to be the most challenging part of organizing events.
3. Attendees feel anxious about making suggestions to the group.
FEATure development and paper prototyping
I developed a number of features through use case narrative to alleviate some of the problems I identified in my research. The big features I created were an automatic best-fit, start time calculator, an anonymous suggestion and voting system for event destinations and numerous places where the app can push contextually driven recommendations which could leverage Google's ability to understand you and your surroundings.
To help flesh out how the features I developed through my narrative would work, I created a number of quick low-fi wireframe sketches. These mocks helped identify more specific interaction points and flows from screen to screen.
In developing this high fidelity prototype my goal was to refine the look and feel of the features I designed through my narrative and paper prototypes. I looked at a number of Google apps including Calendar, Now, Play and Newsstand for guidance on navigation paradigms and styling. I developed these screens in Sketch and used Principle to create the animated demo.
The demo walks you through the perspective of Nick, an attendee who has entered the event page. Nick looks at the suggestions people have already made and doesn't know if he likes the suggestions his friends have made. He clicks the "+" button to add an anonymous suggestion for the group. He then searches for cocktails and wine and scrolls to find Tako, his favorite cantina. He taps "add suggestion" on the Tako card to add it to the event suggestion lists. He then takes another look at the other suggestions and decides to up-vote Smoke. He clicks the up-vote button and Smoke, now with more votes, switches places with Bar Marco.
The screens here show a range of screens for multiple key stages of the app. The first group shows the screens an organizer sees when creating an event. The second group shows screens that attendees see upon being invited to an event. The third group shows a finalized event page and a page which appears when the event is in progress, showing suggestions of possible "next stops".
I had a ton of fun working on this. I spread my "research events" out over a few days and used them as an opportunities to get away from my desk (which I otherwise seem to be living at these days as I prepare to defend my thesis). All in all, over the course of the week I spent a couple of days working on research & analysis (including interviews and research events), brainstorming, design & iteration, animation, and finally presentation.