Client: 4Degrees
My role: UX researcher, interaction designer
Timeframe: 3 week-long sprints
Key deliverables: Customer journey map, onboarding concepts, core functionality prototype, research manual

4Degrees asked me and two other UXers—Cody and Paul—to improve their alpha product, a relationship intelligence platform that empowers entrepreneurs to build authentic connections with other professionals. Together, my teammates and I resolved three main challenges: delivering concepts for onboarding, refining 4Degrees’ core functionality, and researching how to enable automatic onboarding.

The Challenge

Building Stronger Networks

David and Ablorde had a mission: to help entrepreneurs by putting an end to purely transactional networking. They built a platform called 4Degrees, which aimed to help them prioritize relationships, strengthen those connections, and activate their network.

4Degrees took users through an onboarding process for uploading and prioritizing their professional contacts. After, the platform scheduled reminders to check in with connections based on priority-level, keeping track of each interaction.

After discovering some key issues with their alpha product, they had two main asks for our team.

01. Enhance onboarding.
Users had a tough time importing and organizing their professional contacts, which typically numbered into the hundreds.

02. Improve usability.
Our clients believed the main screens of the platform, which were used to manage contacts and track relationships, needed to be more intuitive and navigable.

SPRINT I: Research

Hearing From Users

Although our clients wanted us to focus on the onboarding and usability issues, our creative director encouraged us to take a step back. There would be no point in enhancing the usability of the current platform if it didn’t resonate with users on a conceptual level first. In addition to our clients’ priorities, Cody, Paul, and I also included several questions in our research sprint that would allow us to evaluate whether or not the platform was achieving its goal of helping entrepreneurs build strong, authentic relationships.

01 What tools do entrepreneurs currently use to manage and activate their networks?

02. What are current pain points entrepreneurs face while managing and engaging with contacts?

03. How well does 4Degrees help users prioritize, maintain, and strengthen relationships?

To get answers, we conducted interviews with 9 people who fell into one of two categories: non-users and users.

We spoke to entrepreneurs who had never heard of 4Degrees and some on the alpha waitlist. This helped us understand their challenges with relationship management. We also got their first impressions on 4Degrees by showing printouts of key screens and evaluated how intuitive they were and how well the platform met their needs.

We talked to current users of the platform, who walked us through how they used 4Degrees. We asked for their feedback on the onboarding and core functionality. This allowed us to understand whether or not the platform was actually helping to prioritize, strengthen, and activate professional relationships.

After these conversations, we consolidated our data into two affinity diagrams and pinpointed key issues with 4Degrees. The two diagrams allowed us to compare the current state of the platform against what users actually needed. By identifying the areas of disconnect, we could pinpoint the core problems we should be solving.

One affinity diagram focused on users’ current perceptions of 4Degrees. The other highlighted general needs, behaviors, and frustrations regarding relationship management.

01. Onboarding categorized users’ contacts unintuitively.
4Degrees’ onboarding process set up users on the platform and organized contacts by categorizing them according to priority-levels like “high”, “medium”, and “low”. This determined how often the user received a reminder to check in with a contact. Users could then modify reminder frequencies for each priority level. However, we discovered the term “priority” didn’t reflect users’ desired check-in frequencies. For example, most entrepreneurs considered VCs as high-priority contacts, but too much outreach could backfire.

02. Core functionality didn’t measure up to our clients’ goals.
Our clients’ vision was to create a platform that helped entrepreneurs prioritize, strengthen, and activate their professional relationships. But, current and potential users only saw the platform as an administrative tool for managing their contacts.

Before focusing on usability, we needed to modify the core functionality so the platform could deliver what it promised. We didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin by taking on prioritization, strengthening, and activation, so we looked for the area where we could make the greatest difference in the remaining two weeks. To help us pinpoint an area of focus, I created a journey map based on various stories we heard from entrepreneurs to create a holistic view of a typical networking experience.

Customer Journey Map

The journey showed that  weak relationships were our users’ biggest challenge when activating a network. Not only were their chances of reactivating a relationship lower, but it also felt uncomfortably transactional.

We chose to address two questions that would help alleviate painpoints on the user journey.

01. How might we make contact organization more intuitive during onboarding?

02. How might we help users build stronger relationships through the platform’s core functionality?

Since we were deviating from our clients’ original ask, we wanted to make sure they were on board with our two focus areas. We presented my journey map, which showed our clients that my team understood the challenges their users faced. It also highlighted the importance of relationship-strengthening. We also shared design principles—based off of insights from our user research and written from the perspectives of entrepreneurs—to help David and Ablorde empathize with users and show how we would tailor our designs to meet their needs.

Design Principles

Our clients approved our proposed scope and gave us the green light to start developing new concepts for the onboarding and core functionality.

SPRINT II: Ideation

Creating Concepts

Using our design principles as a guiding light, we delved into our ideation sprint and explored a variety of solutions to the problems we defined. In addition to onboarding flows for categorizing contacts, we also created variations of key screens that already existed on 4Degrees—a dashboard, a contact list, and a profile page. They provided clear points of comparison for our testers and ensured that our concepts could be easily integrated into the alpha product.

Onboarding Concepts

Idea #1: Organize by Goal
In Cody's first concept, users identified contacts who could help them achieve self-set goals.

Idea #2: Organize by Frequency
My concept allowed users to group contacts by the frequencies of their choice.

Idea #3:  Organize by Industry or Role
In Paul's concept, contacts were grouped by the industry they worked in or the position they held.

Idea #4:  Customizable Organization
In Cody's other concept, users could sort contacts into self-generated groups.

After testing with five potential users and one current user, we found that Onboarding #4: Organize by Customizing was the most intuitive method of organizing contacts. All other options were deemed too restrictive.


Idea #1: Grouping
Users could focus on strengthening relationships in a certain group with Paul's concept.

Idea #2: Progress-Tracking
My concept tracked how well users were meeting their scheduled check-ins.

Users preferred a combination of both contact lists. They enjoyed being able to strengthen specific groups of connections, but also wanted the motivation and accountability provided by progress-tracking.

Profile Concepts

Idea #1: Templates & Email History
Paul's profile featured templates for starting various types of conversations and displayed a user's email history with a specific connection.

Idea #2: Newsfeed & Interaction History
My profile provided news on a contact's recent activities and summarized all interactions, including email, meetings, and phone calls.

Users liked the information provided on Profile #2: News Feed & Interaction History. It not only offered a more holistic overview of their interactions, but also presented reasons to reach out and strengthen a relationship at opportune times.

Dashboard Concepts

Idea #1: Goal Tracking
Cody's first dashboard tried to encourage users to reach out to people who could help them accomplish self-set goals.

Idea #2: Habit Builder
My concept tried to turn relationship-strengthening into a habit by setting three daily check-ins. Users could also track how well they kept up with contacts.

Idea #3: Daily Agenda
Paul's concept set a basic agenda for users to check in with contacts. It displayed tasks and suggested connections to reach out to.

Idea #4: News Feed
Cody's second dashboard provided a news feed of updates on each connection to give users reasons to reach out.

I also developed an exercise called Build Your Own Dashboard to help my team prioritize features, since users had quite a few to choose from and I didn’t want to run the risk of feature-bloat.

I gave testers cutouts of elements from each of our dashboards and asked them to choose one main feature and two sub-features for their own dashboard.

After concept testing and the co-creation exercise, we discovered several key takeaways.

01. Being action-oriented with check-ins was key.
Most testers felt an agenda of suggested check-ins should be the primary feature of the dashboard.

02. Users wanted to stay in the know.
Users thought a news feed was an important secondary feature. They wanted to know what was happening in their network and discover organic reasons to reach out.

03. Progress-tracking was motivational.
Users also liked the idea of a progress tracker. They thought it would encourage them to reach out to contacts, thus strengthening their relationships over time.

Although our concepts were well-received, our clients and creative director expressed concerns about the onboarding flows we proposed. First, we didn’t consider how onboarding would factor in frequency. In our efforts to discover a contact organization system that matched with users’ mental models, we neglected the fact that 4Degrees’ primary functions depended on setting frequency levels for check-ins. The second issue was that our onboarding ideas seemed too manual.

Sprint III: More Ideation

Dividing & Conquering

Going into the final sprint, we had three main tasks. My teammates and I each took primary ownership over one. By the end of the sprint, we wanted to concept test new onboarding methods, usability test a converged prototype for our core functionality, and research ways of automating contact organization and frequency-setting.

My main responsibility was to create and test onboarding concepts.I built three to explore new ways of organizing contacts, setting frequency-levels for check-ins, and minimizing manual entry.

I worked with my teammates to test the concepts with seven users and discovered actionable insights to take back to our clients.

Sync & Sort

My first concept took parts that worked well during our previous round of concept testing and incorporated frequency. The idea was to give users the ability to organize their contacts and check-in frequencies simultaneously.


My second concept was based on an insight we discovered during our research phase: all  users preferred to play around on the site instead of going through an onboarding tutorial. This flow leveraged empty states to let users explore the platform, but guide them towards the necessary setup.

Teach Me How

Since manual input was going to be an issue until we figured out how to automate. I hypothesized that 4Degrees had to demonstrate why the effort was worth it. To test this idea, I created a third concept that focused on educating users about the benefits of the platform.

01. Minimize setup.
Even though the frequency settings were automatically generated, testers did not like Sync & Sort because it seemed like a lot of work. Users did not feel motivated to organize their contacts.

02. Try cards for manual sorting.
If users had to import contacts manually, a card view—as seen in Step-By-Step—was more efficient and visually appealing than the table view in Sync & Sort.

03. Education is essential.
Testers preferred Teach Me How. They got on the platform quickly and started exploring. They also understood the benefits of having check-in frequencies and organizing their contacts. Users were more willing to invest time and energy on setup.

In addition to rethinking the onboarding, I supported one of my teammates to usability test and define directions for iterations on the core functionality. I also worked with my other teammate to figure out how to automate frequency-setting and contact organization.Although it was possible to get information on users’ networking habits and mental models for organizing contacts, we didn’t have the time to capture robust data. Paul and I decided to design some tools for our clients, so they could conduct further research on their own.

My contribution was a card sort that allowed our clients to understand how entrepreneurs typically categorized their contacts. I included a contact’s name, job title, and his/her affiliation to the user on each card. This helped our clients ascertain how personal and professional aspects of a relationship affected categorization and suggest optimal groupings for users’ contacts. Paul added several more contacts to make the card sort more complete.

Card Sort Sample
Wrapping Up

Presenting Final Deliverables

By the end of our last sprint, we had three sets of deliverables and recommendations for our clients.

01. Onboarding concepts
We presented our findings from concept testing along with the three onboarding prototypes, so our clients could perform further validation as needed. We recommended creating a walkthrough or video to introduce users to key features and benefits. We also suggested testing onboarding with core functionality to see how the product performs as a whole.

02. Prototype of core functionality
We delivered a final converged prototype and included feedback from testers that we didn’t have time to address. We recommended exploring tags instead of groups, as users wanted more control over sorting and filtering. We also suggested adding a universal search bar. Testing indicated that users needed a more accessible way of finding contacts.

03. Research toolkit
We also left them a toolkit of research tools, including the card sort I developed and a survey from Paul. I also wrote a brief instruction sheet on how to use each tool.

Excerpt of Research Instructions

Our clients were pleased we left them with so much to work with. They’ve begun implementing some of our recommendations and plan on incorporating more into future iterations of 4Degrees.

Lessons Learned

My Reflections

Although our scope seemed to widen with each sprint, I was glad that my teammates and I worked on issues beyond our clients’ original ask. We didn’t just focus on improving the usability of the onboarding and core functionality. By thinking about onboarding more holistically, we addressed various challenges with the process—from importing contacts to categorization to automation. By modifying the core functionality to realize 4Degrees’ vision, entrepreneurs could start building stronger relationships instead of simply organizing their contacts. Although I was intimidated by the large amount of work we had and the tiny amount of time we had to do it, I’m glad we were able to explore solutions to a wide array of issues.