Oceanit is a design and engineering company that takes government contracts to create novel products. I was involved with a project that had developed an active cooling garment designed for Navy shipyard welders.
The cooling technology consisted of pumping cold water through specially-made, heat conductive tubes embedded into a tight-fitting shirt.
While this technology was made with Navy ship welders in mind, I worked on the commercialization front where we had two main goals:
Find a user group whose needs align with our technology.
Create and sell a product with this technology, designed specifically for a user group.
When I started my internship, the team already had a target user group in mind: industrial users. It made perfect sense to transition from a government application of Navy shipyard welders to a commercial application with industrial workers. From an outsider’s perspective, the choice seemed straightforward. Both user groups had similar work, similar environments, and similar gear (required Personal Protection Equipment).
We conducted 1:1 ethnographic interviews through UserInterviews.com in order to get to know this user group’s behaviors and environmental constraints so we could create gear they would be able to incorporate into their work process.
Due to our learnings, we concluded there were too many hurdles to jump in order to design a solution for industrial workers at this moment. They were initially picked because of the blatant battle with heat they face on the job, but our fixation on their need led to the oversight of other important constraints on our technology.
Q: What kind of people who struggle with heat would want to buy a product to mitigate it?
A: People who love outdoors activities in the summer.
Q: Great! What's your product going to look like?
A: We're going to integrate our cooling tubes into a backpack now!
Q: Okay, why a backpack?
A: We had a couple brainstorm sessions where we considered all the constraints of our technology and the way a physical product would fit on people. The way it works now, any user would have to bring along ice and water with them for the cooling to work. To make it easier for the user, we decided to embed it into something they usually carry! Runners, hikers, bikers, and people who adventure outdoors all carry backpacks!
Q: Sweet, then what next?
A: Glad you asked! We have to narrow down our user group to design an awesome backpack that'll work for people!
Going undercover on Reddit threads (from r/cycling to r/golf).
Joining and surfing different outdoors FB groups.
DM-ing outdoors influencers and scheduling chats.
We targeted our ad-hoc market exploration on the outdoor recreational market which satisfied a key constraint of our technology: the buying power and buying desire for gear, specifically a backpack.
We wanted to narrow down on a specific user group, and landed on golfers and cyclists as our finalists.
Product-wise, cyclists in general were a better fit.
We knew absolutely nothing about cyclists and their motivations behind riding a bike.
So, it was time to reach out to some bike lovers and have ourselves a research deep-dive.
In this initial round of talking, we wanted to get a general understanding of cyclists: from details like what drove their passion, what gear they wore, how long a usual trip was, who they talked to, to what kind of person they were, what other hobbies they had, and how they viewed themselves.
The biggest question we wanted answered was: "Do people who cycle actually see value in a product like this on their trips?"
The best way to test this? With real cyclists on their bikes. Luckily, during my outreach, we got an exciting response from passionate, local cyclists on the island.
We received amazing feedback and critique with the trials and post-interviews. Below is a quick summary of our synthesis and learnings that led us to narrow further into mountain bikers and used to inform the technical designs for our pack.
We outsourced our technical spec to professionals who were familiar with handling physical product design. The iteration process included several rounds of sketches where we would all give feedback and present research to inform the next steps.
Example of one of the iterations narrowing down our backpack form:
With the sketches, I designed a survey to gain feedback from a random sample of cyclists where we saw a general consensus for form A. However, mountain bikers specifically preferred B for reasons including the impression of less weight and bulk on their backs.
We decided to get some more in-depth information and talked to people with strong preferences for all versions to find out why they preferred a style over another.
"Looks like my hydration pack... looks lightweight"
"Adjustability is really important to people who have atypical cycling bodies"
Because the need for carrying capacity wasn't a need we were trying to fill, we crossed the A form off the list. From there, we analyzed the reasons for B versus C and distinguished the reasons between form and function.
People who preferred the former did so because of familiarity and the aesthetics while those who chose C claimed the lower weight distribution felt much better on rides.
Thus, we converged onto a backpack that functioned like a hip pack, but looked like a slim, hydration pack you would see in stores today.
A seed of doubt was planted early on at our first turning point. If this product could work for one activity, surely it could be applied to several other outdoors activities! However, this would mean a “one-size fits all” product, which could very well result in a “one-size fits none” product. At our second turning point we decided that making a great product for one user group was better than making an okay product for no one and everyone at the same time.
However, now that we had our first functional and looks-like prototype on the way, this doubt sprouted high.
How sure were we that we could sell at least 300 units (the minimum order quantity for most manufacturers) to mountain bikers?
Would it be better to market our pack as something multi-sport, multi-functional?
Well, what better way to answer these questions than with some user research? We took up another research round in User Interviews and prepared specific concept tests to understand exactly how mountain bikers bought and interpreted products.
I ran another research round; this time a live survey where participants (mountain bikers) were asked to look at two site designs (with varying content and design) and answer questions about the one they liked better.
In the end, there was a consensus on narrowing in on the mountain biking market as our prime user group. The backpack would be presented as a biking bag that could be used for other activities. We are still conducting more research to receive support that this would be the best path to market at this time.
We also flushed out our personas with more detail on purchasing habits to present to marketing.
Based on the information we gathered, I set out to pioneer our branding and digital designs.
I started with a brief overview of the information we had gathered thus far that pertained to our audience and brand direction. Then, I crafted and communicated three distinct identities to gauge stakeholder ideals.
After receiving feedback from our team as well as Oceanit's very own marketing director, I set on drafting the brand guide you can peep below!
For one of my final deliverables, I mocked up a website in order to demonstrate what a cohesive brand could look like on a site. I also wanted to communicate some important features essential in assisting our customers in navigating their buying process including:
• Social Validation (Peer Reviews by those in target audience)
• Straightforward and Informative Fitting Process (Pictures and Videos of inclusive body types)
• Accessibility to Return and Shipping Policies
• Media of Product in Action
• An easy and efficient review process
• Company's Story
• And more!
Ah, my favorite part, finally! As someone who is constantly overthinking and reflecting, I love congregating my thoughts into mini stories I can share with others. There's a lot more I learned from this opportunity, but I'll focus on just three in order to keep this short.
1. Intentionality With Research
In the beginning, we had spent a lot of time going in depth and understanding a lot about a user group that we realized wasn't going to fit because of a simple reason (something we could have noticed early on if we were being more deliberate with our choice). I did start with zero experience and was already asking a lot of questions, but I just didn't dive deep enough to asking, ''why this group''?
With every research exploration, set a goal, a question you want answered, and imagine what you would do with the information gathered. If you can't think of that information being actionable, it's probably not a question you need answered.
2. Persuasion and Involvement
Presenting reasonings for our decisions in a weekly team meeting may not have been enough to truly convince our team members of the decisions we were making. Since I worked closely with our product designer on the team, we were almost always aligned on vision and product goals. However, I think a lot was lost in translation for others who weren't as deeply involved in the research process.
Make sure a point sticks when you are trying to shift directions. Ensure people truly understand why and where you are coming from and if possible (if you have the resources), conduct more research if that will help others see the bigger picture you are trying to paint.
3. Balanced Work
Sometimes, the creative and analytical juices just don't fire up the way they should. At these moments, I used to push myself through various kinds of frameworks to try and to force sort of conclusion. However, effective work doesn't have to be linear.
You can ask your boss or other team members to help out with some more mundane (but still time sensitive) work. This way, you can work some other areas of your brain while still contributing.
I'm really grateful to have had the chance to build communication, conversational, and presentation experience in this role. I learned a lot about the lifecycle of a physical product and I can't wait to see it out on launch-day!
Thanks so much for taking your time to read and check out some other UX work below :)