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Nicholas Fair

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Agency Acquisition Application

UI/UX DESIGN ・ GRAPHIC DESIGN ・ MOBILE DEVELOPMENT

November 2016 - April 2017
Project Team: Gary Prohaska
Project Client: Environmental Protection Agency

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"FINDERS KEEPERS"

In a push to keep current and take advantage of emerging tech, the EPA in RTP began a project to use touch-screen technology on their campus and interlink it with mobile phone applications. The very first of these was the Agency Acquisition Application, a UX project headed by myself and run more or less by my team of designers, setting the stage for all applications to come.

To comply with a non-disclosure agreement, I have removed all confidential information from this project- this case study has my own placeholder information and does not directly reflect the final product created for the EPA.

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My Role
As lead designer and multimedia developer, I was part of the initial team tasked with finding the best possible solution for a problem that had plagued the campus for years- proper information distribution to employees and visitors alike. I lead the UX team and workload, producing and presenting all of the major deliverables to our client and interfacing with user task groups who provided feedback as the application developed. I also produced the beta touch-screen app myself, programmed in SCALA Designer, as a proof of concept before handing it off to the programming team to produce the final product.

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The Challenge
Nothing of this level has ever been produced internally before, or used by the Agency. My team was approached with doing something new, and doing it in a way that would both succeed in the immediate present, but lay the groundwork for all applications and touch-screen interfaces to follow. Tasked with delivering a high-fidelity proof-of-concept on an installed kiosk in less than three months in addition to our regular duties meant we had our work cut out for us.

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The Approach
Conceptualized as a digital 'catch-all' by the pitch team, we quickly streamlined our goals into three major areas we identified: Key Information Distribution, Procurement Scheduling, and Staff Contacts. This approach allowed us to hone-in on the most important functionality of the app before we even started design, and outlined the functionality required at the back-end.

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Generating key personas early on in the project allowed us to guide our design decisions and more easily explain our approach to other areas of app development and management. They were essential in creating design empathy and making sure that after the eventual hand-off between us and the final development team, they user needs would be maintained and honored for a more polished and friendly end-product. We discussed the each of our personas with the client, allowing us to paint a clear picture of who we were designing for and why.

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By collaborating with programmers early on and touching base during their lean process, our rapid sketch ideation and 2D prototyping quickly emerged into full-on diagramming and wireframing, which I spent the time to not only create from our user studies, but refine through numerous open-brainstorming sessions with the programming team. The first ever instance of true transparent back-and-forth design flow between the two teams, we laid not only groundwork for app development cycles and expectations, but interpersonal relationships as well.

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Populating the System
Our initial design had laid out usability flows, information distributions channels, and user stories, but beyond the core application, our team also had the task of information gathering. In a government agency, autonomous operations mean that there are dozens of informational outlets, all containing a fraction of the big picture. One of our largest challenges before we could truly create the application was to track down and fully conceptualize all of the information we needed to convey, lest our design assumptions be taken too far off-track. Working with contacts in HR and Web Teams, we compiled an internal database of all needed information that could eventually find its way into the application... and then source-checked all of it. Twice.
Creating the Brand
Brand is often thought of as a secondary element in the majority of public offices; not something you "need" but something that's nice to have. Because of the loose EPA brand guidelines, my team created an entire high-level brand for the internal distribution application that would be tangible in the immediate while able to evolve with future endeavors. This was a keystone of the application that took many passes to get right where the management wanted it. But once it was, the rest of the application flowed together.

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Interactive Framework and Visual Development
With our brand, content, and functionality approved, the application rolled into the visual design phase. With each part of the team tasked with different visual development, we worked hard to check-in and stay in sync with one another, creating core asset libraries and brand language guidelines before going too far in any one direction. Rough prototypes were rolled out and tested on SCALA and Axure, and from there visual refinement was approved through until we had a polished, functional screen-ready app that no user could have guessed was only a hint at what was to come.

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Reflections
With the final application developed and released, the job still isn't over. This is our pilot, and in a lot of ways going to shape the path of the design team within the EPA. Performing user studies post-launch provided key insights into our project's successes and missteps, and laid out a perfect ramp for future endeavors. The application wasn't perfect, but it was hailed as a roaring success. In creating a prominent, visual, accessible home for information distribution, we provided transparency to a system that was notoriously fogged in obscurity; and in doing so created a better workplace and better output from the Agency as a whole.

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