Postmortem (Week 14)
Our client, The HistoryMakers, is a non-profit organization that is aimed at promoting unheard stories of prominent members of the African American community. Their website allows users to navigate a large database of biographies and video interviews. This project delivered an interactive browser experience to help bring their content to a younger audience of twenty-somethings, focusing on playful interaction and simple, visual information presentation. Our team consisted of a producer, two designers, and two programmers, although individual members frequently took on design, art, or production work outside of their stated roles.
What Went Well
One positive point for our team was everyone’s attitude throughout the semester. We had some difficulty getting started and had discouraging feedback from the faculty and clients in the first half of the semester, but it the team was able to not linger on that too much and stay focused on improving. We did not have significant internal conflict and in general, we were also respectful of other people’s input and ideas during meetings, regardless of that person’s role.
In part because of this attitude, we were able to make significant changes to our work process after receiving a lot of critical feedback at halves. We began to focus on taking a fast, iterative approach: get a simple, basic idea/feature approved by the client, add the features and get feedback through instructors and playtesting, and redesign for approval by the client again. After halves, we looked at how many weeks we had left, and realized these cycles needed to be a week to a week and a half long to make the improvements needed from where we were at halves. As a result, we were able to produce a rather polished experience by softs, and focus on finishing touches, stretch goals, and client handoff in the final days.
We had a rough start. It took a very long time before we could settle on one idea to begin implementing in a significant way, for a few reasons. One was that we did not handle our client interactions very well at first. We did not set and follow a clear agenda for meetings at first and we did not consider that because our client was unfamiliar with the design process, we needed to think carefully about how to convince them of the merit of an idea without having a polished prototype of it. Another communication problem we had was not using instructor feedback enough before halves, and not having a system of task tracking and design documentation in place as we first began prototyping.
Another difficult part of the semester was figuring out how to work with potentially sensitive cultural content. Our team only had one American student and no one who was African American, so we initially struggled to find a way to come up with a theme/visual aesthetic that would be relevant and respectful to the African American community and universally appealing. We went through many designs pursuing this goal, before we (1) switched to focusing on interaction mechanics and (2) learned to be more aware and get instructor input when making decisions on small that seem insignificant to us, but could have undesirable implications (e.g. accidentally only putting light-skinned African Americans in a sample image on our help page).
In terms of team processes and pipelines, we initially had difficulty with was allowing too much democracy in design decisions, and it wasn’t until after halves that we delegated more responsibility and ownership to individuals. This was a major reason we were not able to produce many useable prototypes or materials before then.
At the end of this semester, we’ve all learned some important lessons. We learned that establishing a process and documentation after quarters is very important. We also learned to not be afraid to talk to professors more, and send a lot of emails or arrange extra meetings (extra in a remote work setting). Another takeaway is to recognize when to switch gear in the production process, and move toward more individual work, ownership, and decisions. Finally, it’s important to keep a sense of respect and understanding within the team of everyone’s efforts and shortcomings, so that the we are able to successfully address problems both within the project work and within the team.
The conclusion for our project is to hand off the open source code and technical documentation to client’s tech team, as well as our video trailer for their marketing use.