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Quick-Chat

UX Design Case Study

Adding a quick-chat feature to the Nintendo Switch console.

Introduction

Why this project?

One of the primary reasons I decided to study UX/UI is because of my interest and experience in creating interactive media, such as video games. So for this project, I wanted to investigate the UX of a gaming console. I was curious what unique issues or affordance exist when the user controls are limited by a console's hardware.

Why the Nintendo Switch?

Nintendo is a company with a very clearly defined brand, with clear tonal and stylistic standards across their games and hardware. While the Switch's hardware is designed to be versatile and customizable to user needs, the UI has very little flexibility. I was interested in taking on the challenge of designing within their restraints.

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Investigating the Switch

The research phase of this project was very exploratory. I didn't go in with a specific idea in mind for what feature I might create or modify. Instead I prioritized understanding current users of the Switch, and empathizing with any struggles they may face with the console.

I conducting 5 user interviews, discovering why users owned a Switch, what they liked about it, what they didn't, and what they hoped to get out of their gaming experience on the console.

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I extracted the primary takeaways from the user interviews and arranged them to highlight some consistent user viewpoints that were coming to the surface.

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To better understand my user, I created a Persona. This is based off not only the data points above, but also the stories participants told me in the interviews about why they use the Switch and the games they like.

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Choosing a Focus

The research had revealed three main areas of interest; pictures, internet, and social features. I assessed each subject and its issues, ideating potential solutions.

Internet

Users find the internet connection to be unstable.

 

Users have great difficulty connecting to Wi-FI networks that require a sign in pop-up. This means it is often not possible to connect to the internet in hotels, which counteracts one of the Switch's most important features, its portability.

Social Features

Users are underwhelmed by the available social features, and will often turn to other devices to communicate with their friends.

 

That is not an option when needing to communicate on online multiplayer servers within games. Instead they must type using the on-screen keyboard, which users report is slow and frustrating.

 

Users want better social features, and value the community interaction highly as a part of their gaming experience.

Pictures

Users often take screenshots on accident.

 

When they take pictures on possible, there is no way to share them with friends on the platform.

 

Users report that the existing methods to export media off the console is frustrating and difficult.

Idea: Create an internet connect feature that simplifies the process of connecting to networks requiring a sign-in pop-up.

Feasibility: The differing input requirements of network sign-in pages might make this difficult to streamline. It also doesn't address the shaky connection issues, and it is unclear if that can be addressed with a UX/UI solution.

Idea: Restructure and add content to the on-console profiles, as well additional options for interaction with the user's friends list.

Feasibility: This is doable, and there is a lot of potential for highlighting the Nintendo exclusive content that Switch owners report they are invested in. However, this does serve a very clear purpose, and while enjoyable, may not be utilized without a specific function.

Selected Idea

Idea: Improve the ability to engage in multiplayer online games by adding a quick-select chat menu with pre-written messages, allowing for easier communication with a controller.

Feasibility: When playing an online game, if you choose to send a message, it will open up the Switch's on-screen keyboard, so it would be simple to add a quick-chat option, and easily for the user to learn.

Idea: Redesign the media export process to connect to the user's Nintendo Online profile, which can be accessed on the phone/computer.​

Feasibility: While feasible, this would take the design process away from the console, and therefore beyond the scope of the case study. It also does not address the accidental screenshot issue, which is caused primarily by the hardware.

Now that my area of focus had been chosen -- in-console chatting and social features -- I wanted to take a look at other consoles to see what features they have to address this issue.

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Developing the Idea

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Quick--Chat

The concept of a quick-chat feature isn't new, in fact it is not uncommon for games to incorporate their own quick-chat menus with game specific terms.

A quick-chat consists of a selection of pre-written messages that users can pick from to communicate quicker than typing. Often it utilizes a radial menu, as this allows for easy navigation with a controller's joystick.

I mapped out features to include in the quick-chat system for this project, listing them in order of priority.

Feature Set
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User Flows

With these features in mind, I identified two essential user flows to develop in order to test the quick-chat's functionality.

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So what do people want to say?

I conducted two card sorting experiments. The first was to sort a list of phases into categories, the results I would use to populate the phrase bank with an intuitive organization. The seconds was to sort the phrases based on how frequently the user would say them while gaming. Each category of frequency was given weighted points, creating an accurate list of most to least used phrases across all categories.

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Using these scores and controlling for any redundancies, I picked the top 8 phrases that would be used for the default quick-chat options.

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Re-Inventing the Wheel

I came up with two initial designs for the radial quick-menu and did a quick paper test.

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Users said they initially prefer the design on the left, because it provides better clarity for what is current selected. However, they expressed concern about how the variety of messages would fit within the wedges of that wheel. The design on the right was better suited for messages, but still had that issue of selection clarity.

Taking that feedback into account, I merged the designs into one, using the text bubbles from the right and the radial selection from the left to get the best of both worlds.

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In the paper test, users were also shown two sketched frames for the phrase library. Users unanimously preferred the design to the right, stating that too much text gets overwhelming fast.

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Testing With a Unique Challenge

Designing a UX flow to be navigated using a video game controller is an interesting challenge, especially when it comes to testing a prototype. How could I accurately assess the usability of my frames when the testers would not be able to hold a controller and press its buttons?

My solution was to create the best stand-in I could within Figma's prototyping constraints.

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Faux Switch Controls

I placed with my frames within a mockup of a Switch console, and highlighted the buttons they could click with green. For the joystick, I arrange buttons in all the directions the stick can toggle.

Testers would navigate the screens clicking only on the highlighted green areas, simulating the limited controls the feature is designed for.

Usability Test Results

Using my simulated Switch, I performed a series of usability tests. The result was an overall success. Users clearly understood the purpose and function of the designs, and expressed enthusiasm for how this could positively impact their experience.

Still, a few pain points were shaken to the surface to be improved upon in revisions.

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Presenting, the Nintendo Switch Quick-Chat

Final Thoughts

The next step for this project would be to delve deeper into defining the categories of phrases, using the data collected in the card sort. Then, I would want to expand my accessibility research to figure out what adjustable settings could make this feature easy for all users. That said, having quick-chat on a console is an accessibility feature in and of itself, allowing those using controllers to communicate more easily.

 

In my research, it became evident that none of the mainstream consoles have a built in quick-chat system. Going forward, I'm curious to investigate why this is. Having a console standard quick-chat makes communicating and socializing with fellow gamers more accessible, and can ultimately help to improve user experience of these online communities.

Thanks for reading

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