Part of the Smart.fm iPhone App Story
While Dan is busy coding away at the iPhone App, I wanted take this time to share about our first project with smart.fm, a project to reimagine the smart.fm web experience!
What’s in a name? What we call something can have a profound impact on the way we think about it. And changing the way we think about something can have powerful implications on what we design and how we evaluate it. For smart.fm, the ah-ha moment came when we realized that it’s about Goals, not Lists.
Smart.fm is a learning community founded on a powerful technology that equips users to memorize anything — from the Capitals of the World to Japanese Vocabulary to the names of various Heart Murmurs. Today, you learn using Lists. A List is a set of content about a topic that is typically managed by a single person or a content partner. While Lists are a straightforward organizing principle, they don’t form natural hubs of activity. It’s hard to rally around a list.
Smart.fm partnered with Adaptive Path to transform the site into a “motivating, social world of learning.” Collaborating closely with smart.fm, our team (Me, Brian Cronin and Kate Rutter) sought out new ways to bring people together and engage them in collaboration and competition around learning. Through a series of exercises where we envisioned what the experience of using smart.fm could be like, the answer that emerged was Goals.
Instead of organizing content around topics, which people may study for many different reasons, content will soon be organized around Goals that people can form communities around. But before I get into the exciting implications of this shift, I wanted to share some of the experience-minded tools that led us to it:
1) We described the experience we wanted to aim for.
Using our Elevator Pitch “mad-lib” template, we brainstormed ways to fill in the blanks: “For people who… the new smart.fm is… It’s different because…” Ideas that emerged included “Smart.fm is like a pickup basketball game — it’s easy to jump right in and participate.” We refined these ideas into guiding principles that described the ideal smart.fm experience: “a friendly social world of learning” that “invites play” and “reveals and celebrates progress.”
2) We dissected the experience and brainstormed new metaphors for its parts.
From the experience mapping and metaphor brainstorming exercises that I wrote about previously, we selected some of the most compelling metaphors.
3) We imagined some possible experiences inspired by these metaphors.
We then explored how they could be applied to the major activities of the smart.fm experience — discovering, learning, celebrating, collecting, making and collaborating — and communicated the resulting ideas through “Concept Posters.” These posters enabled us to describe what an experience should feel like without getting into interface details. Aspects of the poster showing how “Smart.fm is like a scavenger hunt for knowledge” particularly stood out to the team — especially the idea of challenging users to create content through collaborative scavenger hunts.
4) We pictured the future.
We then used sketches of “The Homepage of the Future” to explore the best concepts further. Since a well-designed homepage tells the story of what you’re all about, sketching potential homepages can be a great way to boil a concept down to its essence using a value proposition, some featured content, and a presentation of core features or “how it works.”
5) It all came together in “Goal-Based Missions” — or simply, Goals
These explorations culminated in the idea of “Missions,” which we articulated through sketchy diagrams illustrating an exciting, game-like smart.fm where social activity is embedded into everything.
As the new activity hubs, Missions brought both learning material and social activity together in an elegant and cohesive way:
- Missions are about shared goals. While people may learn English for many reasons, people who want to “Spend a Week in the US,” “Impress their friends” or “Pass the TOEFL” will have much more in common with each other than everyone learning “English Vocabulary I.”
- Missions are social by nature. The shared goal is what brings people together. Instead of “signing up” or “enrolling,” you can “Join” or “Participate” in a Mission, competing or collaborating with other team members who share the same goal.
- Missions can be about creating content, not just learning it. The scavenger hunts idea from the concept posters manifested itself in the “Fact-Finding” aspect of Missions: If you want to learn enough Japanese for a week in Japan, but don’t know enough to build a list of stuff to learn — you can challenge others to create content for you.
While my high school sister loved the idea of “24-like” Missions, proposing there be “Objectives” and “Directors” and spy tools, the idea of collaborative Missions lives on under the more neutral name, “Goals.” Since the final wireframes were delivered, Smart.fm has already enabled collaborative list-building, and soon you’ll be able to do much more, including:
- Collaborate with others who share a goal (say, “Become culturally literate”) to create and collect learning material that will help you achieve it.
- Challenge other users to contribute content about a certain topic (such as “Hip Hop Artists” or “Internet Memes” — you can actually add content to these lists today!).
- Ask questions about things you want to learn (“How do you say ‘Experience Design’ in Japanese?”) and get answers from others.
- Earn badges for completing your goals and responding to challenges.
- See how you’re doing compared to others who are pursuing the same goal, others in your hometown, and perhaps even others who share your first name!
These are just a few of the exciting possibilities that reframing Lists as Goals has afforded, and we look forward to seeing both the name change and mindset change taking shape on smart.fm!