Product Development Application
The fashion industry is a 368 billion dollar industry and will continue to grow. A lot of this growth is dependent on the speed of product delivery, chasing the newest idea.
Behind the scenes of the industry’s success, is one of many important teams: Product Development (P.D.) and/or Fabric Research & Development (R&D) teams.
One of P.D. and R&D Teams’ most important responsibilities is sending out design ideas to vendors all over the world to source materials, trims, embellishments, fabrics, and much much more for development and sourcing. Depending on the complexity of the idea, development can take a lot of lead time (time in advance) to produce. This process is referred to as early development. The sooner factories and vendors have time to develop an idea, the better quality the product will be within the company’s target price margin.
In my experience, design kick off meetings occured every month to walk P.D. and R&D teams through next season's ideas. These meetings could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours per category. Often, working with multiple categories (shirts team, tailoring team, denim team, outerwear team, dresses team, etc.)
In those meetings, P.D. is usually taking reference pictures and typing notes in a blank email draft on their phone or in a notebook. Oftentimes, they would be standing around large tables, juggling boards of fabrics or piles of clothes in one hand, while documenting with their phone in the other.
Design handoff meetings are meant to be the exciting and fun part of the design process, but often result in days of uploading photos, organizing and typing those notes into formal emails to be distributed to vendors across the world.
The detail and organization of these notes are critical, because the more clear initial communication is, the more smooth the development process will be.
Currently, there are no productivity/tool applications available in the market specifically aimed at assisting people who work in fashion development & design.
Goal - To understand how P.D. & R&D teams work and how their workflow on early development could be improved.
Designing a successful tool to assist this process would ideally…
~ Reduce the amount of time it takes for development research to go out.
~ Increase the amount of early development that can be managed.
~ Decrease the number of ideas that get lost/don’t go out for development.
After 1:1 user research interviews with P.D. and R&D users in the field, we start to unerstand the user's needs, motivations and pain points.
Name: Melissa Boylan
Location: New York
Occupation/Title: Product Development Manager
Years of experience: 8
Bio: Melissa is a Product Development Manager for a large scale Apparel company in New York, NY. Each season she is responsible for sourcing and development communication and execution with multiple vendors overseas.
Melissa currently works from home, but will eventually start a hybrid schedule commuting to the office for Designer handoff meetings to review/collect physical development assets. She keeps herself organized with a notebook & pen and a variety of desktop tools with her own color coding and labeling system.
~ Needs a consistent way of organizing the information she is responsible for.
~ Needs a streamlined way of tracking the status/details of the information she is responsible for.
~ Career Driven
~ Highly organized
~ Proactive Worker
~ Excited by creating new things.
~ Rewarding to have creations appreciated by others.
~ Overwhelmed by the number of things in development to keep track of, which sometimes causes ideas/information to get lost.
~ Number of hours spent gathering, organizing and sharing information.
Effects of COVID-19 and workfrom home schedule.
Based on current shifts happening in the apparel industry as a result of COVID-19, it is reasonable to assume that while some P.D. Managers will continue to work from home indefinitely, there will be a large group of those employees required to at least return to offices on a hybrid or meeting only schedule. This is because Designers will eventually return full time to offices and need in person meetings to review and handoff physical assets with P.D. Managers.
Users are overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to track, because of this, information is sometimes lost or miscommunicated.
They also have no consistent way of organizing the information they are responsible for, in order to share/follow up with cross functional partners.
Users currently don’t have a consistent system for organizing information.
Users need a consistent way of organizing the information they are responsible for.
How might we create an organization system for development information so that P.D. and R&D Managers can have a consistent workflow during early development?
Users feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to keep track of.
Users need a streamlined way of tracking the status/details of the information they are responsible for.
How might we help streamline the early development handoff process, so that knowledge/information is being communicated to cross function partners successfully?
Brainstorming - I started my ideation process by brainstorming features that answer the below HMWs.
Priority Matrix - From there, ideas were sorted through a priority matrix to determin the most impactfull features and ideas to solve the primary problem.
Storyboard - A storyboard was illustrated to help create context for how an idea would fit within the users exisiting day to day workflow, and how this product could be tested.
USER TESTING - PROTOTYPE
Test Objective — Task Completion & Participant Perception.
Test Goals —
A.) To test how intuitive the product is to navigate with little instruction.
B.) To understand how this tool might affect their workflow.
Test Methodology — Asynchronous Testing via Maze.co
Participant Recruitment Plan: Participants have experience in any of the following fashion design backgrounds: Product Development, Fabric Research & Development, Trim Sourcing, Design.
USER TESTING - key findings
Keywords used to describe the product:
Intuitive / Straightforward / User Friendly
Clean / Minimal / Simple
“I would definitely encourage my company to implement the use of this program."
"This would definitely put me at ease and make me think in a clearer way… and what things I should make priority.”
Reduce Email Inbox:
Participants note these features (Specially when viewing the “Add a New Product” page & the “Share” feature) will help reduce their email workload.
“This would move me toward making notes digitally.This would make drafting development emails to the vendor less time consuming.”
“Great way to manage the history and development of a product. Hoping that this feature would help to eliminate emails.”
100% of participants successfully navigated all completion tasks throughout the prototype.
Layout / Spacing
While participants expressed appreciation for the clean/minimal UI of the application, there is an opportunity to tighten the overall layout. During testing, key productivity tools were missed by the user. These key tools should be more easily accessible to the user. Additionally, by reducing the overall layout of the charts themselves, they can read more information at once to maximize the workspace of their chosen screen size.
Comment Notifications Icon:
Participants expressed confusion over the priority and notification symbols. An opportunity for improvement would be differentiating the "Alert" icon to be labeled "Comment" in a soft blue, with a small red dot indicating a new notification, as well as a number indicating how many comments are unread.
Quotes from users as well as misclick hot spots confirmed this icon alert confusion when asked to find urgent tasks vs. new comments.
“I notice that I have two notification/alert symbols? What do the symbols mean?"
Short Term Improvements
Image Attachments in Comments:
Participants need the ability to not only upload detailed images but also to add those directly through the comment chat section. Regardless of where the images are uploaded from, a timestamp record would be kept in the chat as well, to notify team members of new assets. This would ideally create a stronger connection between written and visual communication.
Long Term Strategy
Phone Camera Integration & Annotations:
Participants expressed wanting to annotate images. This is a feature that (in addition to phone camera integration) was brainstormed during ideation and would be a great next steps iteration to test on future developments, based on the insight found in this user test.
PLM is a commonly used software in the industry primarily used for tracking tech packs, costing, and bill of materials.
The effort to directly integrate the information tracked via PLM into this application would be quite high, however, there is a business opportunity to tackle the functions of PLM to be available within this Desktop Application as a proposed alternative to PLM for companies to use.