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Case Study

Preserving Family Stories

We can’t get back what we lost. But can we give future generations what we wish we had for ourselves?

I began this project during the 2020 pandemic as the world hunkered down and hugged their loved ones a little closer. This project investigated people’s perception of the value of knowing where they came from and preserving their story for the future. My goal was to determine whether there is a market to build a product in this segment. And if so, what is it?

My Role and Responsibilities

I created this project at SCAD in a M.A. course that focuses on conducting user research. I completed all of the work you see below and presented its evolution to the professor and classmates during weekly live discussions and feedback sessions. This course was a new experience for me, as I had never dug this deep into research. I found it incredibly fulfilling.

Secondary Research

Quantitative and Qualitative Research

I kicked-off the project with quantitative and qualitative research to help me understand if there is public interest in knowing more about your family and where you came from. The overwhelming answer was yes.

Here are some insights I gathered:

A few quantitative data points I collected during the early stages in research. These insights helped me realize the growing user segment this product could attract for people in all ages and stages of their lives.

Qualitative research unexpectedly revealed that family stories aren’t just interesting, they are good for us.

When we understand the culture that we come from, we become more “culturally competent with others” and can navigate conversations with different people better.

Dube, N. (2010). Does Family Communication Impact Cultural Identity? University of Portland. Communication Studies Undergraduate Publications, Presentations and Projects. https://pilotscholars.up.edu/cst_studpubs

Learning about your family history helps you better understand your past, including the triumphs and struggles your ancestors went through, and provides crucial context about who you are and where you came from.

(2019, November). Simple Steps To Get Started on Your Ancestry® Family History Journey. Ancestry. https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/blog/simple-steps-to-get-started-onyour-ancestry-family-history-journey/

Adolescents who report knowing more stories about their familial past show higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement.

Fivush, R., Duke, M., Boahnek, J. (2010, February 23). The Power of Family History in Adolescent Identity and Well-Being. https://ncph.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Thepower-of-family-history-in-adolescent-identity.pdf

For adults at midlife and older, passing down lessons and values through stories enhances a sense of well-being.

Quigley, M. (2914, August 04). Here is Why You Should Share Family Stories. AARP. https://blog.aarp.org/parenting-part-2/here-is-why-you-should-share-family-stories

Competitive Landscape

After confirming there is a market for people interested in preserving family stories, I explored what products currently exist and the features they offer. Is there something out there that already solves this problem?

I researched seven different companies that provided various types of family-related services. I condensed some of my research into a matrix to compare companies side-by-side.

Completing this research helped me understand the existing market and determine if there are opportunities for differentiating this product in the market.

Primary Research

Before beginning any primary research, I asked myself, “What do I still need to know?”

  • How do people feel about their use of existing services? What is that experience like for them? What motivates them to pursue this work, and do they think it is worth the effort?
  • What types of information do people want to preserve about their family story? Are they getting what they want out of existing services? And, what would they want to do with the information they gather, if anything?

The questions helped me determine which research methods I should pursue to help gather that information.

In-Depth Interviews

In-depth interviews allowed me to engage in open-ended, discovery-oriented conversations with active users of existing products in order to learn more about the motivations behind their use, and their experience.

I conducted a combination contextual inquiry and in-depth interview with Patricia. She is an active user on Ancestry and is trying to build her family story for her children.

I think losing a person that’s close to you…you can’t talk to them, you can’t hear their stories, and you want to get as many of those stories now before those people pass away and record it so that you have it forever.

User Interview with Patricia
A clip from my in-depth interview with Claire, who has conducted ancestry research on and off for several years.

You just feel like you’re there because that’s your family. It makes everything really real.

Claire on discovering and reading a personal diary of one of her ancestors who was in WW2.
Audio clip from a phone interview I conducted with Valerie.

Ideally I’d would want them preserved in audio. Because I feel like it’s not only the facts of the story, but how people tell it.

User interview with Valerie
Surveys

The survey included 24 questions (multiple choice and open-ended) and required about 10 minutes to complete. There were a total of 58 participants. The survey helped me hone in on what mattered to users in regards to product features and pricing.

The results I collected were diverse in demographics to resemble our nation/world. There was a higher turnout of female participants, which was predicted given data in secondary research. Overall, people of all backgrounds shared similar preferences in product features and pricing.

Analyze and Synthesize

Synthesizing the information is the exercise of pulling insights out of the research. Below are the methods I used to analyze and synthesize over 100 data points of research.

Affinity Mapping

After conducting my primary and secondary research, I used the Miro app to transfer every data point to one place. After clustering, and re-clustering the information, I labeled each section with the overall theme of each cluster.

Each data point is annotated with original source and data type. The annotations meant that I’d never lost track of where the data originated from in case I needed to retrace my steps.
Personas

I created personas to add a human element to otherwise raw data. The personas clearly define the three main user segments for the product and specify each of their unique goals, current frustrations, and ideal product features and functionality.

Problem Statement

Family members need a way to preserve their unique stories, traditions and rituals today in order to leave something behind that future generations can learn from and connect with.

MoSCoW Method

The MoSCoW method breaks down the priorities and requirements of the product. I envision the Must Have section becoming the M.V.P. in the product design process. 

Delivering the Research

This project focused on the first two stages of the Design Thinking process (Empathize and Define). This work could potentially be passed on to a product design team, who would use it to build the actual product. In that instance, I conceptualized compelling ways for delivering the information that would peak the design team’s interest and connect them to the mission of helping people tell their stories and capture their family legacy. This is a very human topic we could all relate to, and I wanted to the delivery of the research to reflect that. Below is the final concept.

Concept: Time Capsule

Learning your family story is a process of discovery. With every new artifact you find, you feel more inspired, more curious, and more complete.

The idea of discovery and piecing stories together is the inspiration behind this creative direction. Each artifact provides an essential nugget of information, and together they tell the whole story. Product design teams get hands-on interaction with the research in this unique delivery approach. I hope it increases that same sense of curiosity and excitement in discovering family stories that the research expressed.

How it Works
Final Design

Each artifact provides a nugget of research presented in the form of something that could be found in a time capsule. The design is cohesive enough to feel like one entity but varied enough to make each artifact a one-of-a-kind piece. The diversity in the photos is an intentional design decision used to help the stories and stats feel as universal as the feelings of family connection and storytelling.

Each artifact provides real data from the research. Whether it is a statistic from secondary research, a quote from an in-depth interview or an insight from the survey, each piece is made to provide meaningful information. Many of the images were donated to me by beautifully diverse classmates and friends.

Conclusion

I was overwhelmed by the high level of interest in this research topic and how many people had tried to trackback their family stories or expressed interest in doing so. Although existing genealogy sites can help trace back our lineage, they do not give us detailed accounts of the past or provide the space to build our own detailed story into the family tree.

And the truth is, there’s more we can do to look ahead than behind. We can’t get back history that is lost, but we can preserve more now. Since human behavior doesn’t drastically change, the same curiosities we have of our ancestors will be felt by future generations. This product is dedicated to celebrating every family’s unique story and giving everyone a place to tell and preserve it.

Next Steps and Lessons Learned

The research and discoveries that went into this project were incredibly fulfilling, and I’d like to continue seeing this project through to its completion. In the future, I hope to work through the following stages of the design thinking process and possibly pitch the idea to a company like Ancestry as a sister product to their existing services. This product isn’t a competitor to the market, but rather an extension—a new branch—to what is currently offered.

This project helped me understand the business value of UX research. The research inspired a new product idea that addresses users’ desires to preserve family stories and fill in existing market gaps. By setting out to answer a few simple questions, a new and unique product idea was born, with a large and growing user base ready to use it.

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