MyPrintCenter is a web-based printing system used by University of Texas at Austin (UT) Libraries, provided and supported by Pharos, a third-party cloud storage and printing management company. The system is available for all UT students, faculty, and staff, with UT students making up the majority of users. With the system, users are able to upload documents directly from their personal devices onto a cloud platform and temporarily store them. This temporary cloud storage serves as a printing queue, and, with a fee, users are able to access their documents to print them wherever printing is possible available on UT campus. We aim to redesign the interface to provide a more streamlined and intuitive user experience, which would increase efficiency and convenience for users who need to complete printing jobs.
What is your expectations on printers?
Probably nothing much. Just get your work done and print out exactly what you expected so.
Yet the real situations could go against your wishes even though you executed a series of right commands. On occasions where users needed printed copies to rush towards meetings or classes, or in cases where users already had a struggling day wrestling with complicated problems, a "bugged" printer could be the last straw that broke camel's back.
This problem could be further perplexed by an installed cloud printing system which allows a community to share printers with paying for the printing services. While the system is simply supposed to allow you to print your paper, it turns out to become a powerful tool for wasting away your time.
Currently, UT deploys a web-based printing service that allows users to upload their documents onto a cloud storage management system, and utilize one of the many printers provided by UT Libraries throughout campus. We decided to evaluate the current user interface, collected the pain points from users and redesign the system into a more intuitive and efficient one.
How might we improve users' printing experience with using the cloud-based printing system, My Printer Center?
Step 1: Review the current interface
To better understand the issue with the current system, we started with a heuristic evaluation of the interface used now. The printing system by Pharos includes three main activity areas: file uploading and management (mixed with print preview and cost estimation), fund management and display, setting up print properties.
Step 2: User research
#1. Onsite Observation
We visited several locations providing UT Library printing service and observe on-site how users interacted with My Printer Center to complete their tasks. Like every printing station, post-it notes are everywhere because, obviously, there are needs for reminding users of extra information. We also invited a volunteer to think out loud while trying to print her reading assignments using My Printer Center, and filmed the process of her interaction with the system upon consent for analysis.
#2. Contextual interview
The user group of My Printer Center are mainly UT students, covering a cohort of students in different years of studying at UT, coming from diversified cultural backgrounds with various levels of experience in interacting with technologies. Our contextual interview was targeted at UT students in different cultural, academic, and technology usage experiences, to study their goals, usage scenarios & interaction process. We carried 6 in-depth interview with students with a variety of backgrounds covering US and international nationalities, fresh and senior students and pursuing different majors. Based on our notes, we used affinity diagram to organize users' pain points and needs.
To visualize the pain points and opportunities based on the study, I drew a user journey map to realign the breakdown moments in different phases and highlight potential opportunities from these pain points.
In line with onsite observation and contextual analysis, the problems are gradually mapped out:
1. The different mental models of printing stamped users' learning experience of using My Printer Center.
One of users' major pain points came from their failure to understand how to use My Printer Center. The reason lies in that the cloud printing system that Pharos used in UT Library is different from the usual printing experience of users. To enable users have freedom to print wherever they like in campus, MPC only offers file storage. Users need to find out computers with printers to finally execute the printing order.
2. The existing ways of uploading files and setting up printing properties failed to meet users' ultimate goal -- completing printing jobs in an efficient and errorless way.
When users are attempting to complete their printing tasks, they want this to be a rapid, efficient and error-prevented process. The current system only focuses only completing the printing task without taking users' overall needs into consideration. In a similar way, the payment method caused confusion among users who have to turn to librarians for knowing printing prices and ways to get charged.
3. Users have a difficult experience in finding their printed materials, even though they understand the printing mechanism.
Printing is never the point for users to take the action. Their goal is to get a printed copy for handing in homework or finding a job. The current system overlooked the essential needs in this ecosystem but simply focused on getting the storage system into function.
4. Printing itself could lead to bad experience because the mechanism within machines is agnostic to users.
Even without My Printer Center, users also had poor experience in interacting with printers (actually probably they hope they would never need to "interact"), such as forgetting their printed materials as Don Norman gave an example in his book, or the printed results totally betrayed the electronic files. It creates opportunities for My Printer Center to develop new features over competitors and win its market niche by improving user experience in using it.
5. Extra features are less important than creating users an intuitive and efficient experience in using cloud printing system.
Competitors also provide features like encouraging environmental behaviors and monitoring printing volume and activities. Based on what we learned from users, most used My Printer Center only when there is a solid need for hard copies. Environmental behaviors and statistics on printing are less prioritized tasks or are only important for managers. In light of this, we will not consider realizing these features for now and for the user group of students.
Frame the problem
How might we improve the efficiency of printing and collecting materials for the student user group with different level of experience in interacting with technologies and diversified printing needs?
Work roles analysis
To further understand the ecosystem of My Printer Center, we analyzed the work roles and user groups to delve into the interaction between user groups and machine roles.
User persona & storyboarding
Based on analysis above, there are various groups of users. As students' experience interacting with the system influences whether this system will be used in UT in a more directly and students form the biggest user group, we focused on how to improve their experience.
To further clarify the pain points from users, I designed and used personas to specify the goals, needs and frustrating points with the current cloud printing system from different sub-groups of users.
Storyboarding creates an intuitive and rapid way to envision solutions for users under a certain usage scenario. I also used this to ideate draft solutions in context of specific use of interfaces.
Transform users' pain points to key features
Pain point #1
"I have no idea how to use the system. The instructions are too long and I don't have the patience to finish them all."
Provide users an interactive learning experience of using this system.
For novice users provide a step-to-step guide showing them how to start their first printing job and next steps they need to take to fetch printed materials.
Pain point #2
"When I went to a new library at UT, I wasted a lot of time finding the printers and specially distinguish those for color copies."
Increase users' control of printer status by showing them the locations and status of printers
Include a map to display the location, status and functions of printers.
Pain point #3
"I hope there is a way allowing me to not have to set up printing properties again and again."
For frequent/expert users allow them to have shortcut to functions they used most often. The NN's "flexibility and efficiency of use" principle.
Include functions to provide "customized" printing experience and allow users to get quickly access to their preferred setting.
Pain point #4
"I don't understand why the documents I printed out are different from what I expected."
Allow users to preview the printed version.
Increase the space for provide preview for users.
We invited 8 people to complete the usability testing for low-fidelity prototype. Overall the interviewees praised the simplicity of our prototype’s design. Meanwhile we also collected valuable opinions on how to further improve the design:
Summary of opinions
1. Some functions such as adding funds could only be found within the burger menu, while others were accessible at more than one location in the prototype.
2. labels need to be further clarified, for instance "fund management" is quite vague.
3. Adding funds are meaningless. There is disconnection between adding funds and learning how much money I had or needed to cover the printing job.
4. The warning that files will only be stored for 24 hours may not be important enough to warrant being displayed at the top of every screen.
5. It might be helpful to make finding a printer the first step.
6. Printing properties set-up systems are not in line with real world.
7. I'm not able to delete uploaded files.
8. It is unclear how to actually print once files are uploaded and settings are customized.*
*When we are making the low-fidelity mock-up, we hope to provide users with a more intuitive system for helping them understand what to do without providing learning tutorial. Yet this problem was again solidated by usability testing results.
Fresh login page with selection of old or new user
Old and new user have different goals in using My Printer Center. For new users a study tutorial will be added whilst for old users they will be directly led to dashboard.
Improving the freedom of uploading files and responses to improve system visibility
Based on contextual interview and heuristic evaluation of the original interface, the ways of uploading files are quite rigid and unresponsive for users to understand the progress.
Improve preview of printing effects
Users complained about mistakenly printed materials. To enable the preview of printing effects help users to make less mistakes and get to know printing problems ahead.
Providing users information they didn't know
Clarify different ways of payment and let users know what to do next to complete their printing.
For users, printers are like black boxes. They hope printers just print as they wished, but don't understand why they failed. The original system is organized enough but not user-friendly because it overlooked the essential needs from users, get a printed copy. Especially, cloud printing set-up for My Printer Center is different from the original mental model of users. In this case, it needs to consider the ultimate goal of users and design from there.
Features should be included based on user study and business considerations.
There are several features from competitors, such as printing statistics or environmental actions encouragement. Yet based on user studies, they are not the fundamental needs from users. Developing these features could be costly while wasting.
Usability testing and heuristic evaluation are strong tools to unearth problems for iteration.
Don't rely on the first edition. Design is a rapid process. The earlier problems are found the closer it is to success. It is important to kind of letting go of your ego and focusing on revealing loopholes in your design with humility.
Play with the Figma prototype!