(You can hover over the laptop to scroll through the survey)
A fellow researcher and I were interested in how Independent Visual Artists financially support themselves, specifically how they use the Internet for financial support. We had close relationships with many independent artists, which gave us the spirit and motive to really learn how they use the Internet to support themselves. We approached this exploratory research by defining our problem statement; "how can the Internet be used to financially support independent visual artists?"
As a UX Researcher, I used mixed-methods research to investigate how independent visual artists currently use the internet for financial support. We learned about their goals and their pain points. We also created a web-based prototype that allowed artists to sell their work and be found by the public to purchase custom art using geo-location.
The methods that enabled the us to learn how the Internet can be used to support arts were:
User flow models
We learned that networking locally and word-of-mouth marketing were the most effective ways for artists to generate sales. We also learned that using social media was very efficient for creating awareness, networking, and can be great for generating sales. Self-marketing, self-management, and market research were big pain points for artists.
"Forming relationships and building bonds with different artists expands my network."
"I network proactively in my available surrounding community."
"All my bookings happen through social media."
"I would rather be the maker than promote myself."
We approached this exploratory research by first performing a literature review to understand what research already exists. We found quite a few articles that were useful and enabled us to define goals we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to 1) understand the pain points independent visual artists face, 2) understand how independent artists use the Internet, and 3) gauge the level of interest artists would have for using a web-based platform to expose their work.
We created an online survey to draw insight about pain points artists faced and measured their desire to use an online tool to better expose their work. We created the survey with Google Forms, and added password encryption before circulating it to the artists we knew. Seven artists completed the survey, which allowed us to capture valuable insights.
We wanted to gain deeper insights about the artists who took our survey, so we created an interview script to gather information the survey couldn't capture. The interview script had three overarching domains; 1) the character of their work and who it is for 2) what they are doing to reach their targeted audience, and 3) Internet usage and behavior. We contacted all seven participants for follow-up interviews and scheduled each session accordingly. The interviews took place both in-person and remotely. We recorded each interview using a microphone and transcribed them for data analysis. We also choose two participants for contextual inquiries to learn about their process of generating business, as well as how they expose their work on the Internet.
We captured a lot of raw data and organized it into emerging themes by perming open coding analysis. We learned how artists create sales as well as the major pain points they faced.
"Retaining an audience is incredibly difficult online unless you can put something up every day."
"It's hard to focus on my work and parent."
"I don't know how to promote myself."
The contextual inquiries gave us opportunities to learn more about the process of how artists expose their work in the world and on the Internet. We transformed what we learned into a flow model for a better visual of their working process and social interactions.
Synthesizing all of the data we gathered along with the flow models enabled us to create user personas. Our insights revealed two distinct groups of users; the free spirited artist and the proactive networking artist. My research colleague created the persona, Maia, while I created the persona, Kevin.
We highlighted the user's current context, goals, pain points and hypothesized reaction to our proposed solution by creating storyboards for each persona.
The data collected allowed us to make informed decisions for our prototype. As a team, we decided to design a website that would embody the natural processes of how the artists in our study currently generate business. Since networking locally and word-of-mouth marketing were two validated methods artists used to create sales, we prioritized using geolocation and social proof as the core functions of the prototype. After the prototype was complete, we designed a flowchart to outline the page navigation.
We performed four cognitive walkthroughs with the artists to evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency, and usability of our prototype. We learned that the usability of our system was not perfect, but the concept of it was clear. The prototype performed exactly how the artist expected it to.
Seeing It Happen
My colleague and I were very proud of the prototype we created, however, financial constraints did not allow us to scale the design. We searched for designers who would be excited about this work until we finally found one to hand the project off to.