A 3-week UX research and design sprint with Jacob Smith using Sketch, Marvel, and Axure.
MOJO Yoga is a beta web service for yoga teachers to extend their in-person teaching business by posting instructional videos, live streaming classes, and hosting one-on-one sessions with their students.
To create a social yoga platform where teachers and students can connect and practice outside the studio.
This was a complex project for a young yoga business that was still searching for its niche in a saturated digital market. We began with an in-depth examination of their product as compared to their competitors, and found that in its current state, it lacked clear differentiators. We determined that our job was to use data-driven research to design innovative features that would help them stand out from the competition.
Though we created a suite of features, for purposes of this case study I’m going to focus on the road we traveled to develop a unique site-wide tagging system called Styles.
Setting Our Scope
MOJO came to us with their product, currently in beta, cobbled together across multiple third-party platforms that each provided a piece of their feature pie. In our early discussions, they were clear that their primary focus had been developing the teacher side of the platform, with less emphasis on the student experience.
Based on this and our initial research, we proposed early on to focus on creating a robust and compelling student interface, with the idea that features developed through this lens could drive adoption and participation on both sides. However, we continued to interview, iterate and test with teachers and students, to ensure we weren’t missing key considerations for either user.
In our hunt for differentiation, we started with a very broad research scope.
Through thorough analysis of twenty-two other online yoga websites, we found two competitors, NamaStream and PowHow, that precisely matched MOJO’s value proposition of being a platform for teachers to expand their business online, and matched them feature for feature. We also found several internationally recognized companies that had recently launched the same functionality that MOJO considered a primary differentiator: live streaming classes.
However, none of the competitors we reviewed had tackled MOJO’s vision of building a social yoga platform. Here, we believed they may have an opportunity, but we needed to conduct interviews to get a more nuanced picture of the place yoga has in practitioners lives.
Unfortunately we didn’t have access to their current users, so we cast a wide net to capture a variety of user types. We interviewed teachers and students, both with and without experience online, in the hopes that we could identify goals, values, and frustrations among likely users and potential users on both sides of the platform.
While we had several important takeaways, one of the largest categories revealed two key factors.
Yoga practitioners intensely value community…
...and it's currently missing from the online experience.
In retrospect, we made a few assumptions during this analysis. The largest was that the high value of community and social connection was universal, i.e. that it was valuable both in-studio and online. The next was that we equally weighted the voices of those who don’t regularly practice online with those who do. This inflated both the importance of community, and introduced noise to the information we got from those who would be our most likely users.
In the absence of hindsight, we moved forward feeling that our competitive analysis and interviews were dovetailing well. No competitors were offering a social experience, and users felt the absence of their community online. We decided to focus on bringing the socialization and community of the studio into the online space.
Narrowing Our Focus
To gain a solid foundation in this scoped domain, we hit the internet again looking for research on effective online community building.
The most directly relevant study we found, Building Member Attachment in Online Communities, explored the application of social bonding theories to online spaces that previously didn’t have community features. They found, in particular, that feeling connected to a group identity was the most effective way to increase user activity and self-reported affinity.
Inspired by this, I developed a concept that introduced six user groups based on the spectrum of reasons our interviewees reported for doing yoga, and assigned each an identifying element.
I tested this concept with a sign up flow, the idea being that setting their identity-based group would be a core element of the experience from the beginning.
Overall, feedback about the identities was incredibly positive...
...but testing revealed two major flaws in using the identities to sort users into distinct groups.
Universally, users identified with more than one group. Some users had clear primary and secondary groups, others felt that their group would change day to day.
- No one cared about connecting with others based on practice type. Users would rather form groups based on non-yoga demographic factors like location or life stage (i.e. parents, singles, etc).
This is where our prior assumptions broke down.
Clearly, these “groups” didn’t match the mental model of why users felt community in their studios. And even as they identified reasons they might want to be in a group, users were much more excited about the identities than they were the groups.
We jokingly called this a “Buzzfeed quiz” phenomenon – we all care more about the answer we get than seeing how our answers compare to others. Once users were in an online setting, they prioritized using their identity to find interesting content over using identity as a basis for interacting with similar people. That is to say, identities were far more intriguing as a way to personalize and categorize, rather than connect.
Given this insight, I pivoted away from using these identities as a community building tool to using them as an experience customization tool.
The Major Pivot
Over a few rounds of iteration, groups became MOJO Styles, a universal user and content identification system.
Styles were different from groups in that they didn’t include any push to social features, and were explicitly called out as a pervasive feature used to identify teachers, classes, articles, and anything else a user might interact with.
The need for an interface that accurately conveys this customization inspired a new visual representation of the user’s choices we informally dubbed their “fingerprint.” The fingerprint would grow and change depending on how involved a user was, and what tags they connected with most. We envisioned this element being a field day for a UI team, given the number of interpretations we dreamed up on our own, including a sprawling field of flowers, a sprouting tree, or colorful combinations of the six elements.
Styles resolved several problems...
● Styles were easily recognized as flexible. The new layout and name helped users intuitively understand that this was a fluid system that responded to them instead of restricting them.
● Styles matched the user’s mental model. Based on initial concept testing we already knew that users liked the identity categories, but testing showed that this more adaptable model worked well for users across the spectrum of yoga practitioners.
...and introduced some clear benefits:
● Users felt like they had a unique experience. They were pleased to see that the choices they made during sign-up were clearly reflected in their dashboard, and expected that customization to extend to every part of the site.
● Styles identified the “spirit” of the content. In its new role, users felt they would be quickly able to search for and accurately choose the content that best suited their needs in ways they hadn’t seen or experienced before.
There were, though, a few things we would iron out given more time.
● The elements-as-categories sometimes missed the mark. Most users liked the elements, but about a third would get tripped up at least once. The most common was Fire, which several initially thought would be hot yoga or super intense, sweaty yoga, though most felt that once they saw Steel it was a good match. One user also mentioned that Ether made her think of the anesthetic drug, so make of that what you will. This seems like a small point, but given the pervasive nature of this feature we think it’s extremely important for it to be an immediate get.
● When added to the experience level, the tagging system gets a little out of hand. Another important feature we needed to include, though it isn’t new, was the experience level a piece of content was designed for. This means that at minimum a class had two tags, a style and a level. We recognize that this could quickly create clutter and confusion, and is a definite place for refinement.
The Future of Mojo: It's Still Community
In a way, we stand by where we started: community features would help MOJO stand out. In our short timeframe, we weren’t able to successfully crack that nut, but we saw glimmers of an unusual way for MOJO to tap into what makes yoga communities so special: I believe their next big step should be building a streaming platform for studios.
Our research revealed several compelling motivators behind this recommendation.
- Studios are a key source of community for many, many yoga practitioners that are already in place. Creating an online space for those communities would be much easier than building new ones from scratch.
- Teachers frequently mentioned non-compete agreements and rules against outside promotion as significant barriers to introducing their students to their online presence.
- Students did not want to pay for another membership. By partnering with studios, MOJO could explore payment models in which the studio bundles the cost of their streaming service as part of student membership, lowering the barrier to participation and increasing revenue.
We believe that, properly researched and executed, this would be a savvy business move to fill the community void we identified.
What I Would Change About Our Process
If I had it to do all over again, with the same timeline and restrictions, the biggest change I would make would be to narrow our initial interview screen to those who already use online yoga platforms regularly. By including those who don’t, especially by choice, we clouded our view with the frustrations of people who were least likely to be our users. While in many situations that information can be useful, I believe that a clearer focus on the most likely potential MOJO users would’ve been a more accurate and revealing starting point for our goals.
What I Loved About Our Process
Though I’d worked extensively with clients as an art director, this was my first major project working with clients in a UX capacity, and the first time that our work had a major influence on the future of the company. The synthesis of research and design we brought to bear on real business strategy was incredibly exciting for me, and fulfilling on a completely different level than marketing ever was. My joy has always been in crafting work that is effective, not just beautiful, and seeing this process come to life for the first time in a product that was new and exciting for its users will stick with me as one of the most exhausting and proud experiences of my professional life.
Styles were just one part of what we developed in our short three weeks, and they’re by no means perfect – but this feature, and the potential it has to completely change a user’s experience of MOJO Yoga for the better, is for me the most exciting and compelling part of what we created.
“Ellie did an outstanding job with our UX project, and delivered a prototype above and beyond our expectations. Her research and testing was thorough, her approach to our project was highly relevant and indicated great understanding of and care for the project, and her solutions were creative and exciting for us.”
- Jean Marie Johnson, Founder and CEO of MOJO Yoga
Overall, the MOJO team was thrilled with our work, even though it’s implementation and impact may not be felt for a few years. We successfully used agile methodologies, design thinking, and user research to work through some thorny issues their product faces and develop compelling, unique future differentiators that were exciting to students and teachers alike.