Providing women of colour with a platform to attain impactful professional growth.
15 minute read
Figma, InVision, Stark
UX Research, Product Design, Brand Development
What is Maia?
A platform for women of colour to attain professional growth with the aid of mentors and members of their community.
The goal was to guide women of colour who felt stuck with their career to find ways to overcome any hurdles they face in terms of their personal and professional growth. Using my personal experience as inspiration, I was motivated to design a solution that would be a source of empowerment to women of colour with their career advancement.
How might we empower women of colour to overcome hurdles in order to advance in their careers?
I spent 10 weeks researching, interviewing, testing, designing and iterating a prototype of an iOS mobile app that allows users to connect with mentors based on compatibility with like-minded mentors and making a solution that makes the connection as easy as possible.
The Design Process
Phase 1: Discovery
The Problem Space
Men end up holding 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%.
Despite small wins, women remain underrepresented across the corporate ladder. While we narrow our focus even more, the disparities grow.
Research by McKinsey & Co have identified wherein a company may have approximately 17% of their entry level staff as women of colour, when it goes up to C-level positions, only 4% of those positions are held by women of colour.
Women of colour face hurdles with their career advancement, as they continue to be underrepresented at higher ranks and leadership levels.
The biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is at the first step up to manager. This phenomenon is known as the “broken rung”
The term “women of colour” utilized in this case study is primarily used to reflect a sense of solidarity among women with multiple, layered identities that intersect with each other, derived from shared experiences, history, social relations, and structures of power (unearned privilege conferred systematically). Source: The AAMC
Exploration of Opportunities
Decades of neglect in various realms can be to blame for the existence of the “broken rung”.
Neglection in the areas of diversity, inclusivity and equity practises in the workplace, conscious and unconscious biases, burnout, lack of role models, lack of sponsorship and mentorship, and more.
The design opportunity lies in filling the gap that existing solutions ignore. The design will narrow down on what women of colour personally find the most helpful and curated for them.
Millennial women of colour
Age range: 25-35
Image via Catalyst.org
This age range reflects a group of people who aren't necessarily just entering the workforce, but they aren't really considered experienced in their field either.
Most women in this age range would feel like their career is at a standstill and opportunities for growth may not be present or taken advantage of due to various hurdles.
Assumptions and Constraints
The term “women of colour” encompasses a large group and may tend to homogenize the diverse group. Their challenges and needs may differ and that must be addressed.
Culturally speaking, in opposition of the individualistic culture that is dominant in western society, collectivistic cultures are what most women of colour grow up in. There are pros and cons to collectivism and a fine line must be walked to balance the sense of community it provides, while also working on re-writing frameworks that hinder their way of thinking.
As we move deeper into living in an online world, connection becomes simultaneously easier and disingenuous. We are constrained by limitations of keeping interactions online and relying on outreach to garner those who would provide meaning to the app’s interactions.
The process of competitive research was done a few times at different parts of this journey.
During the process of conducting secondary research and exploring opportunities, I took a look into varying platforms that provide services that we explored. These platforms include a HR Advisory service that focuses on DEI training, a peer support network for indigenous women and women of colour, a South Asian women’s collective, a career service platform that focuses on skills development, and a woman of colour career coach.
I conducted a “Pluses and Deltas analysis” and was able to see the benefits to each service and also where there was room for design intervention.
Click here to view my competitive analysis.
Illustration by Olga Strelnikova
Using the information gathered from my secondary and competitive research, I wanted to hear specifically from the target audience. While seeking interviewees, I had 2 criteria in mind.
I intended to speak with women of colour who fit the target audience of the problem space. I believed that speaking to those who are working in male dominant fields for 3-5 years would provide further insight to the needs and motivations of my target audience.
I also sought women who work in the scope of this problem space. This involved reaching out to employees of the companies I conducted competitive research in. I wanted to learn further regarding their work and what they may feel is lacking.
I wanted to ensure that the digital intervention provides a solution that the user wants and needs.
To understand people's pain points, motivations and behaviours regarding their career development as millennial women of colour, from their point of view.
Interviews were conducted on Zoom on a 1 on 1 basis with a total of 5 people.
My interview questions and findings can be viewed here.
Interview Themes & Insights
Women have cited some toxic workplaces that don’t acknowledge their employees and their strive for inclusivity hinders the advancement with their careers.
Working women of colour are seeking mentorships and sponsorships from like people, throughout various phases of their career.
Working women of colour notice the implicit and explicit bias towards them and have to do the extra work to blend in or to be heard.
Working women of colour are motivated by the sense of community and connections they can have with like people.
Working women of colour are riddled with feelings of inadequacy and deal with imposter syndrome. Their lack of self worth limits their growth.
Working women of colour feel the pressures of their workplace and continue to feel various pressures from all aspects of their life.
Chosen Theme: Mentorship
Interviewees provided insight on wanting guidance and advice from someone more experienced. They all mentioned wanting a mentor, however they did not know ways to go about finding a mentor that aligns with their industry and interests.
The interviewees were able to help me narrow down on a potential digital solution, along with their frustrations with current solutions that exist. This now helps us further define the problem space.
To view my affinity mapping process of gathering points from the interviews and organizing them into themes, click here.
Phase 2: Define
Consolidating the primary and secondary research, utilizing various characteristics, frustrations, goals and experiences of our interviewees, a persona was developed.
Riya, our persona is a representation of the demographic our problem space targets.
An experience map was crafted to help me visualize and conceptualize the various experiences and emotions the persona undergoes while navigating through this problem space.
The experience map highlighted some key opportunities such as
- reducing time spent searching for guidance
- finding a group of like-minded individuals who can provide valuable insight and
- connecting and staying connected with a mentor
Phase 3: Ideate
Choosing the functions that would provide the most value to Riya was
challenging, there are a lot of ways to go about designing the best solution.
I authored a number of user stories from the perspective of Riya, as a young working woman of colour to highlight functions and features and their benefits.
After authoring 32 user stories, I categorized them into epics.
The chosen epic of “Scheduling Sessions” was elaborated on for the task flow.
This epic’s purpose was to allow the user to find a time to connect with a mentor. In order for the user to develop a meaningful connection with a compatible mentor, they must schedule sessions with a mentor with ease.
Click here to view the authored user stories.
To visualize the proposed sequence of steps the user would encounter when interacting with the digital product, a core task flow was created. The core task flow can be viewed here.
Incorporating further user stories crafted, a user flow was mapped out. This user flow showcases the pathway I intend to use to highlight the mentorship and community aspect of the digital solution.
Competitive Research: Part 2
I had conducted a competitive analysis earlier while researching the existing opportunities in this problem space. Now that I had decided the direction I wanted my digital solution to head into, another competitive analysis was conducted amongst existing solutions that serve the sphere of mentorship and platforms for group discussions, with the goal of finding the gaps.
Using insights ranging from existing solutions, digital components and elements I had in mind, I began to seek UI inspiration.
View my UI inspiration board here.
Designing for iOS
According to research, 53% of all Apple users are under the age of 35.
Out of all Apple users, two-thirds are females.
With this information in mind, we decided to design for iOS.
Referencing the features and layouts I had in my UI inspiration board, I began to sketch a preliminary layout for the user flow I had in mind.
I aimed to present the features and overall functionality of the app in a simple, understandable form.
Phase 4: Prototype
Phase 5: Test
I took this prototype and began my first round of user testing. This round of user testing consisted of 5 users and sessions were conducted on a 1 on 1 basis on Zoom.
I created a test plan that allowed users to complete the flow and a subsequent user testing sessions output document. The test plan included an introduction to the app, a scenario and a list of tasks for the user to complete.
The sessions output document includes user insights, overall testing results and overall task analysis. This document can be accessed here.
Users were asked to complete 6 tasks.
Task 1: The app has matched you up with some potential
mentors. Please view these potential mentor matches.
Task 2: As you are viewing the potential mentor matches, select the mentor with the most compatibility with you.
Task 3: Select the match as a mentor you would like to connect with.
Task 4: Schedule a session with the mentor
Task 5: See if the mentor is hosting any group sessions
Task 6: Please join a group session.
2 out of 5 users were not able to complete the task of “Match with Mentor”.
This task asked the user to select the profile they were viewing to be their mentor, and that would lead them to the scheduling task. These users had difficulty locating the "yes" button, and therefore were not able to complete the task.
A collective list of usability problems both related to the task and the UI of the design was created. I then mapped out the issues on a design prioritization matrix and made a decision as to which changes I’d apply to the next iteration based on it’s impact on the usability of the design and the effort it will require me to fix.
This is how we end up with Mid-fi prototype: Version 2
I repeated the process again and was able to translate testing into design once more. Due to the changes made, the users were now only asked to complete 5 tasks, as opposed to the 6 task we initially had.
You may view the sessions output document for round 2, here.
Albeit the feedback was a bit less than our first round of testing, further details were brought to attention and that is how we end up with mid-fi prototype: Version 3.
Phase 6: Refine
Even after user testing and further development of the app, I continued seeking feedback regarding my design choices and usability. This process entails one to be constantly working within a “feedback loop”
During the process of branding ideation, I kept thinking of terms that related to the season of spring. Spring is most often connected to ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth.
I wanted to get the notion of professional growth across to users.
That’s when I came across the name for the Roman goddess of spring, Maia. Maia embodies the concept of growth, as the name is the root word for the roman word “maior/maius”, meaning larger, greater.
Wanting to maintain the feminine, springtime connection to the name,as well as my target audience of millennial women of colour in mind I began to ideate on the visual identity of the brand.
I conducted research on brands that were popular with millennial women and looked into trending designs. I made my colour choices after learning what the trends were responding to, rather than simply following the trends.
Pantone and Coloro have both included purples, specifically lavender as their colours of the year, and have stated that these colours represent strength and have the ability to calm and empower.
A handful of adjectives were chosen to best describe the feel of Maia. These adjectives were selected based on the realm of the app and the type of style other popular millenial brands elicited. We wanted to remain familiar to establish trust with the target audience. Below are the chosen adjectives:
To view the entire brand development board, click here.
Below is a snippet of the moodboard I curated to evoke the visual identity of Maia.
An app icon with a logo and subsequent wordmark was developed with the intention of evoking the adjectives we felt best described Maia.
Establishing a Design System
Once I established the visual feel, I worked on a design system to ensure consistency across all screens and to ease the development process.
Colours were pulled from the moodboard and were injected to the app design. We focused on using varying hues of Pantone’s Very Peri.
Gradients were used to help enhance flat designs and add more depth and dimension to designs.
I ensured that all colour pairings met WCAG AA standards.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
The typeface selected for the copy of the Maia app is URW Geometric.
It felt best to maintain the minimalism of the app but utilizing only one typeface.
The sans serif type allows for optimal clarity and legibility.
As per the atomic design system, the atoms, molecules, organisms, templates and pages were redlined and organized into a UI library.
Click to enlarge.
To further enhance the user experience I included a loading screen animation and was intentional with my use of transitions within the high-fidelity prototype.
In my chosen user flow, the persona, Riya is a returning user and has already completed the process of creating her account.
Upon opening the app, I wanted to indicate that the app is fetching her details and is loading.
State changes have been included to highlight active and inactive states and to promote error prevention.
The gifs here demonstrate the features presented in the user flow. Each feature below was driven by research, user stories, client feedback, and user testing.
1. Home Screen
The Initial Problem: A lot of time is spent seeking for a mentor
Feature Solution: “Potential Mentor Matches” are presented based on the information inputted by the user during onboarding. This allows the user to not go out and search for a mentor, as the app presents it to the user on a platter. The user is still free to browse for a mentor via the Explore tab.
2. Potential Mentor Matches
The Initial Problem: The compatibility of the mentor is unknown, and is something you won’t know unless you had a few sessions with them.
Feature Solution: Using the information the user included about themselves in their profile, compatibility is presented as a percentage. Numerical representation of the compatibility will motivate the user to seek that mentor.
3. Mentor Screen
Feature Solution: Clear visibility of the mentor’s information and reviews about their mentoring. User can also see the reason the app believes they are compatible by listing their traits in common. .
4. Schedule a Session
The Initial Problem: People found it hard to find time to work on themselves and schedule a session with a mentor.
Feature Solution: The app takes a look at the user’s personal calender, which they have synced during onboarding and a look at the mentor’s calendar. The times offered represented times that both individuals are free.
5. Community Chats
The Initial Problem: Women of colour were unaware of platforms where they could find others with similar interests to have discussions regarding topics of interest and to learn more.
Feature Solution: An audio only group discussion platform within the app. People can host events and conduct chats regarding topics of interest and professional growth. Participants can listen and also join in on the conversation by requesting to speak. Audio only was chosen to provide flexibility to the user. They can multi-task by listening to a community chat. Live closed captioning is also included to ensure the community chats are accessible.
Responsive Marketing Website
I created a responsive landing page for a marketing website. I explored responsive website design patterns and product marketing trends. I made sure to maintain the welcomingl tone in my content writing, and utilized similar colours and design styles as used in the Maia app.
Content Flow Diagram
Using Google Assistant, Google Home devices, and other voice-only interaction products, Maia can integrate its app functionality through voice commands.
With this platform, the user’s experience with the Community Chats feature is enhanced. They can access and join a Community Chat event and be an active listener with a hands-free experience. With prioritization of the knowledge that most users will be doing another activity while taking part in a Community Chat, expansion to a voice interaction product is fitting.
Ultimately, the app Maia runs heavily on its social aspect. There is a level of trust placed with hosts who run Community Chats. We trust that they remain professional and use the platform for its purpose. There is a chance that the Community Chats feature is vulnerable to manipulation. To ensure the product is being used with its intended purpose, moderators will need to be utitlized. Most online platforms involve the use of moderators to ensure content is appropriate and “rules of engagement” are being followed and upheld.
Maia aims to be an inclusive and accessible app. However, we don’t want to exclude others from the get go, due to the fact that Maia aims to serve women of colour only. We hope to expand our scope and serve other marginalized identities. Other-ing is not part of Maia’s values and we wish to uphold inclusive design practices.
We aim to further the marketing of Maia by designing email marketing formats and considering the content and style of our posts on social media.
We have created an app, and we hope to increase our usage. With that, we would need to increase our engagement and to continue upholding our branding, values and of course, to constantly seek ways to ensure our app is built for the long term.
This is an app that offers mentorship services, we want to be inviting to those who are seeking mentorship - but also to those who want to be a mentor.
We designed with the knowledge that older women would be navigating the website.
This made me realize that although we may have a target demographic in mind, we should also consider seeking simplicity as it is the most accessible form of design.
As we become more aware of the non-linear procession of the design process, we are more weary of constraints like time and deadlines. As beginner UX Designers, we are becoming more aware of our practices and learning how to deal with/overcome them.
The value of feedback from colleagues had been identified as pivotal to the process. However, the constraints of designing in a remote environment have been felt during this process.