In established professional sports, technology often seems like an afterthought, applied like a band-aid, forgotten entirely, or employed in unimaginative ways. Early this April, a start-up league called the National Pro Grid League approached Cooper with a new challenge – to help them introduce a new sport that has integrated technology from the start. Cooper has been working closely with the NPGL to design the fan experience, through interactive tools, infographics and Jumbotron graphics.
Working with the NPGL gave us the opportunity to flex our design muscles on a project that involved crafting the physical and digital fan experience. We’ve just had our first major user testing opportunity and we’ve walked away with a few lessons. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
Working on this project has helped me remember that Interaction Designers need lots of tools within reach.
– Brendan Kneram, Interaction Designer
Lesson 1: Quick and dirty is better than nothing.
Quick and dirty research, that is.
In-depth, extensive user research is one of the major tenets of our design process. Yet to be successful in this environment we needed to adapt our process to the NPGL’s lean environment. That meant taking the opportunities we had with the NPGL fans as far and deep as possible.
Our first encounter with the NPGL fans was at a tryout in a Los Angeles gym in April. These two days served as the primary research opportunity for both fans and athletes. Six weeks later, we tested our designs with the budding fan base at a tryout in Las Vegas. In between, we were relying on best practices, which means that we had to keep track of the different hypotheses that we were testing in our designs.
Lesson 2: Be ruthless.
The delta bar in action
Our initial designs represented a best guess at what information fans truly needed. Reality always bats last, and tight timelines required ruthless prioritization of information, features, and elements. Incorporating ongoing feedback from the NPGL founders and their development partner (Carbon Five), we honed in on the specific area of the scoreboard called the delta bar that shows which team is in the lead, and by how much. And it turned out that being ruthless worked.
The delta bar (seen above) became a prominent feature of the scoreboard. In Las Vegas, we watched fans use it as a tool to explain what was happening in the match, and this gave us a lot of valuable insight into the kinds of questions people were asking about the things happening in the match. Now we’re moving forward on a better understanding of what is working and what isn’t.
Lesson 3: Communication and collaboration skills are vital to design’s success.
Cooper designers Brendan Kneram and Jason Csizmadi
This is an obvious one. What’s remarkable is simply how much collaboration has happened for a lean environment. When we started with the NPGL, we worked with a small group of visionary stakeholders. But the organization has grown fast. These days our designs are run by no less than 10 different groups of people — the league itself, Carbon Five, 8 different team ownership groups, the TV graphics partner, and so on.
In order to run fast and lean while getting buy-in from stakeholders and teammates, we’ve worked to anticipate and speak to the goals of each group, and tailor our communications to address these goals.
Lesson 4: Design never stops.
Moving forward from the Las Vegas try out, we turned our attention to another facet of the NPGL fan experience, the live-streaming functionality.