Project Meta

Employment

Role: Digital Product Designer
Capacity: Full-time
Timeline: August 2019 – July 2020

Project Type(s)

Mobile Application
SaaS products
Website
Self-Improvement

Contributors

Ann Konecny, Co-Founder / Creative Director
Jordan Tung, Co-Founder / Project Manager
Bret Pudenz, iOS Developer
Blake Tiemann, Web Developer
Contract team, Android Development
Liz Hixon, Product Designer

My Contribution

Design System
Interface Design
Interaction Design
Web Design
Prototyping
Transition to Figma

Overview

Life is a journey. Let Nukshuk be your guide.

Nukshuk /nook’ shook/ enables users to set goals, monitor habits, connect with friends and coaches, and share habits and progress for encouragement and accountability.

An all-in-one habit tracker, users aren’t limited to one self-improvement area, but can track any habits: health and fitness goals, increasing positivity, kicking bad habits, furthering education, diving deeper in spiritual disciplines, and so much more!

There is a wide variety of pre-loaded habits to choose from. The app also provides an extreme level of customization to edit these existing habits or create new habits.

The Concept

The concept for Nukshuk was birthed by co-founder Ann, who wanted to automate the daily habit-tracking she was already doing using spreadsheets. Drawing on scientific approaches to long-term self-improvement and books like Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Ann believed in the power of small daily habits to make major life changes. She hoped to make this life changing success accessible to everyone through the power of simple daily habits.

Key App Features

Daily Habit Check In
Cultivating daily habits leads to long term success. Nukshuk helps manage daily routines by providing a quick and easy method to check in to all habits in one place.

Tracking Progress
Nukshuk provides weekly progress and analytics views to see improvement over time.

Complete Habits in App
“AUTO Boards” provide a way to track daily gratitude, review mantras and more. This way, users can complete and check into their habits without leaving the app.

Connect and Communicate
Connect with friends and coaches to create a trusted circle of support. Users have complete control over the information and habits that they share. Accountability partners can review and like each other’s progress and communicate via in-app messaging.

Customization and Privacy
Nukshuk provides a dark mode feature to reduce eye strain. Numerous color profiles allow users to customize the app. The start day of a week is also customizable. Users also have complete control over their privacy settings, from what profile information is visible to which connections they share habits with.

My Role

Though I was the only designer on this agile team, I would never consider myself a team of one. I worked closely with Ann to bring her vision to life, with Jordan to prioritize for timeline and budget goals, and with developers to ensure that anything I created was realistic and could be seamlessly handed off.

In addition, I communicated with beta users and individuals in our target markets. This helped distinguish core features from power user features and create solutions based on the needs of real users.

My responsibilities included usability audits, user communication, implementing feedback loops, streamlining user interactions, introducing new features, and improving the visual interface.

I also pioneered our team’s transition from Sketch to Figma. It had become difficult to hand off Sketch designs to developers who didn’t work on Macs. I also recognized a need for more collaboration in design as the company scaled. I recommended a switch to Figma because of its focus on browser-based collaborative design. The process took more than a month, but Figma provided our team with multiple benefits: easy handoff to anyone who needed access to the designs, basic prototyping, and component variations.

Challenge

I joined Nukshuk when the app was in beta. It was clearly “designed” by developers. Though packed with functionality and detailed customization, the app was extremely difficult to navigate and left users confused.

Working with the project manager to garner feedback from beta testers, I did a design audit to determine where improvements needed to be made. Some of these notes included the following:

Check in screen prior to my hire (2019)

Various Iterations of the Weekly Progress View

Weekly progress screen before my hire (2019)
Working to simplify the view
Data visualization explorations
Data visualization explorations
Simplified data visualization with basic engagement badges
End of week view: design was simplified further to optimize dev time

Constraints

Timeline

When I joined the team in August of 2019, Nukshuk hoped to launch the app in time for the New Year. Because we only had 4 months, I had to find a balance between solving all the problem areas with our launch deadline. This required me to prioritize problems that could be most easily/quickly solved and provide the highest return. An agile environment, it was important to remember that the design process and app implementation was an iterative process. This played into the various timeline and budgetary constraints that I had to take into consideration.

Budget

Though the nitty gritty of the balance sheet wasn’t part of my job scope, I had to remain realistic with design goals. Longer design and dev time meant more spend, and it also meant that our product was not live and could not provide any return. For sustainability of the product and company, I had to realize that the design process had to be iterative. Not everything could be implemented at once before the product launched because we would run out of resources.

Development

Because the product was already created and [almost] fully functional, there were existing systems implemented by developers that had to be compensated for. Since backend or database changes could take lots of time and have unforeseen consequences, it was important to design for software compatibility. This required close communication with developers throughout the design and development process. At times, it required additional iterations after dev hand-off if unexpected complications arose for them.

Process

Beta feedback

I worked with Jordan, co-founder and project manager, to get feedback from beta users, especially prior to the official app launch.

Feedback loops

I developed surveys to get demographic information and app feedback from users who were consistently using the app as well as users who had dropped off. This enabled us to analyze what we were doing well and areas where we could improve.

User flows and sitemaps

Sketching user flows (journey maps) and sitemaps went hand-in-hand to help outline an overall vision for how users would interact with the app. From large overarching interactions, I would then break down smaller processes. This would help inform navigation, hierarchy, location of elements on the screens, etc.

Wireframes

I always start the visual step with hand-drawn wireframes. My initial  wireframe sketches are pretty messy-looking as I quickly get ideas on paper. Once I start to settle on an outline, I’ll draw more refined wireframes before getting approval and moving things into Figma.

Internal Critique

Design is an highly iterative process. All of my process and designs would go through rounds of internal iterations and approvals before being handed off to developers. At this point, if there were any issues with development constraints, I would make additional iterations to accommodate.

Interactive Prototyping

Since Figma allows for basic interactive prototyping, I was able to create interactive click-throughs that allowed both our team and testers to sample how new features or updates would look and function.

External feedback

With each update and launch, we would get feedback from beta testers and users. This – and overall business goals – helped inform further features and updates.

Analysis of primary bottom navigation based on primary and secondary application features

Design System

I created implemented a design system to use across the Nukshuk app and SaaS products. Using atomic design, I outlined the design system as a Figma library so components could be easily added and implemented. This included buttons, fields, icons, headers, navigation, toggles, colors, layouts, and more.

The design system ensured platform, interaction, and brand consistency. This also enabled developers to access all the information they needed for each component.

Outcomes

“…products that require a high degree of behavior change are doomed to fail.”

Nir Eyal
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Reviews

Across the board, our app received glowing reviews in the App Store and Google Play Store (except for a short period during the existence of a developer bug). Many people noted they were using Nukshuk to affect healthy and positive changes in their lives!

Retention rate

A major barrier to adoption and retention of our application is the cold, hard truth that people are hard to change. Though development ceased before testing and implementation, we created four possible paths to increase user engagement and retention:

  • Accountability
    Intentional accountability can nearly double your chances of habit retention. We analyzed ways to implement more interaction between users through bettering notifications for accountability partners, allowing connections to react to habit progress, and group creation with leaderboards to challenge each other.
  • Gamification
    By awarding successes and check-in consistency, we hoped to inspire users to stay engaged and on track with their habit goals.
  • Smarter notifications
    We outlined methods to implement more intuitive notifications based on users’ and their connections’ check-in patterns. By tracking additional data, we would be able to look at which habit categories users were more successful at, send reminders if they forgot to check in past their average check-in time, and much more.
  • Improved in-app messaging
    The current in-app messaging process requires users to scroll through an alphabetical list of their connections to find the person they want to contact. I streamlined the navigation of the app to allow for a central message inbox that enabled users to more easily message and follow up with their connections.

Onboarding

Through research into habit building and user patterns in our app, we determined that we needed a more robust onboarding system. The existing system simply served to demonstrate basic functions of the app. However, we didn’t give any guidance on best practices for creating habits that would contribute to users’ longterm goals.

I worked to develop a more systematic approach to app onboarding that included asking users about what they hoped to accomplish and suggesting habits based on their goals.

This user data could be stored to help inform smarter notifications and guide users in their habit tracking journey for the longterm.

Failures

From both an app and SaaS perspective, there are multiple ways I believe we could have improved our products. As a team, the  biggest challenge is to navigate the optimal compromise between end user experience and team capabilities and timeline. Because of this, our designs had to be very iterative – small updates and implementations that would give way to the next update.

Sadly, we weren’t able to get where we wanted to go as a startup company. There were a few factors that bit us in the butt. While I’m no business expert, I would be lacking if I didn’t analyze some of the failures that I believe contributed to the dissolve of Nukshuk.

  • Poor Android development
    The team our company hired to develop our Android app was nearly 6 months behind schedule. This greatly delayed our ability to market our app and build a user base. Their team did not refer to our design system – something we didn’t discover till late in the process. Instead, they “eyeballed it” and recreated each component individually on different screens. Though I detected this and noted the design inconsistencies throughout the app, this was another factor that took a a long time to correct. Due to the inadequacies of the development team we worked with, the quality of the final Android app is still far inferior to the iOS version.
  • Indecisive leadership
    A difficult aspect to navigate was regular shifting of company business goals. While gamification became priority #1 for a few months, once it was in development, the leadership decided to pivot to something else. Similar situations happened numerous times. I believe these shifts unnecessarily burned time, money, and resources.
  • Lack of resources
    I believe reaching out for investor support when the app was still in beta would have enabled additional finances to be allotted for hiring developers, speeding up the implementation process. Additionally, investors would have created a more stable company hierarchy that could have helped direct business goals, eliminating the shifts that occurred.
Some badges for gamification
Global in-app messaging inbox
Global in-app messaging inbox
New navigation: check in, progress and analytics included in single tab-able view. Profile is more accessible. Global messaging inbox is included. Most important features on included on dash. Supplementary features are included in features menu (☆ icon).
New onboarding method that includes goal-setting
New onboarding method that includes goal-setting

Takeaways

It’s not just about the end user

It’s easy to focus solely on the end user and target solutions to create the best possible product to suit their needs. However, the reality is that compromises usually have to be made for team needs, company goals, software structures, budget, etc. A company and/or product cannot sustain itself or succeed if all of these factors are not taken into consideration. My experience at Nukshuk woke me up from being the starry-eyed idealistic designer to the realities of these real-world constraints. And I think that is probably the most important lesson any product designer can learn!

Design is iterative

Just because the perceived ideal solution can’t be implemented immediately due to various constraints, that doesn’t mean the existing product can’t be improved in smaller ways. In fact, small iterations are better as it gives the product team the ability to get feedback and determine whether the perceived ideal solution was in fact the best solution. To come full circle, small improvements lead the way to big changes (that was the foundation of Nukshuk to begin with).

Experience Nukshuk for Yourself