Kuntal Patel
USDA

The Department of Agriculture (USDA)

OBJECTIVE

((USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would like to develop the Market Analysis & Reporting Services (MARS), data platform to deliver market price information to the commodities industry, around the globe. USDA Market News provides timely, and accurate market information of hundreds of agricultural commodities and their related products, which data gives a representative picture of commodity markets and promotes market transparency.

INSIGHT

Does this situation sound familiar? In the middle of the day you’ve been told that you’re joining a team in middle of the sprint; be a one-person UX team. To find out ways to optimize the workflow and Application interface to elevate the overall experience. (What was going on in my mind that time: “You’ve got this. You are where you are because you’re good at what you do.”) And, Sure I said yes, I can do this.

RESEARCH, IDEATE, PROTOTYPE

In the discovery phase, I started gaining understanding of Who? What? Why?
• Who is the user?
• What is the business goal for the product?
• What is the value of the product?
• What are the core components?
• What are market expectations?
• What we have done in the past?

What were the immediate Challenges:
• The one-person UX Team
• Lack of the problem statement
• Lack of qualitative empathetic understanding of users
• MVP only focused on Desktop expertise designed by developers. Per project scope, this System should have applied device-agnostic design

Current MVP Testing
Results from contextual inquiries of the client's current MVP:
• User interface were lacking aesthetic-usability effect
• Typeface was hard to read.
• System categories were unclear.
• Inconsitent widgets flying around across pages.



To get a sense of direction, I studied MVP design conventions and existing IA. I did quick competitive analysis with other e-commerce sites.
Business Goals
• Combine Market News reporting functions into a single, standardized user-managed platform
• Improve data quality
• Dynamic online and offline data collection and dissemination to help support areas where internet connection is a challenge
• Automated data transfers

UX Goals
• System needed to be accessible, usable, and responsive design solution
• Seamless data collection and elevate dissemination through any device – Desktop or tablet
• reduce complexity of basic data entry (but still keep it available for power user)

I didn’t have lot of time; so, I needed to think about two fundamentals:
1 How can I efficiently do my work today?
2 How can I prove the value of UX so that I can get more resources in future?

I knew I have to be adaptable with my Design Thinking mindset; an ideology of approaching every problem in user-centered design. First, I needed to find UX allies who has empathy for end users and understand the value of UX as I do. I have started brainstorming with Client and internal team on the whiteboard. (This becomes habit and most looking forward activity as a group as time goes by. They felt validated and invested with my understating of end user needs through empathy and research. Wish I had some photos to support this. Sigh)

Now that I took a challenge to wow the client middle of the project, I jumped straight to crafting high-fidelity prototype in Axure to meet project tight timeline. I gave this System a brand personality keeping USDA style guide and responsive web standard best practices in mind. At that time, my focus was Key user interface along with proposed navigation structure as a concept. Additionally, I supplemented my competitive analysis report to support the structure I proposed. (I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was making lot of assumptions. Spoiler alert, it all worked out in the end.)

After few iteration cycles, we arrived at intuitive, visually-appealing responsive design. The client was impressed.
After few sprint cycle, we recruited 7 users with a diverse age range (ages 23 to 67) to perform usability test of high-fidelity prototype. We had received good amount of feedback, which we evaluated as a group and incorporated in the prototype.
At this point, I convinced the group to gain empathetic understanding by going to the field study. We went to visit Livestock (Live Cattle) Auctions as well as cotton offices where market news reporters go and collect data. This tremendously helped identify gaps in our own understanding.


High-fidelity Prototype link

For confidentiality reasons I have omitted the actual values.

RESULTS

USDA launches MARS. We implemented on-line as well as offline data collection capabilities to help support areas where internet connection is a challenge. We designed and implemented intuitive, finger-friendly data intensive mobile application to capture livestock auctions for various commodities such as feeder cattle and cotton.

Lessons learned:
• Put user into center in every decisions you are making
• Adapt iterative process to your needs
• You’ve got this. Just keep going
• Real enthusiasm is persuasive and contagious so let your passion for design show

REFLECTION

Well, now that this product got launched, it’s time for another round of analysis. It’s time to ask myself and my team below so we gain valuable knowledge that we can leverage in future projects run more even smoothly:
• Where did we our process go right?
• Where did we struggle?
• How are the users are responding?
• Did we solve their issues and pain points?