Optimail

Mobile app for postal workers

Overview

In 2014, I collaborated with fellow SFU design students Christie Wong, Levona Yim, and Patrick Magdua in an interface design course to address some of the pain brought about by Canada Post's postal transformation system, which, among other negative effects, forced mail carriers to do more work for the same pay in order to cut costs.

Enter Optimail, a mobile app that provides Canada Post letter carriers with the tools and resources to deliver mail and file reports more efficiently and accurately.

In addition to helping design the UI and user flows, I was primarily responsible for the app's visual design, and editing a video to showcase the app in use.

Process

Designing an interface for an unknown user group like letter carriers required extensive research – more than we had time to conduct! One of my tasks was to interview local mail carriers and identify their standard routines, tasks, and goals. These findings were amalgamated into a persona named Pierre.

Pierre Cambray, a persona for our Optimail app.

Pierre's key motivations, in addition to completing his job efficiently, included staying healthy on the job and maintaining physical fitness.

Using this persona and the aforementioned research, our group created a journey framework to not only to understand what a letter carrier’s day looked like, but identify pain points in their day that we could use as potential touchpoints – areas where the interface might intervene to help address their problems.

Pierre Cambray's journey framework, and thought process as he completes a day as a mail carrier.

Through the journey framework, we could map out Pierre's work day, and his accompanying emotions, thoughts, and tasks.

The journey framework helped us to realize that the work of a mail carrier is cyclical, primarily composed of picking up mail at certain checkpoints, and quickly delivering it to the proper routes. I subsequently created a flowchart to make this cycle clearer, so we could better understand how to design for it.

A flowchart of a mail carrier's work day.

The flowchart details the mail carrier's tasks from beginning to the end of the day, but the bulk of their work is spent delivering mail.

Since mail delivery was the bulk of the letter carrier's day, we focused on making that cycle as efficient as possible. Our app would streamline the delivery process in two key ways: facilitating package signings, and designing optimal routes for delivery.

I was tasked with visually designing and creating an Axure prototype for this first iteration of the app.

Three phones showing the original prototype for Optimail.

The original prototype focused on the efficiency of package scanning and route planning.

View Prototype

Redesign

We tested our initial prototype with several qualified users, including a Canada Post employee and a former UPS deliveryman, and they told us that our prototype failed to assist letter carriers in better achieving their goals.

Why? Our original design focused on optimizing delivery routes for carriers, but this ran counter to what letter carriers typically do. Carriers are so attuned to their routes that they already know how to best move through their area in order to maximize their efficiency; having an application tell them otherwise was counterproductive. Furthermore, the app required constant attention, but letter carriers can't just stare at their phone all day. We didn't pay attention to our user enough!

Graph showing how the app moved from being obtrusive and creating efficiency, to being invisible and faciliting efficiency.

Letter carriers know how to do their job; we didn't need our app to tell them what to do or be so in-your-face.

It was decided that we needed to change Optimail’s focus. Instead of telling users how to do their job, it needed to be inobtrusive, dispense timely information, and require less active attention. To accomplish this, we redesigned the map to display important information to the carrier, and dispense audio cues when they weren't looking at their phone.

Three phones showing the new prototype for Optimail.

Many features remained, but pertinent information such as upcoming mail pickups, completed deliveries, and weather warnings would now be displayed on the map and delivered via audio cues.

Because this new app was much more passive and would only deliver information if a carrier actually walked around with it, a prototype wasn't feasible. Instead, I created a video and a slide presentation demonstrating how a letter carrier would benefit from using Optimail during their work day.

View Slides

Results

Optimail was selected as a finalist in the student category at the 2014 Vancouver User Experience Awards. Although it didn't win, it received recognition as an example of innovative UX.

I also learned a key lesson through this project - understand your user! The project went through a fairly significant redesign because we failed to understand letter carriers properly, but once we did, we came up with a solution that really worked. A lot of stress was involved, but I'm glad I learned a lesson!

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