UX Case Study — Parenting during a Pandemic
Roughly nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s fair to say that we’ve all had our lives reconfigured one way or another. Personally, I had to “flee” from border closures twice, had my senior year in college moved to an online format, and suffered from Zoom fatigue more than I 'd like to admit. Before proceeding, however, I must applaud my professors at the University of Southern California on doing the possible and the impossible to mitigate the effects of this pandemic on our learning. In fact, it’s because of many of them that I was inspired to write this case study today.
One group that has been particularly challenged during these times is parents — especially those with school-age children. This issue first called my attention during my online classes, in which I repeatedly witnessed a couple of my professors comment about the hardships of managing their children full-time at home. There was also, of course, the occasional appearance of little humans that burst into their parents’ offices to say hello during Zoom lessons.
However, as cute as the little humans were, I know from experience how rough it can be to balance work and family in the same environment. When I was growing up, my mother raised my brother and I for many years while working from home. As a young kid, I could not distinguish when she was and wasn’t busy, but I remember explicitly how exhausted she was at the end of each week.
Because of that, when given the prompt to design a solution focused on a COVID-era issue, I partnered with my colleague Mahira to investigate the major problems and pain points surrounding parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since neither Mahira or myself fell within the target audience of our project, we decided to do a deep dive into the world of parents. As we crafted our questionnaire, we aimed to not only find out more about their backgrounds (number of children, location, jobs, etc), but also their parenting experience before and during the pandemic. Given that so much of our lives has moved online, we also sought to learn more about whether any online resources influenced or helped them manage their kids. We focused our questions on the following topics:
- Sharing of responsibilities (spouse, family member, etc)
- Struggles and joys of full-time parenting
- Feelings during the pandemic
- Things that facilitate/could facilitate parenting
- Communication with other adults
- Online resources for parenting
- Work-life balance
In the end, we were able to collectively interview 10 mothers and fathers with diverse backgrounds and living in at least 5 different cities. With their permission, we recorded the interviews and took notes of recurring topics and key points. We then used Miro to compile and group their insights into an affinity map.
Personas + Problem Definition
As non-parents, Mahira and I wanted to use the creation process of our personas as an opportunity to place ourselves into the shoes of these individuals experiencing some of the most overwhelming, uncertain months of their lives as parents. Because of that, although we had access to a variety of psychographics on our interviewees, we decided to focus our personas on the essential aspects of a “pandemic parent’s” life: feelings, pain points, and wants. With that, we created Concerned Carrie & Overwhelmed Omar.
We identified that the parents we interviewed often felt overwhelmed, worried, stressed, off track, and disconnected. Their main struggles were balancing their time, learning how to deal with Zoom school, and keeping their kids entertained in a safe manner. They felt the need to interact and vent with adults, and at least 6 of them said they used some form of social media or group chat to connect with other parents. With that, we arrived at our Problem Statement:
How might we create a tool that allows parents to connect and learn from each other during the pandemic, and facilitate a safe space to vent and share experiences?
Designing the Solution: ParentVille
Hearing about parents’ “24-hour-routines” and their resilience amidst this global pandemic really inspired us to want to create something that could be a valuable resource in these people’s lives. After looking at our problem statement, a few of our highlighted terms specifically stood out to me: connect, learn, and share. That’s when I remembered the famous African proverb:
“It takes a village to raise a child”
Throughout history and specially within the communities of some of our interviewees (ranging from rural districts in California to Ethiopia and Brazil), parenting has repeatedly been a collective task, a result of the efforts of neighbors, friends, family members, and older siblings. Yet, in a time when these interactions aren’t always physically possible, how can we emulate this parenting “village” with a focus on connecting, learning, and sharing?
This question led us to the concept that would become our solution: ParentVille.
In order to solve our identified problem, we decided to create ParentVille as a mobile application where parents would be able to connect with each other, vent, share “best practices,” and meet (or e-meet) other parents in their area, as well as different parts of the world. In our initial approach to visual identity and branding, we decided to use fun, playful colors and san-serif typefaces (Lilita One for title and Open Sans for text) in order to create an approachable, warm atmosphere around our app.
User Flow & Sketches
After interviewing such diverse individuals, we realized that although there are many benefits to connecting with people of similar backgrounds, there are universal issues in parenting that enable nearly everyone to learn from each other. We wanted to design ParentVille as a platform that valued affinity but also diversity. We kept these design requirements in mind when crafting our user flow:
We structured our app flow with Community and Village as our two main features. In the Community section, we envisioned a place where parents could find each other and group according to affinities and common interests, be it in their personal lives or in their children. For example, some possible groups would be “Parents of Down Syndrome” and “Parents who are Teachers.” On the Village section, on the other hand, they would be able to search and post questions, ideas, and resources on different topics, interacting with a wide range of parents in a “forum-like” manner.
We tentatively named our main features Community and Village as an extended metaphor of the proverb that inspired our project. In a way, we imagine the user going through the app as an individual would go through a real environment. The outside “village” is where they can socialize openly and hear conversations about a wide variety of topics, while the smaller “communities” are where they can go inside and talk more intimately about matters that are particular to them.
Finally, we had defined the main features of our app, and Mahira and I were able to start creating sketches and basic wireframes.
For our more advanced prototype of the Village feed, we got primary inspiration from Quora in order to create the ability for users to follow both topics and other individuals. Based on their initial preferences, the app would also be able to provide recommendations on posts that may be interesting.
When creating a new post, the user is prompted to start their question with What, How, Why, etc, and include tags that may facilitate their post to be identified. As users type out their question, a list of similar inquiries appears that might have the answer they are looking for — that is done in order to reduce repeating similar threads. We made that decision based on the insight that parents really don’t have a lot of time in their day, and want to interact as swiftly as possible.
For our Community feed prototype, we initially experimented with a location-based “explore” way to find parents in the same area, inspired on the SnapChat map. We decided to try this design after receiving the repeated insight from our interviewees that they would like to know parents in the same community, who would have insight on local activities, events, school updates, etc.
After showing that idea to one of our interviewees, however, we came to the conclusion that “just” a map would not be enough to really foster the creation of small communities and help like minded parents find each other. Although we still plan on keeping the map as an option, we decided to iterate and create a search/filter-based connection flow in which parents could look for communities and individuals based on specific characteristics such as name, location, religion (another common aspect of interest amongst our interviewees), characteristics about kids (not included on design, but would encompass things such as age range, special needs, health issues, hobbies, etc), amongst others.
This “connect” screen is by no means what we intend to have on our final prototype, but it served as a way for us to jot down what we had in mind for the components of the Community feature and understand what kind of common characteristics that parents looked for when trying to bond/vent/share with other adults.
After we presented our iterated prototypes in class and showed them to a couple of our users, we arrived at the following list of next questions we want to address for our next round of iterations:
- How might we include targeted ads that help with the monetization of the app?
- How can we create an onboarding flow that isn’t cumbersome, but allows for a profile with things like location, religion, hobbies, etc?
- How can we create an engaging profile page for users?
- How might we create not only digital groups and communities, but also digital events and webinars?
- Should we include an in-app chat, or have it link to iMessage and WhatsApp?
- How might we improve the flow of “finding” like minded parents in the Community section?
- How can we make the product desirable and simple enough that parents will “switch” from their usual platforms when the topic is parenting?
- How can we make design and UX writing adjustments to encourage a safe sharing environment, where parents are motivated to share and interact without the fear of online “parent bullying”?
The last question is of particular importance to us. Although we believe we have created an interesting initial concept for a real problem, we want to make sure it is a safe space for mothers and fathers of any type. We really want to position our product, both in our design decisions and potential marketing efforts, in a way that tolerates zero forms of hate speech and internet trolling.
Conclusion + What We Learned
First and foremost, we learned that parenting is hard (duh!). Raising one or two or three (or more) little humans requires an insane amount of patience, organization, and love. Although we are not parents, we plan on using that same kind of love to continue iterating on our app, and have a more robust prototype in the upcoming months. We really want to understand what helps and what doesn’t help parents, and evolve on this concept in order to possibly pursue the idea further.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or would like to talk about ideas for ParentVille, please comment below or email me at email@example.com. I would love to know your thoughts!
Thank you for reading :)