The easiest way to make plans with friends.
Our social brains are wired to spend time with other people – especially with friends who support and uplift us. Unfortunately, making group plans isn't always as straightforward as we would like. All too often, excessive back-and-forth messages, scattered event details, and ambiguous replies plague our group chats, causing friction in the decision-making process.
PLUG is a mobile app concept that alleviates these pain points with a straightforward design that promotes clarity of content, brevity of dialogue, and collective decisiveness.
Tools | Sketch, Justinmind
Following the framework expounded in Jaime Levy's UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want, I began the journey of PLUG by articulating a customer/problem hypothesis – a succinct description of a problem that I believe exists and the type of person for whom it exists:
Planners within groups of close friends in LA are functionally underserved by existing group messaging tools when planning group activities and have a strong latent demand for a better solution.
In order to build empathy with my end users, I created a provisional persona that captured the then-unvalidated assumptions I was making about my target customer segment.
Customer Discovery – Approach
To test the validity of my customer/problem hypothesis, I interviewed ten potential customers at The Grove, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and other public locations in LA. I asked questions such as:
- What is the hardest part about making plans with your group of friends?
- What mediums or tools do you use to make group plans with your friends?
- What other tools do you consider to be a substitute?
Customer Discovery – Findings
The findings below validated my customer/problem hypothesis. A key learning from the customer discovery interviews was that planners and non-planners alike experienced the problem.
9 out of 10 interviewees indicated that they experience one or more pain points when using existing tools to make group plans with friends.
10 out of 10 interviewees indicated that they use group text/group chat to make group plans with friends.
6 out of 10 interviewees noted that scheduling is the hardest part about making plans as a group.
7 out of 10 interviewees indicated that there are seven or less people in their core group of friends that hang out regularly.
6 out of 10 interviewees indicated that there are one or two people within their core group of friends that usually plan/organize activities for the group.
Updated Provisional Persona
I updated the provisional persona based on my learnings from the customer discovery interviews.
Competitive Research – Approach
To better understand the competitive landscape, I studied other products that help friends make group plans. The goal was to identify gaps in existing offerings that may represent opportunities for PLUG to deliver differentiated value. I examined six direct competitors (products that offer very similar value propositions to PLUG's target customer) and three indirect competitors (products that serve PLUG's target customer, but offer a different or tangential value proposition). Competitors were evaluated on a variety of factors including personalization features, revenue streams, customer reviews, and UX/UI heuristics.
Direct Competitors: Bash, Myhub, goHappy, Hatch, RoundUp, MESH
Indirect Competitors: iMessage, Messenger, WhatsApp
Competitive Research – Findings
The current market for products that help friends make group plans is a purple ocean: while a number of solutions that directly address the problem exist, none has achieved product-market fit at scale. The overwhelming majority of people in the target customer segment currently solve the problem by using group messaging apps such as iMessage and Messenger. Though ubiquitous, these indirect competitors do a poor job of allowing users to efficiently manage and visualize their group plans.
There exists a significant market opportunity for a product that will allow friends to streamline their planning – specifically with regards to scheduling, location search and suggestions, plan visualization, personalized event recommendations, invitee suggestions, and overall user experience.
After validating my customer/problem hypothesis and conducting competitive research, I identified three key experiences that would be important requirements for users of PLUG and articulated them through my provisional persona, Veronica.
While using PLUG, Veronica will be able to:
- Receive event invitations along with the option to accept, decline, or express interest in them.
- Forward invitations to friends.
- Assimilate the details of her upcoming plans via a compelling data visualization
Integrating the three key experiences, I created a storyboard of how Veronica would use PLUG.
1. Veronica wonders what fun events are going on this weekend.
2. She opens PLUG and sees that a friend invited her to a couple’s brunch.
3. She skims the event details and excitedly accepts the brunch invitation.
4. She Replugs the invitation to her boyfriend, Mark, who also accepts.
5. She visualizes her upcoming plans as a timeline of cards and is excited for the weekend.
6. Veronica and her friends enjoy a hearty brunch full of laughs and banter!
Leveraging the storyboard, I produced an interactive front-end prototype of PLUG in Justinmind (narrated below).
Guerrilla User Research – Execution
Equipped with an interactive front-end prototype, I proceeded to put PLUG in the hands of potential customers and collect feedback. The plan was to validate or invalidate the following assumptions as quickly as possible:
- PLUG is targeting the correct customer segment.
- The value proposition of PLUG is compelling.
- There is enough stickiness built into PLUG to keep users coming back.
With a limited amount of time, I conducted qualitative user research at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. When interviewing my five potential customers, I asked questions that focused more on how valuable the key experiences of PLUG were to them and less on usability.
Guerrilla User Research – Insights
My three key assumptions were validated, although I realized there was still room for improvement.
When comparing the PLUG prototype to group messaging apps, interviewees indicated that PLUG was:
- Better organized
- More visually appealing
- More legitimate
- More user friendly.
- More convenient for forwarding invitations (Replug)
Interviewees also provided constructive feedback, indicating:
- "Interested" is an unnecessary Plug response option
- Direct text may be better for plans between two people
- Dates should be dynamically shown in colloquial language (e.g. "Next Friday")
- Hosts should have the option to enable or disable Replugs for their events
- Hosts should be able to limit the number of Replugs each direct invitee can send (e.g. +1s only)
The outcome of my user research indicated that persevering with PLUG is worthwhile; however, before making any product changes, I need to further process the suggestions I received to make sure I have a deep and thorough understanding of the "why" behind them. Thereafter, I can proceed to update the prototype as needed, conduct additional customer interviews, and partner with an engineer to build a minimum viable product.