a hero photo and ad for MYCO

MYCO is a creator-only platform built up of small collectives that form communities to combat creative burnout and isolation among micro creators by helping them spark inspiration, build community, and give them a network of people and resources to use throughout their careers.

  • Time length
  • 19 weeks
  • Feb to Aug 2021
  • Team
  • Alexis Nicholson
  • Leyla Kaplan
  • Nathan Keyes
  • Advisor
  • Chloe Lee (IDEO)
  • My Roles
  • Interaction Design
  • Lo/Hi‑Fi Wireframing
  • Video Filming/Editing
  • Headed Research
  • Copy Editing
  • Toolkit
  • Miro
  • Figma
  • Photoshop
  • Premiere Pro

Overview

For 19 weeks, my team and I worked hard to develop MYCO, a unique solution for issues micro content creators face, for our Master of Human‑Computer Interaction + Design capstone project at the University of Washington. As a team, we ideated, conducted interviews, analyzed/coded data, co-designed and developed prototypes.

Design Challenges

How might we give equal value to the relationship between creators versus just with their audience members?

How might we provide other opportunities and paths toward success beyond the classic formula (algorithm + audience + content)?

The Problem

For the past 15 years, major social media platforms such as Youtube and Instagram have transformed the entertainment industry, birthing a new market focusing primarily on content creation. Micro creators, a.k.a people with 3,000 to 50,000 followers across all platforms, make up a portion of this growing market.

These hardworking Micro creators have to be adaptable, authentic to their brand, and consistent with the type of content they create. All while keeping their eyes peeled to algorithmic changes for each platform they use.

With a budding uncertainty of how the future of the creative industry will continue to evolve: mainly the everchanging algorithms, creators are desperately in need of a solution that will improve their well-being, motivate them to continue creating, and exist as a lifeboat in the tumultuous sea of the creator industry.

Because of these factors, we wondered about the barriers and challenges micro creators faced when creating content for numerous platforms and in their day-to-day lives, and how it affects their well-being?

Design Response

Meet MYCO, Not just a tool...but a Community!

I filmed, edited, and co-directed the Product video, please watch in 1080p HD.
gif of the MYCO library

Collaborative Content Library

The MYCO "Living Library" successfully builds the bridge between communities and collaboration. The explore page gives viewers context into a collective, who is in it, and their contributions.

Jam Session Prompt Cards

Prompt cards help fuel Jam sessions by jump-starting collaboration between collective co-members. These cards allow MYCO to bridge the gap between creators by providing them a space to collaborate freely with creators otherwise out of their reach.

gif of the MYCO prompt cards
gif of the MYCO workspace

Collabrative Workspace

The workspace is where the Jam sessions take place. All the creators collaborate, freely talk, and visually showcase their ideas around a chosen card topic. This space also helps creators document their ideation process and the changes over time for archival purposes in the library.

Research

Secondary Research

We began our research with a literature review within the space of the creator economy through the lens of micro creators. We gathered information from academic research papers, blog posts, news articles, websites, and even social media postings. We conducted competitive assesment on other sites that also focus on changing how creators exist on social media.

This research allowed us to understand better the specific barriers and challenges that we, as a team, wanted to address when speaking to our participants later in the study.

Current problems

Through our research, we saw problems of industry monopolization and control with existing platforms,1 a lack of a creator middle class within the creator economy,2 and toxic expectations brought about by audiences, media, and even creators.3 Although there are many problems, we wanted to focus on the issues of income inequality, career instability, perceived negative stigmas around the idea of content creation as a career, and external pressures that have cultivated the mindset of grind culture and negatively impacting creators.

Secondary Research Assumptions:

We formed a decent amount of assumptions due to the newness of the space, along with our research questions that arose from our secondary research and literature review:

  1. All content creators face burnout and mental fatigue.
  2. Certain creator spaces do things exceptionally well: music + collaboration, art + inspiration, and more.
  3. Creators' relationships with their fans vary from creator to creator.

Primary Research

Our primary research answered leftover questions and assumptions from secondary research.

Subject Matter Expert (SME) Interviews

We took a deep dive into the creator industry to understand its evolution over the past decade by interviewing six experts who are macro creators, researchers, and platform owners.

a screenshot of the our subject matter experts
Above, Dr. Brooke Duffy, Ph.D., Jasmine Rice, Tiffany Ferguson, Khoi Le.

These experts helped us understand: how the creative industry has changed over the past decade and how it might look in the future. We learned about creator culture: interactions with audiences and other creators, well-being (focusing on burnout) and how it manifests in this industry, stigmas, and industry misconceptions. Lastly, these experts informed us of the different types of platform monetization and the motivation micro creators experience to continue hustling in this saturated industry.

SME Quotes

And a lot of us are just like individual people all over the world who don't see other influencers all the time, and it doesn't really feel like a real network of people or connections that we've made, so that's something I worry about. — Tiffany Ferguson
The tension between creation and promotion, you know, there's this idea that, 'I'm going to get out there. I'm going to be a content creator. I am going to be, um, filming and editing and talking to people.’ But what I think leads to burnout is how labor-intensive the promotion process is. — Brooke Duffy
I think...the challenge is convincing...the smaller ones that their content is worth [it] and that they have people willing to pay for it. — Jasmine Rice

Stakeholders: Micro Content Creators

As for our stakeholders, we conducted a 10‑day diary study with ten micro creators concurrently with a 10‑day social media virtual ethnographic study. These creators had between 3,000 and 80,000 followers and were scouted by us via social media cold messaging. Each participant consented to participate in our study and were made aware of each research method prior to study.

a screenshot of the our subject matter experts
Shown above: some of the micro creators that consented to our team publishing their images/names.

10‐Day Diary Study

To peek into the day-to-day life of a micro creator, our team sought to run a 10-day diary study. The study included sending morning and evening prompts to help gauge their highs/lows and overall thoughts on the day they experienced. They also could send in any photos or videos taken during the day. We collected all of the prompts and placed them on timelines made specifically for each participant

a screenshot of diary study prompts and timeline
Shown above: examples of the morning and evening prompts along with the diary timeline with prompt reponses. Check out Research Report below to read more.

Goals: Gather information regarding what creators do behind the scenes to understand them as more than just content creators. We also want to understand the emotional journey these creators have not just in the context of creating but in their day-to-day life as well.

10‐Day Social Media Virtual Ethnographic Study

In conjunction with the 10‐day diary study, we conducted daily virtual ethnographic observations of our participant’s various social media accounts. We created a 10‐day timeline split up between morning, afternoon, and night to track each creator group’s social media posts (videos, comments, songs, photos, and more). Each team member time‐stamped and summerized the particular item/activity.

virtual ethnographic timeline example
Shown above: A virtual ethnographic timeline created by our teammate, Leyla, for our participant @StephenVoyce who consented to our team publishing their images/name. Click image to enlarge.

Goals: Form a triangulation between social media posts + their daily prompt responses + follow-up interview answers.

Post‐Diary Study Follow‐Up Interview

Each interview lasted approximately sixty minutes via Zoom.

a screenshot of the our subject matter experts
Shown above: @megrozfozz, @musicsuelove, and @colepates are some of the micro creators that consented to our team publishing their images/names.

Goals: To dig deep into the content each participant sent in for the diary study. During the interviews, our team had the opportunity to learn more about their thoughts on creator networks, how they see themselves as creators, personal experiences with marginalization, and more.

Primary Research Insights

We formed a decent amount of assumptions due to the newness of the space, along with our research questions that arose from our secondary research and literature review:

  1. Platforms force creators onto a “single path” towards success
  2. A Creators’s evolution is necessary for their well - being but risky to their careers
  3. Platforms are designed for consumers and not for fostering creator to creator relationships
  4. Creators tend not to view their larger audiences as individuals
  5. Creators recognize that platforms and even their creator careers are temporary

Participant Quotes

But then when we start getting a little attention, then we're like 'oh my gosh, cool people are feeling it, let me like create more and more,' and then we start to get kind of lost in the sauce. — P9 (Insight 1)
I definitely think about [shifting content] a lot, and that's why I'm really trying to figure out a way to like merge [music and The Sims content] where people are not like, 'wait, who are you?' I could merge the two in a way where I don't lose people and can also continue gaining people for both things. — P6 (Insight 2)
Well, I think I am definitely less connected, than a lot of people. — P11 (Insight 3)
View Research Report

Ideation

Design Direction

We recognized that there are limitations for what we as designers can change about existing platforms and algorithms, and we also did not desire to create a brand new social media platform, so we decided to focus on the first three insights our research yielded.

What if we gave equal value to creator to creator relationships?

This hunch, derived from insight 3, formed the basis of MYCO. A way to limit isolation amongst creators, boost their desires to create while also limiting draining interactions with their audiences.

Design Principles

After completing our primary research, we developed four design principles that we continuously referred to throughout the design process.

a photo of MYCOs four design principles: GREATOR CREATOR CONTROl, making room, Being fully transparent, and Support richer relationships.

Greator Creator Control

We aimed to provide creators with greater control over their content.

Support Richer Relationships

Foster richer relationships between creators and aid in facilitating collaboration.

Make Room

Continuously make room for and support marginalized creators.

Being Fully Transparent

Remain transparent with our designs by always keeping creators in the loop.

Brainstorming Concepts

Our team sketched 60 concepts based on our four design principles and our two how might we statements.

a screenshot of our 60 drafted ideas
Each team member drafted 20 ideas, here is a screenshot showing some of our sketches.
Click image to englarge.
a screenshot of some of my sketches
A screenshot of some of my sketches.
Click image to enlarge.

Narrowing Down

We completed a few rounds of affinitization to help us downselect.

a screenshot of our affinity map
As indicated in this photo, we found common themes amongst our sketches: mentorship, community collective (creator too creator), control, art collectives, well‑being, and more.

After a few rounds of affinitization and narrowing down, we found ourselves excited about creating a digital creator collective. This idea combined our top five choices.

a screenshot of our 5 downselected ideas
A Creator social networks, A way for creators to pivot their content, A Creator content houses, and lastly, a content gallery.

The value we saw these giving creators was a) creating stronger connections between creators b) helping them grow their audience + helping them build a network.

Storyboard

We began working on a storyboard to help us flesh out our digital creator collective. My teammates and I each sketched/wrote out a narrative for our potential users. We made two revisions before our finalized storyboard throughout the ideation and design phase of our project. The finalized storyboard helped us set up blocking for our product video.

a photo of our three storyboards
Our three storyboards. First two sketched by my teammate Nathan Keyes. Click to enlarge images.

Iterations + User Feedback

Once we put a stake around our digital creator collective idea, we moved into sketching and wireframing to bring our ideas to fruition. This segment will highlight the stages from beginning to end for MYCO’s most vital interactions: the MYCO library, the Jam Session Workspace, and the section I worked on, the MYCO Jam Session Prompt Card loading page.

MYCO Library

iterations for the MYCO library
Iterations for the MYCO Library.
To see enlarged, look at the design document below.

Jam Session Prompt Reveal

Here are a few iterations of the workspace loading screen. I wanted the jam session prompt cards to be the main focus since they fuel the jam sessions.

iterations for the MYCO library
I thought of a shuffling effect that would eventually reveal MYCO's randomly generated prompt card.
iterations for the MYCO library
Then I moved to a more minimalist look of card shuffling.
iterations for the MYCO library
Yet, after more brainstorming and feedback from my teammates, I decided to incorporate the MYCO logo into the loading screen to act as a die. The jam-session loading screen will reveal the randomly chosen prompt card and eventually lead into the jam session workspace.

Workspace

iterations for the MYCO workspace
Iterations for the MYCO Jam Session Workspace.
To see enlarged, look at the design document below.

User Feedback (Impact)

Fortunately, we received feedback on MYCO from some of our research participants, which helped us see the real impact MYCO would have on our stakeholders.

[Likes the idea of MYCO, as] discord and reddit exist but are still not helping creators like MYCO could. — P6
[On the flexibility MYCO offers] Flexibility is important with timing. Sometimes [we have] more time in the moment then others not so much. — P11
[It's] Important to have a platform just for creators. — P6
[...]There is a desire to collaborate with people and possibly brands. — P11

Information Architecture

All the integrations and connections of MYCO.

a screenshot of the sitemap for MYCO
Click image to enlarge.

Other Features + User Flow

iterations for the MYCO library
iterations for the MYCO library
iterations for the MYCO library

Exclusive Platform

MYCO is exclusive to only Micro Content Creators to make room for smaller marginalized creators and keep it a creator-only platform.

Customizable Homepages

Each collective page is customizable to highlight certain features that help express the individuality of each collective.

Mobile Capabilities

MYCO can be accessed via an accompanying mobile app, for most features.

User Flows

Here are the user flows for MYCO. There are 4 main flows for the app: onboarding, MYCO library/collective homepage, Jam Session Initiation, and the Jam Session Workspace.

MYCO Flow
Click to enlarge

Visual System

We knew that the current social platforms that all looked the same were not desired by content creators. So we aimed to have MYCO be reminiscent of the past before algorithms and trendy apps, while also providing a unique and new experienced to seasoned social media users.

We chose the font Helvetica, a sans‑serif, because of its sleekness, various font weights, and the classic vibe it gives MYCO. It paid well to our other font of choice Overpass Mono, a monospace, that brings a bit of uniqueness to MYCO.

a photo of our visual system (UI) for our platform
View Design Documentation

Next Steps

  • Create project scaffolding, it was initially our desire to have a structured portal similar to Asana and other project management tools for bigger collaborations that might take weeks rather than hours to complete.
  • Getting sponsored projects for companies or collaboration with companies: this is self-explanatory but basically, we thought it would be a neat way to bring in revenue to the creators.
  • Sorting out intellectual property: this goes without saying, but this type of sharing in the library and using other people’s project ideas could open up this can of worms, so if this were to be shipped, we’d want to figure it out beforehand.
  • Building out the rest of our screens: we did not build out all the screens for MYCO, just enough to showcase the experience. The remaining screens include things like building out your own prompt cards and subpages on the collective homepage.

Reflection

Problemsolving Through Constraints

What kept our team on track and free of conflicts while living in different locations briefly and spending hours on Zoom for six months was communication. Early on, we decided that our main goals as teammates would be to ensure that everyone was on the same page for every part of this project. We made sure to keep transparency with each other to avoid any budding conflicts. We highlighted each other's strengths and acted as constant soundboards for each other throughout this project. In the end, I made two great friends, and we created a unique and creative project that makes us all proud.

Capstone Takeaways

  • We are the experts: this is a saying we heard from instructors, but after a certain point, we had to stop relying on SMEs and research participants' opinions and instead trust the knowledge base we cultivated to make decisions.
  • Selective listening: listen to all advice but not necessarily use all of it.
  • Choose what to focus on: we realized for our health and well-being, we had to leave it for the next version.
  • Trusting design intuition: though we have lots of research to back up many of our decisions. Some decisions were based on hunches developed while conducting research. For instance, the design and layout of MYCO's platform are quite different from other platforms, and that was a conscious decision because we thought creators would want a platform that looked and felt different than the rest.
team photo
#TeamCharlie | #TeamLike+Subscribe! | #TeamMYCO

References

  1. Jin, L. (2020b, December 17). The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/12/the-creator-economy-needs-a-middle-class
  2. Klein, M. (2020, September 24). 50 Million Join The ‘Creator Economy’ Thanks To Platforms Like OnlyFans, YouTube, Etsy And Twitch. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattklein/2020/09/23/50m-join-the-creator-economy-as-new-platforms-emerge-to-help-anyone-produce-content--money/?sh=6e3ba4da3165
  3. Yurieff, K (2019, December 19). YouTube burnout is real. Here’s how creators are coping. CNN Business. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/18/tech/youtube-creator-burnout/index.html
  4. Icons and Illustrations from Icons8. Images from unsplash or credit is seen on individual image.