Michelle Boisson

interaction design and creative strategy

Expanding the Used Cars Research Experience

Product definition, information architecture, user research and synthesis in collaboration with a UX researcher, collaborating with a data scientist to produce data-driven prototypes, workshop facilitation with stakeholders, requirements documentation and prototyping.

Through interviews and surveys, we also learned that used car shoppers are not interested in learning how a car performed when when it was new, which is what CR’s main reporting is about. They were much more interested in learning how other owners felt about the car. The closer they could get to speaking to the previous owner of a car, the better. In speaking with our car testing experts, we learned that, while we don’t test the same model every year, we do test them when their are major changes or redesign to the model.

The experience on Consumer Reports used cars information was pretty dire considering the rich information they’ve been collecting over the last 15 years. A used car model page was in fact a general description of the model and it’s performance over the last 10 years. This is not in line with how used car researchers look for information.

I came up with an information architecture that would support our user’s research behavior in providing details about individual model years and leaning on smart use of user-generated reporting via our surveys.

While CR does not test used cars–they only test new cars, their annual survey of about 1 million vehicles tells the story of how used cars are performing today. This data was traditionally used to exact a reliability score for every model year. I proposed new ways of using that data so that we could report on used cars. It was a major shift in design, product, and analytics


  • Consumers are able to read and compare 10 years of CR data on car models, year by year
  • Tighter integration of user-generated reporting and CR’s test data
  • Alignment of consumer’s research behavior with the architecture of the interface and data that they find more appealing
  • This architecture stemmed from my work with the mobile apps team, but is now being adopted by the website team



Initial Prototype http://4lwazs.axshare.com/view.html

Car Ownership App Interaction Exploration (concept: scroll through past and potential future issues)

Car Ownership Click Through (concept: predict my car’s future)


img_20150619_154329534 img_20150619_154403182 Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 5.05.18 PM Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 5.05.25 PM

Cell Phone Service Plan Helper

Lead strategist, facilitator, prototype maker. I documented our process on a tumblr blog.

Choosing an optimal cell phone plan and switching carriers is a painful process for most. In interviews with consumers, we heard a lot about a fear of switching. Many people had a sense that they were not getting the best deal but also resisted switching because of fear that another carrier might be worse. While some have brand loyalty to the company they are with, most are frequently looking for the best deal. Trends with carriers include plans with no contracts and unlimited talk and text, which boils down the decision for most consumers to price and coverage.

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Carriers are constantly changing their plans, making it difficult for consumers to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Newer, smaller carriers sometimes have good prices but it is not always clear what networks they run on and, ultimately, what kind of coverage one can expect.

Consumer Reports’ data on cell phone carriers was collected through their survey research center.  Over 106,000 consumers reported on their experience with 21 carriers. The output of the annual survey was a set of scores for each carrier based on the consumer responses. We were seeing an opportunity to extract more insight based on the questions our target audience was asking themselves.

Our problem statements
A diligent researcher trying to sift through the details needs to clearly understand all of the options in optimizing the value of a cell phone plan because carrier pricing is not straightforward and they are unhappy with how much they are paying.

A value optimizer, weighing their options in switching cell phone carriers, needs to understand the experience of consumers at smaller carriers because trusted reviews on these carriers from consumers in their neighborhood are hard to find.

We brainstormed and iterated on solutions, checking with consumers via surveys and interviews. View our full process documented here. We narrowed down our solutions to 3 prototyped concepts:

The Ultimate Cell Phone Plan Finder:
An attempt to make all plans across the Big 4 comparable 1:1
Emphasis on a DIY-approach to exploring and ‘playing with’ the data

Cell Plan Genie:
Emphasis on education and giving a strong recommendation

Real Talk:
User-Generated Carrier Profiles
“What carriers don’t want you to know”

I documented our process on a tumblr blog.

Car Buying Guide for iOS and Android

My Role:
Product definition, information architecture, user research and synthesis in collaboration with a UX researcher, workshop facilitation with stakeholders, requirements documentation and prototyping.

Most people looking into purchasing a new car tend to focus on which model is right for them, narrowing their choices to a few models, ignoring trim in the beginning. Once they’ve settled on a model, their focus will shift to selecting trims and options. Another observation revealed that car researchers are in a mode of constant compare, hoping to validate that the choice they’ve made is the right one.

Consumer Reports car testing and reporting is second to none and a major driver for new signups. Despite it being one of the biggest franchise areas for the non-profit, there were many holes in the user experience that didn’t match how the target audience does car research. We were forcing them to decide on a trim or to draw their own conclusions when comparing models by jumping between tested trim pages in the interface.

In comparing the user’s research journey with the strengths in CR’s car testing , we came up with this statement: “We test cars to report on models.” This means, we can’t test every trim in a model, but we can use the data we have in the trims we do test to inform our reporting on a model. In aligning our focus with the major pain point of comparing and deciding on a model, we can be a better serve our members during the car research process.

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To support the mental mode of constant compare, we represented every model with 3 data points: overall score, MPG and price, making it easier to compare models at every step of the journey. These were the three most important factors in beginning to compare models.

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  • streamlined user experience that aligns with how members do research
  • turned a hole in the experience (the fact that we can’t test every trim) into an opportunity
  • removed a lot of redundancies
  • this architecture stemmed from my work with the mobile apps team, but soon after was adopted by the website team


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WorkJam is a hypothetical system that helps regulate your mental energy with music while you’re working. It listens to your brain activity and responds with smart song selections to keep you in the creative flow.

The Problem

I’m not good at taking breaks when I’m working. Once I get started, I tend keep going and going until I’m totally spent, feeling a little crazed by the work, and in dire need of a mental break, some fresh air, some food, or any combination of them.

I wanted to design a system that would help me regulate my energy and eventually take breaks.

The Process

Using Paul Pangaro’s model for first-order feedback loops, I started diagramming possible intervention systems.

The Goal defines the relationship that the systems wants to have on the environment:
maintain high to medium energy levels while doing work, and take a breaks when regulating becomes more difficult.

My mental energy levels

Disturbances to the Environment:
How much sleep I had the night before, what I ate or drank earlier, how active I was that day, my mood, or even the energy in the room, are things that can affect my energy levels, and that live outside the system.

Some things that give away my energy levels are: yawning, posture, lazy typing, rubbing my eyes, eyes feeling heavy, frequent blinking; or on the other end I’m having fun, I have lots of ideas, thoughts, and questions, and I’m engaged in the work I’m doing. I could also try to deduce my energy levels based on the passage of time. The Ultradian Cycles tell us that our brains naturally go through peaks and valleys of energy multiple times a day, usually every 90 to 120 minutes.

But when we talk about sensors and actuators, we talk about them in relation to their resolution or sensitivity (how accurate is your sensor or actuator?); their frequency (how often does the sensing or action take place?); and their range (what’s the capacity, or minimums and maximums of your sensor or actuator). None of the sensors above hit the sweet spot in terms of resolution, frequency, and range. For this project, I settled on measuring brain activity via an EEG sensor.

Things that can have an effect on my energy levels are things like:

  • consuming energy foods or drinks
  • taking a break (like: breathing or stretching exercises, going for a walk, music and smells, washing my face, a good laugh)
  • playing high-energy music

There is strong evidence showing how music has the power to affect our emotional and energetic states. And since I tend to listen to music while I’m getting work done, I chose music as my actuator in this project.

The Results


I created a few videos and audio recordings to help describe WorkJam.


Next Steps

Going through this exersice of designing a system was really fun and challenging. I would love to build a prototype for the system itself using an EEG sensor and a music player. I’m hoping to have some time after thesis to do this.

IRC Mobile App Proposal

The Brief

Based on a creative brief, my classmate Carlin and I have been thinking about how a the International Rescue Committee could use mobile-based technologies as a way to ultimately garner donations and raise awareness about the organization.

Looking at some of their competitors, we didn’t find much on mobile. My research on uses of mobile tech in non-profit organizations didn’t garner much beyond stressing the importance of creating a mobile-friendly version of their website. I think that that is a given.

For this exercise, we wanted to see if we could do more.

iRescue Campaign

We decided to focus on the existing IRC campaign called iRescue, a DIY fundraising campaign.  You sign up, choose a cause, customize a webpage, send the links to friends, and try to get them to help you reach your goal and donate money to the IRC on your behalf. Some popular iRescue campaigns right now are Tattooers for JapanMary & Tom’s Wedding, and The National Social Work Campaign.

Working with this group of users there are a few advantages:

  • they are already supporters of IRC and understand the need for funds
  • they are planning to engage their network of friends to be supporters themselves
  • Research suggests that 70% of fundraising is done through family and friends

If we can help iRescue group with their own goals, in the end it’s benefitting both the participants and the organization, while engaging a network of people who otherwise wouldn’t be a part of the IRC family. This how we decided to construct our app.

Our Goals

We already have IRC supporters who are engaging their friends in their cause by raising awareness and collecting donations. How can we propagate this action to the second tier of engaged givers so that they too would want to avocate for the cause and engage their own network to then then donate? How can we create a ripple, effectively engaging subsequent layers of networks, collecting donations, raising awareness, and spreading the cause?

We also wanted to take advantage of the fact that this app will be used from a mobile phone. Carlin and I talked about the fact that we carry our cells with us everywhere. And I am particularly interested in how we can use this ubiquitous tool to connect with one another in person.

The Idea


The iRescue app is a way to help grow a network of donors for your campaign. It enables you to take in donations in person as you talk to your friends about the issues you are supporting and why you want to help the IRC. In exchange for the donation, your friend gets a copy of the app from you and is then encouraged to get other donors on your behalf. The network grows are more people are engaged.

Everyone with the app gets updates about the campaigns and can watch how it grow closer and closer to its goal through the efforts of individuals. Individual donors are linked to their parent donors (their recruiter) and to the people who they spread the app to in turn.

Using Game Mechanics

For this app to be successful, for the network of givers to really grow, we need to make sure that there is an incentive for users to share the app and the story with others. The Campaign Initiator is the main source of inspiration. He or she has started the campaign because they believe in what the IRC does or they wish to support a cause that the IRC is backing. This has motivated them enough to recruit friends to try to do the same.

As we move further away from the Campaign Initiator in Giving Graph (above) those givers are further away from the original source of motivation. To boost motivation at these tiers of engagement, we look to game mechanics.

Titles and Badges
Carlin and I discussed how we might assign badges or some sort of social status to givers depending on how their network is growing, in a similar manner to foursquare, in gaming chat forums, and even Kickstarter campaigns. In some gaming chat forums, you would earn a title rank based on how much you participate in the chatroom or in the game itself. Givers in the campaign would earn titles base on how many people they’ve recruited and how those people recruited others. There can also be titles for being active on social networks (online promotions) or how fast or how slow they recruit people.

The idea is to recognize those that are pushing mission, growing the graph, and ultimately helping the campaign reach it’s goal.

The “Game” Board – Visual Graphs
The visuals of the Giving Graph will also show the progression of network and identify active and inactive participants. Our hope is that people will either be motivated to see their section grow and their titles change or be motivated by seeing how other people are pushing the mission.

The app will also alert players of the status of the campaign as it progress.

Homepage Message from Message from2  AboutAbout 2 talking points media talking points 2talking points 3 talking points 4

Main Takeaways

  • about engaging the second tier of givers, and subsequent givers, getting them excited about the campaign and participating
  • the app supports already existing in-person relationships, it’s not about the app itself, it’s about the network
  • using game mechanics and infographics to recognize those that are pushing the mission and keeping that engagement up
  • empowering givers with a tool that they can then share with people they care about
  • pings and notifications keep givers informed of the state of things
  • using real data, metrics, and media to tie donations to action items from the IRC

Simple Direction, wayfinding app

David Gibson, wayfinding expert and author of The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Spaces, spoke to our user experience class a few weeks ago. After his presentation on how he and his team design wayfinding experiences, we had an interesting discussion around GPS navigations systems. A classmate told a story of how his friend, new to NY, a year later still didn’t know where anything in the city was. He used Google Navigation to get anywhere. His face stuck on his phone, he spent all his journeys, long or short, watching his blue location arrow advance and made sure it followed the glowing digital path laid out for him.

The awesome thing about GPS navigation systems is that you’ll never get lost. There are even algorithms for travelling the shortest route, the cheapest route, or the route with less traffic. But the thing that sucks about GPS Navigation is also that you’ll never get lost. Following bullet pointed, step-by-step directions takes away from the opportunity to discover things on your own.

Learning Through Mistakes

As humans, we learn from making mistakes and from making the wrong turn, literally and metaphorically. If instructions for solving a problem are just laid for us in bullet points, we won’t remember as much than when we  have to build logical and emotional connections ourselves.

…and Having Fun While Doing It

There’s a theory of fun in game design that I’m finding to be supported more and more in my own observations. Raph Koster, in his book “A Theory of Fun” concludes that fun equals opportunities to learn.  An activity is deemed fun when it’s not too easy that you get bored, it’s not too hard that you get frustrated, and that the opportunities to learn are well paced.

In my experience, sometimes getting lost is much more fun, then getting to my destination.

The Simple Direction Mobile App

The app I’m building is a navigation system for mobile devices simply letting you know if you’re going in the right direction, leaving opportunities for finding your own way through discovery and even getting lost. It’s the only wayfinding app that finally values the journey over the destination.

I wanted to strip down a navigation system to a core idea: to let the user know what direction they should going to get to their target destination. It’s a sort of customized compass that points in the direction you need.

The idea is that you could be walking, biking, discovering the space around you. And when your ready, you can check the app and make sure you’re on course. The app doesn’t care whether you follow the arrow or not. It’s just a reference and it’s there whenever you choose to look at it.

How it works

The HTML5 app prompts you to either enter a new destination or save your current location as place you’d like to return to. As you move about, you current location and bearing (heading) is calculated in relation to the destination. The latitude and longitude coordinates of your target destination are saved in local storage of the browser, so you can close the app and come back it whenever, even days later, and it will give you a reference to that location. You can change the destination at any time.

I’m using Google’s geocoder for translating the latitude and longitude coordinates to an address and vice versa.

How it doesn’t work (yet)

I’ve been able to get current location, save a destination location, and calculate the distance between the two in kilometers and in feet, get the direction you are heading in relation to North. However, the main part of the app is still  in progress: pointing the arrow to the destination location. I also want to calculate the distance in terms of a time estimate based on how fast you are currently moving.

More on this come. You can follow the code on github.


BeThereNYC is about free, cheap, fun, here and now. It is a personal project I started tinkering with in Spring 2010. I wanted to create a site that listed all the free and cheap events around the city.

Every summer I’d aggregate the calendars from organizations like SummerStage and River to River into one shared Google calendar. I’d share it with friends who in turn would share it with their friends, and they found it so useful that I started to become known for it over the years. I made it a personal project to see if I can make a usable website with the same concept. I would fill in all the summer calendar and visitors will have the opportunity to post their own events or events they’ve heard of.

I refined this project while at ITP and focused the core idea: events that one could go to now or in the very near future. BeThereNYC focuses on whats happening around you, now and and with in the next 36hrs. Read about my progress on my school blog.

I built a JSON API for the data so anyone can use the events in their own project and the entire project is open source. It built with Node.js. You can view all the code or fork it on GitHub.

Usability Testing

I used a technique outlined in this video, and sat down with three people to do user testing.

  1. I defined 5 most important things people should be able to do or know.
  2. I wrote a script for myself
  3. I started by asking about who they are, they’re level of comfortability with tech, and chatted a bit so that they are comfortable talking. 
  4. I asked about their first general impressions of the site.
  5. Then I asked them to perform a task that I’ve outlined while talking out loud as much as possible, so I can hear their thought process. The tasks I outlined were:
    • find an event happening near you now and share it with a friend
    • find an event happening in another specified area later today
    • add an event to the site
  6. At the end I allowed them to ask questions and would fully describe my project.

You can find a detailed script and the feedback on my student blog here.

People had the most trouble in adding an event and in finding the home button (or logo). So I moved the logo to the top, a more traditional place. I spent some time really crafting the event submission process which was something I had taken for granted the first round, and created the tree below to fully understand the steps need to adding an event to the site. I was also careful to use friendlier language in the form itself so it wasn’t so bland. Check out the final results: betherenyc.com