An entrepreneur had an innovative idea for the budding cannabis industry. But good ideas on their own are rarely able to secure funding — what he needed was a prototype. Over the course of two weeks I collaborated with another designer to understand the problem space, design a solution and create an interactive prototype that our client would use when pitching to potential investors.
The idea was to create an app connecting cannabis suppliers (growers) and cannabis retailers with each other. The client—a supplier—often experienced the struggle of locating trustworthy retailers himself. With recreational cannabis use soon becoming legal he wanted to get a head start on developing his new business.
The engagement began by inviting the client to participate in a collaborative two-day workshop. My goal was to initiate the transfer of domain knowledge and define the problem we would be solving to help guide the production of the prototype.
“You don't even know if you'll have a buyer for what you're growing.”
“I didn’t even know I had a shift scheduled for tomorrow.”
I facilitated the workshop whose attendees included another designer, engineer, project manager, the client and his colleague. After a round of introductions I started the day by having the client simply describe his idea and the pain points he personally experienced which led to it. Once we had a surface-level understanding of the problem we began a deep-dive into the subject by defining the project's guiding principles.
The purpose of this exercise is to begin to define key elements that will help guide direction of the project. First we document what problem the product is attemping to solve by describing what it should do. Second, we define tangible goals for what success looks like for the business and for the product itself. Lastly we pay attention to specifics around what the user experience should be like and how a user is supposed to feel after engaging with the product.
After establishing a commonality around the guiding principles we moved on to an exercise in empathy. We had already identified that the app would be targeting two critical players in the cannabis industry: the suppliers and the retailers. Next, we discussed and mapped each user segment's tasks, influences, goals, pain points and feelings.
I also wrote an article describing how empathy maps are important not just for understanding your user but client perceptions as well:
In order to identify the biggest opportunities for improvement we created a chronological journey map of both user's actions. We placed suppliers and retailers along the same axis to see points of overlap. Only after visualizing each user's end-to-end experience are we able to see where clusters appear, indicating complexity or friction.
One of my favorite activities is a participatory exercise called design studio. It requires all in attendance to ideate and sketch out solutions, no matter their level of artistic ability. Some choose to draw low-fidelity wireframes, storyboards and flows while others choose a text-only or list-based approach. In this instance, the prompt was selected from a collection of "How Might We" questions that surfaced during the workshop as highly-significant points to return to.
Our client referred us to other suppliers and retailers in the industry. Through email and phone calls we were able to validate some of the issues that came up during the workshop. Many people were hesitant to speak with us however, and were understandably a bit suspicious of our probing into how their federally illegal busines was run.
“It's like the wild west. It's prohibition all over again.”
“This business rests on their shoulders. Transparency builds trust.”
While I organized findings and created a sitemap, my colleague conducted a competitive analysis. The analysis looked at companies that were operating in a slightly different market (cannabis retailer to consumer) because it appeared there were no other products tackling the supplier to retailer segment. It helped to familiarize us with the type of content cannabis businesses were dealing with and served as a jumping-off point for our styleguide.
Taking stock of everything we had learned I began to develop a sitemap. With one week remaining on the project it was imperative that I identify the core flows and interactions that would have the most impact when demonstrating the app to potential investors.
I focused on showcasing three main aspects of the experience: the process of adding a business to the platform, narrowing business results by using filters and browsing business profiles from the perspective of a retailer looking to engage with a supplier.
We began creating low-fidelity wireframes and organizing flows of screens as outlined in the sitemap. Knowing what to create for the prototype was easy since we had already identified the most important parts of the experience to highlight. After getting some feedback from the client and a few quick iterations we moved into higher fidelity.
My colleague created a styleguide influenced by visual direction gathered from the workshop, competitive analysis and existing branding. She also created a new logo based on the core idea of better connecting industry suppliers and retailers to each other.
We increased the fidelity of our wireframes using the new styleguide as a reference. My colleague and I utilized color sparingly, paying attention to details like fine-tuning font sizes and maintaing visual consistency. Our mockups ultimately created a foundation for our interactive prototype by establishing a unified design system.
Prototyping plays an important role in the design process—enabling designers to communicate how a set of static mockups can actually help solve a problem. Our goal to was create something that the client could demonstrate and load onto the phones of potential investors.
I linked our screens into flows to walk through key value propositions of the app. Creating the prototype with Invision also resulted in small wins like realistically-animated page transitions, relying on familiar mental models to imply a clear navigation structure.
After a few pitches with the prototype, our client was successful in securing more funding to continue developing his business. I'm looking forward to seeing the product evolve over time!
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