Facebook Messenger: Optimizing obscure feature experience that impacts user engagement

07/06/20: I’m a newly minted art major and recovering former neuroscience major. This is my very first product design project, borne out of a three week open source course that cemented my fascination and respect for both the design community and process. Thank you to the designers that created the class: Suraya Shivji, Brendan Elliott, Derrick Ho, and Sahil Khoja who have designed for Figma, Spotify, Apple, Facebook, and Instagram.
3 weeks
User Research
SWOT Analyses
Feasibility/Impact Analyses
High Fidelity Prototyping
[1] design newbie
introducing the case study

The goal of the course was to investigate and improve one facet of Facebook’s Messenger app. This case study was a practice in pushing myself relentlessly to ask, “why?”

I dissected the app's user experience by conducting user research and empathizing with Messenger's users as much as possible. My brainstorm session consisted of asking myself what motivates users, listing Messenger features, and continuously asking myself, “why?” to narrow down my pain points.

user research
[2] meet ashley
user personas & interviews
synthesizing research
[3] how I found ashley's problem
defining user pain points
I mined through the user interviews to identify interesting and unusual findings. After that, I grouped all of the insights into different categories:
Messenger's UI, the search feature, Messenger's benefits, and "used for professional purposes."
My refined people problem is targeted, short and sweet: People want to find old messages, but they have a time consuming struggle uncovering them. I connected issues that users were having and ultimately came up with a singular, overarching issue that in order to find an old text of conversation: you have to overcome too many obstacles. Something so simple shouldn't be so strenuous.
People want to find old messages, but they have a time consuming struggle uncovering them.
brainstorming + ideation
[4] how can I solve Ashley's problem?
swot analysis, feasibility/impact analysis, & ideation

After discovering that the search feature is inefficient when searching for old conversations, I looked into the interface of the search feature to more clearly see the different issues. Realizing how many different facets of searching in Messenger there are, I brainstormed as many ideas as I could for five minutes. After narrowing twenty five features, I conducted SWOT and feasibility/impact analyses.

see my sticky note wall!

Selecting just one feature to solve my people problem was a very daunting task, because they all seem to be smart fixes to create a flawless search feature. I decided to combine the following:

Show searched messages in preview with bolded key words
Enabling subtext search, adding dates/timestamps into conversations
Standardized sort view + additional friends at the top

These features, while minimal, all work together to create a more frictionless user experience. I think sometimes these types of small fixes make a bigger difference than splashy new features.

I came across the idea to combine these features while comparing Whatsapp with Messenger. I tried to search a word on both apps and compared the experience, and it's quickly detectable how many more steps a user needs to search for a conversation within Messenger. By not displaying all conversations at a glance, masking conversations, not making the search word easily distinguishable, and dates being absent, it makes it exponentially more tedious for a user to find an old conversation.

If there was an instance where a user forgot the exact spelling of a word, Messenger wouldn't be able to be very helpful, because subtext search isn't possible, which further devalues the experience of using the search feature.

low fidelity

[5] user flow

high fidelity + reflection

[6] how my first UX project informed my view on design

This case study redesign was my very first UX design project. It truly allowed me to explore myself as a designer and think not only for the user, but also for the company. The wheels in my head were excitedly turning by conjuring up solutions that could solve these problems while elevating Messenger's reputation.

I dove deep into the design world and learned how to formulate an in-depth, empathy-driven design process, honing in skills such as conducting user interviews or doing SWOT analyses.

Since completing this project, I’ve noticed that Messenger has implemented certain features that I’ve pointed out in this case study, such as bolding the searched term in the search results, which validated my design process.

I found that you can never learn enough about your product’s users, and often it leaves you with more questions than answers - but the quest for those answers gleans valuable gems of information.