MVPlay: Creating a community support platform for young female athletes
UX Researcher | Georgia Tech MS-HCI Thesis | August 2020 - May 2021
Team: Hannah Tam (UX Designer), Jae Hyuk Kim (UX Designer) | Advised by Dr. Neha Kumar
Background + PROBLEM
Traditionally, young female athletes face a number of different barriers to participating in sports compared to boys. Participating in sports is well known to provide benefits related to physical activity, psychological health, social and emotional development, and overall wellbeing.
Women’s athletics explicitly lack a sense of emotional infrastructure, which results in a lack of connection between female athletes playing sports. This weakens the number of opportunities for girls to support each other and decreases any motivation to stay in the game. Having female role models, access to mentors, and personalized support can encourage girls to stay in the game to uplift one another.
Through a variety of research methods, and a number of user interviews and co-design sessions, we distilled insights to develop a new model for mentorship that is flexible and that supports the different pathways of female athletes, to hopefully lead to more meaningful relationships. The result was MVPlay, a community-based support platform, which facilitates a more open network of female athletes and broke down isolated relationships that traditional mentorship may entail.
For our thesis project, I served as the Research Lead. As a team, we narrowed down our problem space and main problem we wanted to solve. I stepped in to decide what methods to use based on our research needs during different phases of the project. I scoped, planned, conducted, and analyzed these generative and evaluative studies (with Hannah and Jae's help, of course! It's a team effort). I also helped with recruiting participants throughout our project.
After we developed a solution based on our research insights, I diagrammed part of the platform's information architecture. I also helped facilitate codesign workshops as another avenue to collect feedback and incorporate our own users in the design process.
Forming our team
Jae and I were project partners in one of our design foundations classes, and we noticed that our collaboration and working styles matched. Our peers observed this too and encouraged us to do our master's thesis together. I then ran into Hannah at our program's study lounge and we discussed different topics we were interested in exploring for our thesis. After realizing we had similar interests, she joined Jae and me!
Our thesis is outlined and described in the following process book. Rather than drafting a traditional academic paper, we opted to create a process book to highlight the visual elements of our work.
Please note: Sections within this process book are linked in the Table of Contents if you'd like to skip or jump around!
What I learned
Transitioning to Working Fully Remote
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entirety of our thesis was done remotely. We had to adjust what type of research methods to use, as well as how we collaborated as a team. We experimented with and leveraged different collaboration tools including Slack, Miro, MURAL, Google Meet, Figma, and more. Through this project, I realized the impact of documentation and consistent communication. In some instances, we were in different time zones and keeping each other informed helped with asynchronous collaboration.
Technology Can't Solve Everything
...not directly, at least. During our initial literature review and exploring our problem space, we learned of societal, economical, and environmental factors that may impact one's experience playing sports. While our community platform cannot directly fight gender inequality in sports (e.g. address the pay gap between female and male athletes), we realized that we can address other factors that feed into a young athlete's sports career. Our ultimate goal was to provide spaces where athletes could have peer to peer (as well as peer to adult) conversations and learn from each other's journeys. The problem space we attempted to tackle was complex, and this process taught me that one tool cannot solve every issue, but by addressing part of the issue, we get a little closer to improving the overall experience.
Taking the (Research) Lead
I spent the year building and honing in on my research expertise, from choosing specific research methods to improving my analysis and insight creation skills. However, I also saw the importance of communicating effectively as a researcher, from providing defensible research insights to my design partners to crafting a compelling story about our users to stakeholders. Additionally, I learned how this role ebbs and flows throughout the process. I identified ways to provide research support outside of our studies and synthesis stages, from providing my team feedback on their designs to drafting sample copy for the platform itself. The field of research of growing, and I learned how multidimensional this role can be!