Arc  is an app that expands the
capabilities of digitally archiving ideas.

Date

Spring 2020

Time

10 weeks

Role

Designer

Tools

Sketch, Anima,
AfterEffects, Illustrator

Overview

In this 10 week project, I designed an app where ideas of any form can be translated digitally through an intuitive user experience.


As someone who has many interests and a less-than-stellar memory, I am a regular user of digital archiving. Through using existing archiving apps, I have found that none of the existing digital archiving platforms fully meet my needs. After talking to other users of these platforms, I realized that they shared similar frustrations. I saw room for improvement, mainly through expanding the digital form that ideas can take, making the process of creating content easier, and creating an interface that was streamlined and adaptable to its content. Arc is my solution— a blend of the best features of existing platforms, and new features I haven't seen anywhere else.

This project was the capstone for my design degree, and I aimed to spend the majority of project time on UX research (an area I have less experience in) and creating a polished design system. Moving forward, I hope to utilize my computer science minor and continue this project into a fully developed iOS app.

Market Research

I began the ideation process for Arc by examining the archiving apps I already use. Through defining what I appreciated in each service, as well as identifying problematic user flows and gaps in user experience, I gained further insight into the direction that Arc’s functionality would take.


Pinterest


As the market leader in digital archiving, Pinterest specializes in providing a continuous feed of visual inspiration and curating suggested content to its users. Pinterest’s interface is centralized around images, with all other interface elements seemingly minimized as much as possible. Posts’ titles and descriptions take up a maximum of two lines on the home page, and buttons for actions such as pinning are displayed only when the user long-presses on posts.

 

Pinterest’s focus on image-based content limits functionality in other areas. On the mobile app, there is no option to edit the title and description of a post that you are repinning— these features are only available through the website. The only way to provide commentary on a post is to comment publicly. Creating a post requires users to attach an image, with no option for posts in a text format. These limitations prevent users from customizing their content privately with text, a feature I consider essential to digital archiving.

“I think I’ve reached the end of Pinterest! I keep seeing the same content over and over again.”

“No matter my settings, all I see are things I’ve already liked and seen over and over, and also ads, which are obnoxious.”

“Everytime I pin something, 75% of the following pins are the same subject or same pin repeated.”

 

Original content creation is a secondary action to reposting existing content on the platform. On the home page, there is no add button to create a new pin. This button only exists on the “Pins” section of users‘ profile screen, and is hidden until the user scrolls up. Browsing Pinterests’ reviews on the App Store, I saw this issue clearly reflected in users’ complaints about repetitive and recycled content. Many felt that their feed largely consists of content they‘ve seen already, content that Pinterests’ algorithm incorrectly believes they’re interested in, and ads disguised as regular posts. Overall, users wanted more choice in the content they were shown, and new/ more varied content.


Are.na


Are.na is a much smaller platform than Pinterest, and is used primarily by the creative community. It was created as a more mindful approach to digital archiving, with a concept of connecting ideas, or “blocks”, into collections of content called “channels”. Unlike Pinterest, posts can be text, files and links, and there are no likes, ads or sponsored content.

Unfortunately, I found Are.na’s mobile user experience to be confusing, even having prior experience with their block/channel system of organization. When first opening the app, you are immediately prompted to sign up/ login. The login process and error handling is unpolished— when I entered incorrect information the error notification was unspecific. With no initial suggestion of the app’s value or content, the screen felt static and uninviting. The onboarding tutorial that follows is a lengthy 9 slides.

 

Once inside the app, navigating between the app’s sections– feed, explore and profile, is cumbersome. The navigation menu is only accessible through a tiny dropdown arrow at the top of the screen. The menu seems extraneous given there are only three options, and any section switch requires a minimum of two clicks. Some nav menu items opened a secondary screen with a back button, and left me lost in the app because of the user flow inconsistency.

I appreciated the prominence of the “add content” button across all of the app’s screens. I also liked the ease of connecting one post to multiple boards. The main standout of the app was the ability to make a post of pure text. Overall, Are.na’s design style feels cold and too minimalistic, with a discordantly complicated user experience.

User Research

To further understand users’ experiences with digital archiving platforms, I created a survey and distributed it through classes and online student groups. The body of participants included both design students and students from other disciplines, and I received 60 responses in total.


Survey Insights

What formats of content do you archive or want to archive?

How do you typically organize your content into collections?

What do you like about Pinterest?

“The recommended pins.”

"It curates your feed to your interests so you don’t scroll through useless posts."

“I've been using it since middle school and like how it now curates a feed based on what I'm pinning, so I'm not only seeing what people I follow post.”

What do you dislike about Pinterest?

“i don't like the interface. it feels uncustomizable”

"Lots of broken links, low quality images, generally no quality control on the platform."

“inefficient organization, difficult to browse other content (only shows you things related to what you already have saved, so it's hard to find anything new)”

How do you like to receive content?

How much of your content is original, and how much is reposted content that already existed on the platform?

Objectives

From examining my market and user research, I developed a few objectives to hold as priorities while designing Arc, based on prominent pain points that users had with existing platforms.


Flexibility


Users want an interface that will allow as much flexibility and customization as possible in the archiving process. Pinterest users are limited in what form their ideas can take, and are further restricted by no post description option on mobile. When surveyed, users overwhelmingly supported the idea of additional post formats such as text and drawing. Beyond expanding the form that posts can take, this idea could be implemented in content curation. While more than half of surveyed users were satisfied with Pinterests' algorithm, there were many complaints about the lack of control they had in changing their content feed. These complaints were predictably more evident in Pinterests' app store reviews. In short, users appreciate hands-off content curation, but need it to be less fixed and untouchable in the event of dissatisfaction with their feed. Are.na was created in part to solve the issue of too much limitation, but the user experience suffered. How might I create a user experience that provides flexibility while remaining streamlined?


Content Creation


Many Pinterest users have the problem of a repetitive content feed. Although this is partially due to the algorithm, it also points to a larger issue of too little new content being added. 41.2% of survey respondents indicated that all of their content already existed on the platform, meaning that they had not created any original content. 32.4% of respondents indicated that most of their content was existing, with only some original content. How can users be encouraged to create content, and how can the ease of creating content be improved?


Simplicity & Ease of Use


Some users found the digital archiving platforms distracting from their content. Survey respondents expressed frustration with Pinterest's UX/UI, describing it as "annoying" and "overwhelming". Despite Are.na's interface being opposite to Pinterest's aesthetically, it felt equally overwhelming in several of its flows. How can I design an interface that complements, rather than complicates, its content?

Design

My final design for Arc, broken down by key features & user flows.


Flexible Post Documentation


Arc's interface accomodates posts of any layout, meaning that post elements such as description and tags/collections (detailed later) are optional. In views such as Profile-Posts, a masonry grid is utilized to merge longer posts, such as one with a long description, with shorter posts, like posts without descriptions. Users are shown a maximum of three description lines, so that they are able to write long descriptions without dominating their Posts view. After clicking on posts that are already assigned to a tag or collection, users have the option to edit the post and add or remove any of these fields. On full screen view of posts without any fields filled out, only a time stamp is shown below the post. For posts with only some fields filled out, the respective fields are shown.

 




Added Post Types


Arc supports image, text, link, drawing, and scan post types. A user can access the menu for adding posts by clicking the add button within the bottom navigation bar. The add button is displayed consistently across every screen, and is prominently positioned to encourage users to create content. Each flow to create a post is reached with only two clicks from any screen, and uses minimal screens to keep the process quick and simple. Through the same menu, a user can choose to create a new collection of content. Users can assign new or existing tags to their post on the last step of each flow.

 




Tag & Collection System


Users can organize their content using collections and tags. Collections operate similarly to a Pinterest board— users define a collection and directly assign posts to it. Tags act similarly to hashtags, in that users assign tags to posts, and those posts will be assigned to the corresponding tags automatically. If a user assigns two tags to a post, the post will appear under both tags. A user can browse their content by tag and collection on the Profile-Collections screen. Every tag used by the user is shown on this screen, prioritized by number of usages. An expanded view is available through clicking "see more". The tag & collection system provides users a method of categorizing content without much forethought through tags, while still providing traditional self-defined collections.

 




Content Feed


Users can browse a continuous feed of content curated to them on their Home screen. Content on Home-For You is generated algorithmically, while Home-Following only shows you content from users you follow. For searching Arc's content and browsing by idea, a user can go to the Explore screen, where trending collections are shown as well as suggested tags to explore. When asked about importance of social engagement, survey respondents indicated that ability to follow others is important, but engagement with their followers such as liking and commenting is not. A user can follow any board, tag or user, but social media features are kept to a minimum to keep distractions from the content minimal.