Geekhack ~
Case Study

Client
Geekhack
Roll
UX/UI, Research
Tools
Figma, Figma Jam
Project Type
Community Forum User Onboarding

Background

Geekhack is a mechanical keyboard forum site created in 2006 and now one of the largest go-to (non-sub-Reddit) forums for enthusiasts to share where they found custom parts for their builds, share ideas for DIY components, or view products that are upcoming/currently available. Geekhack has been managed and funded by individuals in the community until it was was purchased by the company DROP in 2018.

The large majority of products and ideas created on Geekhack are conceived by the average community member looking to organize group buys to make new ideas available to the community. Whether you're an established designer or a new hobbyist, individuals come to Geekhack to post ideas for products they want to see get made, in the hopes of them turning into a reality. At a glance, Geekhack like a Kickstarter platform dedicated to crowdfunding custom keyboard components. 

Additionally, if you dive deep into the discussion threads of Geekhack that were created by some of the early trailblazers of the hobby, it’s like discovering a rich underground history/library. The information posted by community engagement makes it an overwhelming resource. To newcomers, Geekhack is viewed as outdated and hard to navigate. It can feel daunting and even discouraging. However, long-time enthusiasts think this helps keep the community from becoming mainstream and commercialized. 

Due to the limited edition nature of keyboard production, the keyboard is experiencing growth/popularity its community probably never expected.

r/MechanicalKeyboards stats

r/MechanicalKeyboards stats

The Challenge

Design Goal - Design a website that captures the heritage of Geekhack in a way that feels familiar to its power users, while creating an inviting space for newcomers to learn and ask questions. 

Objective - Empathize with beginner keyboard builders to understand what information they are seeking when first starting out.

Scope / Focus

The question becomes, with multiple forums like Geekhack having their deep histories that can’t be abandoned, how can Geekhack change the way information is shared with newcomers or the next generation of “keebers” so the hobby is accessible and not gatekept while convincing the existing community the heritage of their space can be maintained. 

Empathize

Research Method

Open ended question format survey posted in mechanical keyboared community forums.

Posted in the following online spaces:
Taeha Type Discord & Youtube Video Chat Comments, XinXinWong Discord & Twitch Live Stream. r/MechanicalKeyboards. Sub r/mechanicalkeyboardsEUSub. r/mechanicalkeyboardsUK. r/CustomKeyboardsr/Keyboards.

Goal

To understand how keyboard builders started their journey into the hobby and how that experience could be improved.

User Research Insights

Novice Users
The majority of pain point feedback revolves around access to unorganized access to educational resources. There is a small amount of fear for novice users to ask questions and find a safe space to find answers to their questions. 

Navigation
User interface design seems to get in the way of the users navigation of the site, especially to users that are new  to forum style sites. Old and new users struggle with the search and sorting functions of the site; as it relates to filtering out of date information. 

What is drawing new users to the keyboard community?
32.6% of served participants discover the hobby through Youtube.

Individuality

Challenge

“It's all enjoyable! I like learning something new. The customization aspects (color theming with desk, switch types, spring weights, etc). Finding my own preference is fun, and it optimizes my productivity”

“It's all enjoyable! I like learning something new. The customization aspects (color theming with desk, switch types, spring weights, etc). Finding my own preference is fun, and it optimizes my productivity”

What are users comfort levels with using forum sites?
37.8% of surveyed participants expressed very little confidence or interest in posting/asking questions in forums sites.

“I feel like I will be ridiculed for asking beginner questions, or the relevant posts are too old, or my questions are off-topic.”’

“I get nervous about asking questions in forums due to toxic responses. Forums have a habit of making people feel stupid for asking learning questions.

persona

Based on the demographics & survey responses collected via the user survey, the below user persona was clearly defined.

Goal Definition - USER GOALS

Navigation

INSIGHT

Users feel overwhelmed when first getting involved in the mechanical keyboard community because information is scattered across multiple forum sites over the course of decades.

NEED

Users need a clear starting point to begin learning how to build mechanical keyboards.

POV

Dan is new to mechanical keyboards and needs a clear starting point based on his skill level, but feels overwhelmed and discouraged when trying to navigate multiple channels of forum pages.

HMW

How might we onboard new users so that they can navigate the site and start their education process with confidence?

Education

INSIGHT

Majority of new users watch videos to try and learn how to build custom mechanical keyboards.

NEED

However, users feel their education is disjointed and lacking, and don’t know the order of the next steps in growing their experience.

POV

Dan is a visual learner who needs a centralized place for instructions on how to build a custom mechanical keyboard, but feels like his current learning experience is lacking and out of order.

HMW

How might we guide users through a visual and chronological process, so that they feel they are on the right track and understand the core education skills needed to build their own keyboard?

Community

INSIGHT

Nearly half of new users don’t feel comfortable using a forum structured site. (Like geekhack)

NEED

Users need a community they feel safe with to ask beginner questions.

POV

Dan needs a safe place to ask novice questions about his own mechanical keyboard build, however, he feels uncomfortable engaging in forum structured spaces out of fear of being made fun of.

HMW

How might we moderate geekhacks community engagement, so that beginners are receiving polite, objective, and informative answers to their questions?

Goal Definition - BUSINESS GOAL

User Activation & Retention

INSIGHT

Half of beginning mechanical keyboard builders discover the hobby through “Recommended for them” / Desk Tour Videos on Youtube or inspiration images on Reddit.

NEED

Geekhack needs a way to draw attention of newcomers to use their site as their primary source of keyboard resources & community.

POV

With the growing popularity of the hobby, Geekhack needs to appeal to newcomers to the community, in order to evolve and stay relevant with the new generation of keyboard builders.

HMW

How might we create a value prop for beginners to build a habit of using geekhack, so that users continue to come back to engage with the site?

Solutions

After brainstorming features that could potentially solve the user & business needs, I narrowed them down to two/three features per priority level that would have the highest impact.

Top 3 Priorities will fulfill Business Goal: With the growing popularity of the hobby, Geekhack needs to appeal to newcomers to the community, in order to evolve and stay relevant with the new generation of keyboard builders.

HMW

FEATURES

PRIORITY
ONE

How might we onboard new users so that they can navigate the site and start their education process with confidence?

- Account creation with skill level assessment. (beginner, intermediate, expert)
- Directed to a beginner landing page after account activation.
- Quick visibility to a site tour.

PRIORITY
TWO

How might we guide users through a visual and chronological process, so that they feel they are on the right track and understand the core education skills needed to build their own keyboard?

- Education breakdown by components in order.
- Basic objective intro and instructions w/ embedded video links. 
- Community discussions (upvote/downvote) added input.

PRIORITY
THREE

How might we moderate geekhacks community engagement, so that beginners are receiving polite, objective, and informative answers to their questions?

- A separate space for beginners to ask questions on specific topics. Rather than a general “beginners” Q&A
- Upvote/downvote based on “was this helpful?”
- Clear community guidelines.

USER FLOW / WIRE FRAME SKETCHING

USER TESTING - PROTOTYPE

Plan

Test Objective — Task Completion & Participant Perception.

Test Goals — A.) Users are able to successfully be onboarded into beginner account creation. B.) Users feel like they know where to start their education process and could navigate/follow along via geekhack’s site. C.) Users find geekhacks forum style engaging and safe to join community discussions.

Test Methodology — Guided 1:1 Interviews with 5 participants

Participant Recruitment Plan: Participants have tech and/or gaming backgrounds, are not part of the mechanical keyboarding community but would be interested in learning more about the hobby.

USER TESTING - key findings

successful Account Creation

5/5 participants successfully found the Sign Up button and had no errors

“I liked that there was a sign up, and then I got immediately brought back to where I was. Although it did change a bit, with small things added like saved threads and it opened up some social pieces. So that's nice and easy.”

Participants were overwhelmed

5/5 Participants used the word “overwhelmed” when landing on the home page.

“There's a lot going on...Good in that everything is displayed here. I can see everything that's going on...At the same time, everything is being displayed, so that can be a little overwhelming in terms of where to go first.”

used of the featured section

5 / 5 Participants used a resource from the Featured Section as part of their beginner navigation experience.

4 / 5 Participants clicked to watch the Intro Video as part of their beginner navigation experience.

safety and welcome

5/5 Participants expressed appreciation for the Community Values portion of the account sign up process.

“I think that the thing that made me feel most welcomed was the fact that they had a code of conduct right there when I signed up like that.”

“Okay. That's good. I like this… I appreciate when communities say, ‘Hey, don't be a jerk, or we're going to kick you out,’ early on in the process of anything. So that ground rules are established.”

“From my own experiences with [video games] where I experienced bullying and gatekeeping, I appreciate this sort of thing being a part of the signup process.”

“As a new user, I felt a certain amount of protection that everyone is forced to look at those codes of conduct.”

Next steps

Future Thinking and Testing

Based on the feedback provided in user testing, small improvements were made to help clarify navigation details such as Featured vs. Threads section and Sign Up everpiance level descriptions.

However, extended testing should be focused on reducing users' feeling of information overwhelm, both before and after creating an account. While users understood the navigation once they started reading, their hesitation came from determining what to read first. 

The value prop of users finding geekhack’s prototype to be a safe and welcoming site is a huge success in the business and social dynamics of community forums. With continued iterations and testing of the site's information hierarchy, geekhack will continue to evolve and stay relevant with the new generation of keyboard builders.