Designing the Place Platform


Backplane helped built Lady Gaga’s social network, Little Monsters, back in 2011. Since then, it has evolved into Place, a platform where anyone can create and grow their passion online. This pivotal change called for an entirely new experience on the organizer and participants. One of the biggest design changes we made was to introduce the idea of platform, where people can manage the Places they own, easily access all their Places, and discover new ones. This project will focus primarily on the process and ideas behind the principle, as well as the different iterations that we did to arrive at the current state today.

We saw Place as the glue where all communities and its people come together. People could discover other communities and meet people who share their passion. In the IA diagram below, everything colored is a new platform feature or content.

This diagram was a living doc, it evolved from having just Community and it’s sub-pages, to having just “Dashboard” and “Discover,” to then contain onboarding experiences such as “Personal Feed,” “Request an invite,” and all the steps for joining your first Place. Whenever we were designing a new step of the process, we would always revisit this diagram to make sure that the step before and the step after that the user would encounter would flow seamlessly. We would never design from the middle without knowing its context.

The first step to designing this platform was to decide on the scope of the project. We sat down to define what the platform should be and the elements it should contain, as well as what the platform is not. Our initial approach to platform was providing a space where people can go to all their groups. This was called a Dashboard. Instead of typing the URL of each community, they would only need to remember www.place.xyz and from there go to all their Places. The platform would also need a space where people can discover other Places to join, so they can grow their dashboard.

Dashboard and Discovery would live side by side and take equal weight of platform during this first iteration. We did not yet understand our user’s preference towards either and wanted to push further and conduct some user testing. In the next step, we explored lots of different options for dashboard and discover community tiles in card format, page layouts, and evaluated the merits and shortcomings of each.

After whiteboarding and reviewing with the team, I would take a few of these concepts and develop them into higher fidelity mock ups and make InVision prototypes to test internally and with friends and family. Out of the four wireframe concepts above, for the dashboard, we decided to prototype the 2nd and the last one because those were the most clear, with just the right amount of useful information our users would need to identity their Place and be intrigued enough to go check them out. In order to get a better feeling of the interactions on the Dashboard, we also wanted to build working prototypes with real data we have, so I would provide specs and work with our engineering team to prototype these for user testing. Since platform is a large and new piece of our product, we wanted to make sure we test and understand early on the pitfalls of our designs.

Similar to Dashboard, we tested different Discovery concepts. In the beginning, we thought that a curated list would perform the best. However, we found during user-testing sessions that people were very confused at the first iteration, the most editorial. They did not seem to understand how to move forward from the large image presented to them. The 2nd one in the row performed slightly better where people were given a choice of 3 to choose to explore. Although if the user was not interested in any of these three, then they hesitated moving forward. The last two wireframes in the row above were another iteration after our user tests concluded. We made changes to lead people to discover more content in these. The third one utilizes content from public communities, similar to Reddit. The last one uses buckets or categories where Places were categorized into collections by interest, helping people to quickly identity their interest then join a group from an interest group.

During the platform re-design, we conducted two user research sessions in the office, one in December of 2014 and another in March. The first sessions took place right after dashboard and discovery was conceptualized and quick prototypes of them were built to understand user behavior on the platform level and how well they were able to navigate the space. The latter research session tested a beta version of the app with platform, individual Places as well as new user profiles. Our user research intern and I organized both these sessions, each had 6 participates spending an hour each with us. Half of these participants used an iPhone and the other half Android. All sessions were recorded and broadcasted where others in the office could watch. Interestingly during the first tests, we realized that the majority of the users understood the concept, they could very well navigate their way around platform on dashboard and expressed lots of interests in some of the Places we hosted. However, discovery was a big issue for 80% of them. Since we recruited a wide age range of testers who were also socially diverse, we  knew it had to be the way it was designed that confused them. We captured all of our findings in notes and went back to the whiteboard to revise Discovery.

Instead of focusing on a curated list, we actually shifted gears to focus on relevant personal content. While allowing people to search, we found that presenting people with general interest lists made the process easy and understandable. From interests, we are able to surface top voted content within those communities, which in turn, allowed users to check out Places where these content are sourced from. We are still in the process of further testing this to ensure a pleasant onboarding experience.

Product: Zoe Bridges

Design: Sophie Su (me), Victor Tony George, Jess Chen

Engineering: Mike Tai, Nicolas Ortiz, Chengyin Liu, Josip Sokcevic, Dennis Petek, et.al

Creative: Jazeena Pineda

Support: Charlotte Otero

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©  Sophie Ying Su, 2017