The Shift Simulator

Creating an interactive learning enviornment

Project

Web app

Role

Product design, usability testing, UX/UI design, visual design

Team

2 product managers
6 engineers

Client

Crisis Text Line

Challenge

How do we prepare volunteers for their first shift as a Crisis Counselor?

Background

Volunteers at Crisis Text Line take 24/7 text-based conversations with people in crisis. It is often nerve-wracking for volunteers on their first shift as a Crisis Counselor because they’re unsure about how to implement their crisis intervention training and are emotionally and visually unfamiliar with the Platform in which to take texter conversations.

Outcome

A training tool that allows for volunteers to take guided and independent practice conversations in a simulated Platform experience.

Research & Discovery

Research & Discovery

History of Volunteer Training

Prior to the Shift Simulator, volunteers read textbook-like training content to learn how to perform crisis interventions with texters. They could also watch recorded videos of other people’s texter conversations and interact with a digital prototype of the Platform. Ultimately, there was still a functional disconnect between the provided training materials and the Platform environment.

Building New Features

When I started working on the Shift Simulator, informational sidebars and practice conversation activities were already built out. I was tasked to design a conversation selection interface for volunteers to choose which practice conversation activity they wanted to go through.

After reviewing existing designs and their corresponding research discoveries, I discovered that volunteers were feeling lost in the simulated Platform experience due to lack of context. I then proposed creating an onboarding flow in addition to the conversation selection interface to provide new volunteers with as much as guidance as possible.

Process

Different Onboarding User Paths

Because users would be entering the Shift Simulator at various instances, I needed to create many user flows for each particular path. For instance, if a volunteer navigates the entire onboarding but doesn’t begin a practice conversation, they would be shown the final onboarding screen upon re-entering the Shift Simulator.

shiftsim_sitemap
Shift Simulator sitemap
Shift Simulator onboarding sitemap

Draft Conversation Selection Interfaces

The main challenge in creating the conversation selection interface was developing a design that didn’t require creating brand new components. While the Training team wanted to ensure the designs would be scalable, limited engineering resources required a thoughtful approach that could be implemented in a few months.

Option 1 - Profile Landing Page

Highly scalable for developing more content and features, confusing call-to-action placement, high engineering efforts.

Option 2 - Modal

Clear visibility for users, easily implementable, limited scalability.

Option 3 - Conversation Window

Seamless design integration, technically challenging to implement.

shiftsim_convoUIdrafts
Conversation selection UI drafts
Conversation selection UI drafts

The team went for Option 2 as we were able to repurpose existing Platform modals. Due to concerns around accessibility, this option does limit how many practice conversations can be displayed so it was agreed that modals would be a medium-term solution.

Inclusive Usability Testing

To validate this new onboarding flow, I set out in developing an inclusive outreach method for research participants for a series of virtual usability testing sessions.

I re-examined all the ways the organization’s user research processes have reinforced the social hierarchy (e.g. race, gender, age, etc.) in the United States. Current research methodologies were lacking because

  1. Research was catered toward the dominant user group (in this case, white women) which in turn might potentially further marginalize other user groups
  2. Intersectional identities were not properly accounted for
  3. Underrepresented user groups risk being constantly solicited for feedback

For the Shift Simulator, I hypothesized that age would be a crucial identity factor to look at. The assumption is that with older age, people are more likely to experience disability challenges such as loss of vision, hearing, and motor skills. There are also generational gaps and differences in education over the years so it is also likely that volunteers of various age groups will interact with an educational training tool differently. I used stratified sampling and oversampling to determine an outreach group of underrepresented users across age, race, gender, and disability status.

shiftsim-researchoutreach
Random outreach vs. dedicated outreach for Shift Simulator usability testing
Conversation selection UI drafts

Usability Testing Takeaways

After conducting 120+ minutes of in-depth usability testing sessions, I was able to successfully validate that users were were able to confidently onboard and begin practice conversations on the Shift Simulator. Key findings from this research showed that

  1. Guided learning is an invaluable tool for Volunteers when they first begin volunteer training
  2. Continual learning paths are needed as Volunteers gain more experience in taking crisis conversations

Final

Platform Tour

The platform tour was designed to stay on brand with pre-existing Shift Simulator components such as the sidebar. Each step of the tour was included to provide more environmental context for a first-time user and to give way for various user paths.

Platform tour
Platform tour

Practice Conversation Selection Interface

Practice Conversation Selection Interface

The final design of the practice conversation interface also aligned with the rest of the Shift Simulator environment. Additionally, there were many design considerations including additional text, interactive components, and buttons to make it not only simpler for new users to read but also navigable by VoiceOver / screenreaders for users who are hard of hearing.

Practice conversation selection interface
Practice conversation selection interface

The Complete Onboarding

Volunteers using the Shift Simulator for the first time will go through the entire onboarding including the Platform Tour and practice conversation selection.

Complete Shift Simulator onboarding
Complete Shift Simulator onboarding

The Shift Simulator Reception and Next Steps

When the Shift Simulator launched, it tremendously improved volunteer training initiatives and relationships with volunteers and internal coaching and supervision teams. Coaching and supervision teams were aided with this tool as it would help them more effectively communicate with and teach volunteers to take crisis conversations. This new product gave tenured volunteers and trainees the space they required to learn and better serve people in need.


For future development of the Shift Simulator, I suggested the product grow to accommodate tenured volunteers and upon features such as progress tracking, conversation difficulty, and ways to gather peer, Coach, and Supervisor feedback would advocate for continual, in-depth learning.

Shift Simulator introduction video
Complete Shift Simulator onboarding

The Shift Simulator Reception

When the Shift Simulator launched, it tremendously improved volunteer training initiatives and relationships with volunteers and internal coaching and supervision teams. Coaching and supervision teams were aided with this tool as it would help them more effectively communicate with and teach volunteers to take crisis conversations. This new product gave tenured volunteers and trainees the space they required to learn and better serve people in need.

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