Zones is social media app that helps Gen Z find meaningful, safe, and secure social media use through location based closed groups and augmented reality.
Academic, February-April 2021
UX Researcher, Information Architect,
UX Designer, UI Designer
Figma, InVision, Marvel, Adobe XD
Teens and younger adults have not known much, if any, of an existence without the prevalence of technology and social media use is at the forefront of that experience. I have always wondered how young people deal with social media’s omnipresence in their lives and what are the effects of that on them?
The endless newsfeed scroll is making many people spend excess time on social media. As well as many other addictive features such as notifications, many are finding it hard now to turn away for even an hour. Many young people are having their data stolen without even knowing it, as well, cyberbullying is now a common part of the social media experience for many young teens.
It is my feeling that : The level of safety and security on social media sites is not good enough for the teens and young adults of today and thus we need a better platform for them.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the overall use of social media. This increase is especially true for teens and young adults with 97% reporting they use a social media platform and 45% saying they are on it almost constantly.
As well cyber bullying is now at the forefront of problems young people are facing online, as 49.5% of students reported victimization by bullying on social media and 95% of teens have witnessed cruel behavior on social networking sites.
A case study I analyzed reported that young people are open to various forms of security fraud on social media, such as: Identity Theft, Spam Attacks, Malware Attacks, Sybil Attacks, Social Phishing, Impersonations, Account Hijacking, Fake Requests and Image Theft.
So the question was:
How might we help young people (ages 15-25) facing safety, security and addictive issues associated with social media use to increase their sense of well-being when connecting with friends and family online?
I posted ads looking for interview subjects on both Craigslist and Kijiji, I found 5 interview subjects in the 15-25 age range. I provided them each with a $25 Amazon gift card for being a part of the study.
I asked about 35 questions to each participant and found the majority of responses fell under 3 major themes: Safety, Security & Addiction.
Teens and young adults want feel most confident sharing their thoughts and images on social media when there is a measure of safety involved. Safety comes in knowing where your friends are via location tracking and the use of future technology ideas.
Teens and young adults feel a need to have their data secured by encryption as it is now known that other social media sites are selling personal information to third party buyers.
Teens and young adults feel a need to break their addiction by eliminating the more intrusive aspects of social media (endless scroll wall, endless notifications etc.), bringing purpose back to the use of the social media.
Getting to Know All About Users
From those insights and interviews, I crafted a persona which distills all of the insights I gained from my interviews. I used post-it's on my wall to organize their top behaviors, needs and pain points.
Meet Natalie, the synthesis of all of my research.
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Realizing the solution would lie somewhere within a more stripped down and transparent social media experience, I looked into the current market of similar solutions.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and SnapChat are all leaders in the social media market. They all have private messaging but do not all have private groups. They all have notifications but some of the platforms seemingly hide how to turn them on/off as well as having full control over which ones the user receives. All of these social media and private messaging platforms have features that I admire. But they are all lacking a focus on user safety, security and transparency. I feel I can get there with a small group approach.
One key aspect that I want to revolutionize is safety in social media and none of my competitors have introduced Augmented Reality (AR) technology into their platforms yet. I feel that being able to visually (through AR) see where your friends are could truly bring a new level of safety to the social media apps and I want to be the first.
Brainstorming a Solution
At this point, the nameless solution began to take form: help teens and younger people have a more meaningful and safe online social media experience.
I ideated a lot of different features, and settled on something that would help my demographic break their social media experience down into manageable and meaningful experiences: location based, closed groups.
As well I was fascinated by the capabilities of AR within the realm of social media so I really wanted to include that aspect. I spoke a lot with my TA's and instructors and they really urged me to use this aspect for my main task flow demonstration...as it was unique and could help sell my product.
For the scope of this project, I focused on the augmented reality aspect and the task I explored was, to locate your friend Ryan R. who has gone missing at a concert venue
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Below are my (5) Questions to ask for User Usability Testing
Sketching Out A Solution
I put my pen to paper to imagine what my app could look like.
What I have here are the sketches I connected with the most.
While sketching, my main flow was:
User Selects the AR Finder Icon from the Menu Bar
User Selects ‘Ryan R.’
User Presses ‘Enter AR Mode’
User Press ‘Ok’:
User Selects the ‘Spotlight’ Function
After 2 rounds of user testing, I discovered that while my app made sense, there were a lot of things I could change or update to improve the experience.
Mainly, I learned to trust my gut of what is useful, and focus on the elements that were essential before adding more and more features.
Between Rounds 1 & 2, users wondered how to share their photos and also, more worryingly, if this was even a social media app at all. While I had designed an area to access and share photos I had not made it clear that I wanted them to share; I did not have a social media feed, so the homepage wall was born.
Between Rounds 2 & 3, users wanted to be able to view the AR mode with more of the screen space. I had to listen to my users and stretch the AR space to fill as much of the real estate as possible.
I had one tester that really put my design into perspective because she was legally blind. This tester could not distinguish the AR finder person selection screen avatars, so I made them all much bigger (adding an additional page if there were more than 6 people in the Zone). This altered me as a designer and gave me purpose; I would make all my designs accessible to everyone. In the future I would want to add sound and voice control to the Zones app.
Final lo-fi wireframes and flow.
The Branding of It All
I took inspiration from all over the place, from the Internet, from my apartment, from my interviewees.
I really wanted the app to appear fun for younger people to use, not something stale, something bright.
App Icon & Wordmark
Something I really wanted to put in practice for this challenge was accessibility. I’ve always been interested in accessibility and think it should be the baseline from which everything is built upon.
So I ensured all my text & non-text contrast met WCAG 2.1 and tried to think about text size and ease of use.
Thinking About the Future
I believe my design could have a large impact on the future of social media use. I feel that many people are becoming burnt out by social media use and are truly searching for more meaning in their lives. We spend so much of our time on social media, and it is time to bring meaning back to it. With social media companies like Facebook and WhatsApp completely being open about selling user data I feel there is a mass exodus from those platforms occurring right now. My platform circumvents all the pitfalls of the negative side of social media use, as it truly is a non-addictive form. Social media based on location is a game-changer as its use is an extension of a meaningful activity. Going to concerts, the mall, school, the beach, any number of outdoor event spaces could be transformed by my location based social media app. With the integration of AR technology the sky is truly the limit in terms of what kinds of applications I could add to Zones. Apart from finding your friends you could also tag the world around you with a sort of 'virtual spray paint can', giving you and your zone friends the ability to customize your surroundings. All of these functions in one app will make my product rise to the top. Please message me if you have any further questions about the Zones app. Thank you.