UNI competitions: UX case study

Re-designing experience for the largest design competition organizing platform

Overview: UX case study for a web platform organizing design competitions. Includes design audit, UX research, wireframing & hi-detail prototyping of competition catalogue and detail page.

Client: UNI.xyz ,a web platform for designers focusing on crowd-sourcing design solutions and making design more accessible.

Timeline: Started in June, 2019. Carried on in multiple phases in next 10 months.

Overview — UNI design competitions

UNI was established with an idea to provide designers with an opportunity to grow and showcase their skills through design competitions. Most of the competitions on the platform are based on pressing real-world issues and attracts a large community of architects, urban designers & product designers. These competitions not only generate design solutions but also help designers to evaluate their skills at a global level and learn from their competitors.

Project history

Initially, at UNI there was a separate website for nearly every competition that was launched. This went on till mid of 2018. It was the only option back then given the resource limitations but we knew we needed a single destination for all our competitions. So, during my internship period at UNI.xyz (Jan 2018 — May 2018), I performed case studies of competition organizing & listing websites and was involved in preliminary discussions on what the portal should be like. We worked out a rough draft around the end of my internship. A year later when I joined as a full-time UX Designer in UNI, the portal was in place and majorly had all the required functionality. However, there were certain aspects which needed fine-tuning.

Screenshot of portal taken in July 2018 — before I joined as UX designer in the team.
Screenshot of the portal as in June 2019 taken from prototype file

Task

To enhance the existing competition portal in terms of design consistency, accessibility, affordance and aesthetics. The experience needed to be clutter-free, linear, non-intrusive and suitable for designers of varying age-groups and experience levels.

My role

As the sole designer in the team, my role was to improve and enhance the product without making major structural changes. My primary objective was to improve design consistency, scalability, accessibility and aesthetics. I worked on integrating the portal with other sections of the platform for a seamless experience and curated visual assets like icons, illustrations and UI elements library. Apart from being the only designer in the team, I also subbed as PM for the most part overlooking team coordination.

Project goals

The primary objective behind this design intervention was to make the experience smoother and frictionless for the users. Being the landing page of the platform, the portal reserved high importance from a business point of view. The hypothesis was that enhancing interface experience would lead to visitor exploring more content which might improve conversion rates.

Approach

Since the portal was already in place, my process began with conducting a design audit. Although the user flow was very planned, there were several inconsistencies in UI due to lack of proper design guidelines. For instance, I came across a page where more than 9 types of font variations existed on a single page. Also, the catalogue design was such that it could only accommodate a small number of competitions at a time which soon became an issue.

I noted all those inconsistencies/ issues and in a reference document where proper use case and limitations of all interface elements were also listed (it later became the foundation of our platform design guidelines). Also since we weren’t looking to make major changes in overall structure and user flow of the existing portal, my audit was mostly confined to interface level issues.

Upon completing the audit, I presented my findings to the CEO of the company along with the development team. We discussed the future vision of the portal and worked out a plan for updates. We follow Google Material Design guidelines for the platform so I referred to its principles and guidelines as a reference.

Design intervention

In this project, design interventions of varying scales were introduced in nearly all parts of the platform. Along the development journey, new challenges and opportunities came up which weren’t the part of initial planning but had to be incorporated. For the sake of simplicity, I have divided this case study into 2 parts — catalogue and competition detail page.

Catalogue

The catalogue is essentially the home page of the portal (and the landing page of the entire platform). It has the entire list of ongoing competitions displayed in cards format. Featured competitions are displayed in the carousel cover on top, following which there are various filters allowing users to find competitions matching their requirements.

Initially, the cards on the homepage contained a LOT of extra information about the competition. This abundance of information was too much to absorb for a reader and given the number of competitions we had, the text became overwhelming — not to mention the negative impact on surfing experience. Also, the seriousness of this issue magnified on mobile devices. We started by prioritizing the information that is important for participants thus removing the extra mess.

Competition detail page

It provides all the information a participant needs to know before participating and after the competition is commenced. Here, user can find relevant information divided into different sub-pages from a general overview, jury members, awards, fees & schedule and entries (once the result is declared).

Initially, there was a deadline-based fee model however during the renewal process, we were asked to work on a registration based model. The idea was to make people register in a competition as early as possible rather than waiting until the last moment. This meant a strategic shift from what we had earlier but the bigger challenge was to get user make sense of what we’re talking about. In general, people read details about the competition, discuss it with their colleagues and friends (potential teammates) and then register when everyone is on the same page. This process could take up to a few weeks and in some cases, it ended up with user forgetting about the competition altogether. Our new model meant that the fees are likely to rise in the time all that discussion happens urging the user to register sooner. It created a sense of urgency and unpredictability.

As a solution, we decided to make our registration count public. For any competition on UNI following registration based fees model, the user will get a real-time count of registrations made in a competition and can see the fees in the upcoming round

prototype for dynamic fees model

This was a long project broken down into phases. We kept some time gap between any 2 phase to collect feedback and work on other projects. During the entire process, I was simultaneously working on improving our design guidelines which were evolving with each project. Thus the interface elements were also receiving regular updates.

Outcome

The outcome was a refreshing and much-needed overhaul for the platform. Our entire team felt that the experience was much more polished. Although we made notable improvements in many aspects, I know there are still things left which have scope for improvements. As they say, the design is a journey and not a destination, that journey can sometimes take unexpected turns — we let our vision and user feedback define those turns for us. The platform is in a better position compared to what it was a year ago and we are in the testing phase for some serious changes to further improve what we have now.

Learnings

Being my first UX project, competitions on UNI was a great learning experience for me in all aspects. I understood the importance of process, the relevance of documenting decisions and developed a writing habit. Looking back at the plan of action we devised initially and way the actual project happened, I learnt that projects trajectory isn’t always predictable and the resilience with which the changes are embraced defines the success or failure. Every project poses unforeseen challenges along the way and its part of the process for a UX designer to respond to that and make suitable adjustments. I also understood that a UX project is much more than just serving user needs.

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