Find an opportunity to replace a spreadsheet workflow with a tailored product to be launched as a desktop web app.
You are a startup founder with a deep, passionate personal mission: kill all unnecessary spreadsheets. You are seeking to research, design, and launch a product for organizations to use internally, so they never have to use a spreadsheet again. This is your Spreadsheet-ectomy!
The product will be built as a desktop web app. Your product will use a software-as-a-service (SaaS) revenue model: meaning, you will charge a monthly per-user subscription fee. (Exact pricing is TBD and considered out of scope, though you are welcome to include competitor pricing in your research.)
You will be researching the market and meeting with employees to determine the needs of the organization and then developing an MVP based on your findings. So far, we have been designing for customers as the end user, but now you have to consider multiple kinds of users:
- Managers of the organizations that make the purchasing decisions, so you will need to convince them that this is a valuable service
- Employees of the organizations who will actually be using the service
For this project, you may consider “organizations” to include for-profit companies, nonprofits, and NGOs. “Employees” include people who work for or with the organization. This includes part-time employees, contractors, vendors, interns, and unpaid volunteers.
Examples of SaaS products for reference:
- TravelPerk (slightly different revenue model)
You will be designing a new product. If an organization you research has tried a product to solve their problem in the past, or is considering some, good news! You just found some competitors, and your task is to design something superior. Don’t try to change or extend an existing product.
Because you are launching this product, you need to ensure that this is a service that would be useful to multiple organizations.
- Prototype of the MVP for desktop (high-fidelity)
- Roadmap for next 2 post-launch phases (additional features beyond the MVP that will be rolled out in the future, along with how you plan to validate your product)
- Presentation of research and final design proposal
- Research and design report as a PDF (landscape or portrait, ~20 pages)
- Optional, but encouraged: Landing page mockup that explains what your product is and its value (desktop layout; responsive as a bonus)
You will need to find people inside organizations to talk to. Find information about:
- their work environment,
- their needs,
- their tasks and responsibilities,
- the tools that they use for work,
- and the use that they make of spreadsheets.
You should focus on tech-forward organizations that are using spreadsheets internally for some part(s) of their workflow (whether they do it for inventory, data entry, planning, accounting, sign up, training, etc). This is why it is critical to start now so that you have time to plan and talk to users in the first week of the project. Research can be done remotely over video conference if you are connected to organizations elsewhere. You are welcome to investigate in any domain and explore areas that you’re familiar with, where you may already have a professional network to start from.
Warning: don’t design for yourself, or solve your own spreadsheet problem!
As you research
Considerations as you investigate how organizations currently work with spreadsheets:
- Are aspects already functional? Is there a spreadsheet-centered workflow or process already in place that is working well? If it is, what can you learn from how that process works to design our product?
- Are any aspects dysfunctional? A spreadsheet-centered workflow may be in place but there are lots of complaints, it may not be well managed, or may be working poorly (for example, results in problems like human error). How can we make this better and compete in the space?
- Are any areas ad-hoc (thrown together) or non-existent? Maybe there is not yet a complete system or process or nothing concrete is in place. There is a lot of room for innovation and ideation and these are great areas to explore further since the bar for improvement may be lower.
- Expand your research to at least 3 organizations to try to find as much variety of information and needs as you can.
- Start broad and once you’ve found one main workflow that you’d like to focus on, narrow down the range of your interviews as you go.
- Find multiple stakeholders, such as managers, employees (preferably low-level), outside contractors they work with, to get as many perspectives on this spreadsheet problem as possible.
- Look to LinkedIn, Slack, or leverage your existing networks to find potential contacts and interviewees.
- Run usability tests with real users—try scheduling these in advance.
- Early in the process try to set up remote screensharing sessions with employees to shadow their desktop workflow and have them demonstrate how they work so you can directly observe their current process, behaviors and pain points.
- Project plan
- Start networking to schedule interviews and virtual meetings with employees
- Design report template / outline
- Presentation outline
- Interviews and observation
- Competitive Analysis
- Desk research
- Continue interviews and observation
- Affinity diagram
- Document research findings in presentation and report
- User Personas
- Problem Statement
- Feature prioritization
- Task Analysis
- Use cases
- Card Sorting
- User Flow
- Paper Prototype
- Digital Wireframes
- Style Tile
- Start high-fidelity screens
- Desirability testing
- Practice and script walkthrough demo
- Finish high-fidelity
- Finish your research and design report
- Start building your presentation
- Practice your presentation
- Turn in your report PDF at 9:00am
- Finish preparing your presentation
- Practice presenting with a classmate
- Be fabulous in front of the guest reviewer(s)!
You will 6–8 minutes to present to and get one-on-one feedback from a professional designer who will act as a guest reviewer. Give the presentation as a pitch for your product to prospective customers. then expect a conversation with feedback afterward where you may take questions. Think of this as an opportunity to get an outside opinion from someone who is actively and currently working in the field. Working in a high pressure situation in a safe environment is going to be great practice for you ahead of your job interviews.
You’ll be meeting with the guest reviewer in the afternoon. However, your report PDF is due at the beginning of the day so that we can forward it to the guest reviewer ahead of time to give them the opportunity to review it, should they be able.
You should be prepared to answer the following questions, and your research & design report should include:
- What did you learn from your user research and benchmarking?
- How did your research and usability tests inform your design decisions?
- How would a user realistically navigate and use your product? (This may need to be shown from the perspective of multiple types of users.)
- How did you determine which features to ship in your MVP?
- What features are on your future roadmap?
- How would you validate this product in the market? What would you be looking for as indicators of success?
Research & Design Report
20 page PDF, due at the start of class.
Your report should serve as a more detailed standalone document representing your process leading to your final result. While the structure and format of your report is up to you, here is a suggested outline of things to include:
- Hypothesis and goal (spreadsheets are a problem / don’t solve the problem they intend to / create more problems than they solve)
- Research (how you validated this hypothesis)
- Sample questions / interview subjects / benchmarking
- Findings (key insights) - pain points
- Problem definition
- Problem statement (this product seeks to solve X for user Y by doing Z)
- User personas
- User journey
- Design iterations and usability testing results
- Final product screenshots with annotations (should follow demo)
- Feedback from prospective users on product
- Connect back to insights - does it solve the problem?
- Design system
- Fonts, colors, and other base styles
- Key components used throughout
- Current MVP feature list
- Future features
- How to validate / indicators of success
- Appendix (as needed)
- Any additional information. Ex: key user flows, raw research data, feature prioritization list, site map.
Landing Page Mockup
Optional, but encouraged! This should be a mockup of a single-page website in desktop layout (include responsive version as an extra bonus) that users would visit to consider purchasing your product. If you want some extra practice with HTML and CSS this could be a good opportunity to try building out the landing page (even after the project is finished).