Bring the magic of human relationships into the everyday through a gifting app that lets you send a wished-for gift to friends and family (in secret and surprise).
Book Surprise – an app concept that features electronic gifting for friends and family. Made with Adobe Experience Design.
I was once invited to participate in Adobe Creative Jam, an event where design leaders share their process and projects while a select pack of designers duke it out in an Adobe-sponsored design tournament.
I was one of those wide-eyed UX designers wrangling for supremacy that day.
Here’s a story of how Kaspar So and I tackled the Adobe Creative Jam design challenge and our takeaways from this fantastic event.
So how do Adobe Creative Jams work?
As part of a unique, two-part (creation and presentation) design event, ten teams of two compete against each other to execute a… design concept based on a theme revealed at the event.
After three hours and no rules, the teams present their work to an audience/jury who chooses a winning team.
The prizes? A trophy, a free year of Creative Cloud and, of course, bragging rights.
– Sue Garibaldi, “What’s Your Creative Jam?”
Since the Toronto jam was focused on User Experience design, this was a huge opportunity to showcase Adobe Experience Design (a.k.a. “Adobe XD”) – Adobe’s answer to Sketch, InVision, Figma, and the rest.
We were asked to work with XD especially if we end up delivering an interactive prototype as an entry.
Kaspar has arrived, participants have set up, and my coffee is at arm’s reach. It’s time to reveal the theme for the night.
“Interpret this as much as you like,” says Senior Adobe Evangelist Paul Trani who was also the event’s host. “You have three hours to come up with something magical.”
With those words, the competition was on.
We went back and forth on ideas for 45 minutes. I began by asking about his first impressions of the theme, what comes to mind when “magic” is said, and the emotions evoked by such a word.
For Kaspar, magic is:
- Something not done before
- Completely new
- Puts a smile on your face
Then I shared my impressions of the theme. I talked about the day’s papers, the front page that featured Canada’s increasing diversity (Statistics Canada was releasing the trends from the recent census that time) and how it made a deep impression on me.
This magic of connectedness seemed very special. If there was a way to celebrate this diversity or make the magic of connection as everyday as possible, I’d love to consider it.
My starting point was admittedly nebulous. But with Kaspar’s input and vital pushback, we bubbled, considered, scrapped, and remixed ideas until we arrived at a product concept for gift-giving friends. Where the magic of connection gets amplified through gifts that come as a surprise.
Book Surprise is a gifting app that sends presents to your friends in minutes. It lets you pick and identify an item a friend would like and then send it as a gift. You can go for the purchase option (i.e. buy the gift and have it delivered) or the share it option (i.e. send your pre-loved gift to your friend).
“Book”, here, refers to the type of gift the app focuses on. We decided to focus on books from an established location to have a finite list of “giftable” items to work with. The last thing we wanted was to have an endless list of gifts to catalogue and work with, hence the decision to work with places that have a “database” of items for gifting like your Walmart, Chapters, Barnes & Noble, or your public library.
So how does this app work?
Think Shazam for books (or gifts, etc.) – the user photographs the gift, the app identifies it, and offers to purchase and send the gift for you. Our goal here was to simplify the gift-giving process so you can focus on choosing the best gift for your friends versus fussing how to send it.
We especially wanted to ensure that you are sending a gift that your friend truly wants (either through word of mouth or through the app’s social features) and receives it from someone who cares about him or her. This is how we bring magic into the everyday.
Once we were sure about what we are building, we started listing the screens for the app. We divided the screens amongst ourselves so we could prototype sooner rather than later.
Dude, where’s my wireframes?!?
We really didn’t have wireframes because we were working under pressure! By the time we finished ideating, all we wanted was to get on XD so we could submit our entry sooner rather than later. Done was better than perfect. So we used every single minute we could get.
Here’s a very important point: It was extremely remarkable how Kaspar and I were mentally aligned.
We allowed individual interpretations of each screen, trusting each other’s design instinct, provided that we will harmonize them once we’re ready to connect the screens with each other (i.e. XD’s Prototype view).
It’s as if we were on a mutual trust fall, giving each other free rein on the design (a.k.a. designing in our heads) versus micromanaging every pixel of the prototype. This was huge for an extreme planner like me. And I’ll be honest – it felt very refreshing.
Discover & share this Fall GIF with everyone you know. GIPHY is how you search, share, discover, and create GIFs.
Here are the designs that Kaspar and I worked on and who exactly did what.
By 7:30 PM, we were racing to finish the prototype (deadline was in 30 minutes). We combined our artboards, changed some colours and fonts to ensure screens are aesthetically consistent, and then “sewn” the screens to form a coherent and flowing prototype.
Once we felt this was good enough, we tested the prototype and submitted it.
Now, it was up to the judges. And audience.
And the Winner Is…
…not us. 😭
I was okay with that.
The contest’s winners delivered extremely delightful prototypes and were a lot more beautiful than what Kaspar and I delivered. The top pick was about an app that lets you escape awkward situations (like painful first dates or running into your ex) while the runner-up made a mobile game that makes you look after your emotional wellbeing.
Book Surprise, however, was more pragmatic. We went for something that could have business and social potential – building partnerships with, say, retailers or local libraries while building a community of ‘gifters’ who surprise each other with a wished-for item.
Our aesthetics could certainly be better.
But I’m happy with what we delivered given the time that we had. It’s a miracle that Kaspar and I made it to the finish line, really. Some teams in other cities do not even make it to the deadline – a scarier and sadder sight for Adobe and the participants.
While Book Surprise had a poor showing (I should have voted for myself!), there was something to be said about our concept’s business use.
Paul Trani himself seemed to gravitate towards our concept (I could be wrong, but I was feeling the sentiment) and some audience members said that they would use an app that had the same features as Book Surprise.
This happened at least THREE times during the post-event mixer with folks talking about actual Toronto businesses who could benefit from this app should it get built!
It’s one thing for audience members to pat me on the back for participating in Adobe Creative Jam. But it’s another to see them draw the connections for me in conversation!
We can debate whether these sentiments are real or just polite talk. But it made me feel better about our performance and the decisions we’ve made throughout the jam. It surely validated the product’s pragmatic orientation and I’m curious to see what would happen if a similar app were to pop up in the near future.
What Would You Have Done Differently?
I’m proud of what we delivered and consider it a remarkable piece given the short time we had making it.
But if I had another kick in the can, here’s what I’d do differently:
Establish a colour scheme
Book Surprise’s visual decisions were admittedly made on the fly.
I’d do a more deliberate discovery process that examines competitor apps, mobile patterns, and colour schemes that work for products such as these.
This would mean moodboards, style tiles, competitive analysis, and other methods that will help me create a solid visual design strategy for Book Surprise 2.
Examine the user flow
I don’t think Book Surprise has a bad user flow. But I also think it could be better.
What I have right now is an app-specific user flow. I want to know if this is consistent with how people send gifts especially those who use apps to do just that. I want to align Book Surprise 2 with how people expect and do electronic gifting – a job that user interviews can fulfill, and extensive usability testing of both competitor apps and Book Surprise’s current edition.
The Canadian beer company Steam Whistle is known for its motto, “Do one thing really, really well”. Book Surprise 2 should reflect this and it involves examining the usefulness of our two principal features – purchase vs. share – and if it is clear from the screen what you should do next. Is it worth keeping the two features or must I commit to one?
This, again, will be a job for user interviews and usability testing.
Clearer Home Screen
This one’s a fail. And yes, I designed it. 😰
It seemed a good idea at the time. But now that I look at it, it feels confusing. You don’t really know what to do next just by glancing at this screen. Instead, you’re treated to a feed of user activity that’s both contextless and unclear. There’s got to be a better way.
This is where competitive analysis can truly help. Card-based layouts featuring principal functions might really be useful instead of an activity feed. These, however, are conjectures. And what do good UXers do when they’re in doubt?
So yup. This is going to be a job for usability testing too.
Adobe Creative Jam was really fun to go through. The pressure cooker setting feels prickly – and understandably so – but it all worked out in the end.
Effective collaboration really goes a long way. Kaspar and I seemed to have genuine respect for each other during the jam; and it was remarkable considering it’s our first time to team up for some big thing.
I couldn’t ask for a better teammate for this jam. And I think the feeling is mutual.
Thanks for having me! It was great working with you and I’m really happy with our process and product.
I’m happy to have done it with you as it means a lot to have a senior designer leading the way (it really calms the nerves)!
And for sure! I look forward to continuing to explore this idea. I think it would make for a great case study.
Thanks again for including me, I really appreciate it. I hope to see you around soon!
Kaspar to Jem (October 30, 2017)
So what’s my final verdict for Adobe Creative Jam Toronto 2017?
This design jam was a success and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you, Adobe, for giving me the chance to create with XD.
Organizing Company: Adobe Systems, Inc.
Event Details: Adobe Creative Jam 2017 (Toronto, Canada)