How can you summarize context analysis, Flutter, focus time projects, and a master's thesis in one word? Quite simply: xCollect. We will show you through an interview how this all fits together and what xCollect is all about.
Martin: Shortly before the pandemic in early 2020, my team manager Christian and I were in the USA for a customer to conduct interviews with their employees, accompany them in their everyday work, and learn from them. These so-called context analyses took place in sessions of 60-90 minutes each, requiring a lot of concentration, communication, and receptiveness. You meet a wide variety of personalities and immerse yourself in their environment.
Especially on a business trip lasting several weeks, it is always more challenging to be fully present with the interviewee — because you only have this chance with the person in front of your microphone, giving you their valuable time.
After dozens of days, locations, and interviews, we found ourselves in a parking lot in Charlotte (USA) on a freezing cold morning for a contextual analysis. At the same time, the wind was so fierce it almost ripped our papers off the clipboard.
At that point, it became clear that the current set-up of a clipboard, paper, pen, recording device, and the like was done. The process of data collection, organization, and subsequent analysis had to be simplified.
Martin: At Ergosign, we have a monthly Focus Time, making it possible to work on exciting topics outside the project business. Christian and I first used this to develop the idea further. We used our user-centered design process to develop a problem statement, personas, and scenarios. But it quickly became clear that we needed more time for the project.
So we went to Ergosign's so-called "Innovation Board", where employees can pitch ideas to gain time and resources internally. And we successfully got support from user research and development. Due to the pandemic, some problems and changes caused our project to fall into a deep slumber. This slumber lasted about 18 months until our Flutter expert Dorian had the idea of using xCollect as a topic for a master's thesis.
Nicolas: I originally started at Ergosign as a working student, but during the interview, I expressed interest in writing my master's thesis at Ergosign, which, as you can see, was very well received. Dorian supported me in finding a topic for the work. xCollect has been an idea for a long time but had yet to be technically implemented. The subject was a perfect fit because I wanted to develop something for which there was a need and not just write a thesis that would later gather dust on a shelf.
Nicolas: xCollect was realized with Flutter. Thanks to internal projects such as xDesk and xPark as well as external projects such as the FichtelApp or the Hamburg Süd Shipping App , we at Ergosign have a lot of experience with this. Flutter builds on a single code base — once developed, the application will run on Android, iOS, and, with minor adjustments, also for desktop and web, so cross-platform. You can develop pixel-perfect with Flutter and determine precisely how certain elements should look, which was later pivotal for the visual design team.
Nicolas: The requirement analysis was already provided because of the preparatory work by Martin and Christian. It was then necessary to determine feasible features as part of a master's thesis. We identified key screens and challenges and evaluated them technically based on this.
We also debated usability issues such as the app's vertical or horizontal orientation or which data should be recorded in which form (mp3, mp4, etc.). After the technical evaluation, the app was merged functionally, which, technically, already worked. Only the visual design still needed to be finished. Our colleagues Malita and Alex supported us with the visual design.
Martin: The goal with xCollect is a platform that simplifies collecting qualitative data from interviews (or usability testing) with customers and users. The aspect of information security is essential to us because this is the first app we trust in this regard. Among other things, the following functions are to be integrated:
"Through the collaborative approach between developers and designers at Ergosign, many questions could be clarified quickly. So, I could implement the design quickly and effectively with Alexandra Schotsch. We have noticed again and again how diverse the users can be, which brought up more questions. What do we focus on? was the most common one, as we anticipate many scenarios and different user approaches. In the actual implementation of the design, we were able to draw inspiration from existing in-house software such as xDesk and xPark. A new style element we've included is the representation of waveforms as recurring parts of the design."
Dorian: The internal introduction is still pending. With completing the master's thesis, Nicolas created an MVP that will be tested in internal projects. After that, a feedback session will be needed to iterate the MVP and get it to a point where it can be used reliably internally.
Nicolas: This is essential for me because I consciously decided against pure research and in favor of application-oriented studies. I want to develop something in a company that will also be used. It is also very, very important to me to gain valuable professional experience this way. The collaboration and interaction with Martin as project owner, as well as with colleagues across different departments, was invaluable.
Dorian In the beginning, we worked together a lot and exchanged ideas, but it quickly became apparent in which direction we should go. The collaboration was, therefore, not very intensive, but still successful because Nicolas works autonomously. The support for Nicolas was always there, but he rarely needed it thanks to his goal-oriented way of working, and he communicated optimally when he had questions and needed help.
Dorian: One of the biggest challenges was the real-time aspect, i.e., the exchange of information in real-time. This was new territory for us and a topic we had to familiarize ourselves with first. We evaluated several options at the beginning of the work before deciding on this aspect. In retrospect, that was exactly the right approach because we are very satisfied with the result and the real-time function.
Martin: Personally, I had lost some hope when the project was kept in the freezer, but Nicolas' good work changed that. Progress was made quickly, and we are excited to see the insights the first practical tests will bring. In summary: Yes, the expectations have been met so far. However, there is still a long way to go to the summit... but with the participation of everyone who has been able to contribute so far and will continue to do so, the way there is promising. Thank you to everyone who has played their part in this 😀.