Foojan

A platform to empower

women entrepreneurs in Canada 

The research and design process for creating a platform for women entrepreneurs
OVERVIEW
This project is a design-led investigation into empowering women entrepreneurs in Canada using participatory design methodologies to identify their major problems in and generate appropriate solutions. 

During the course of this project, two potential opportunities were uncovered:

  1. A space for women entrepreneurs to connect with other entrepreneurs, share their experiences and ask and answer questions.

  2. A space to refer to and share entrepreneurship resources.

 

An interactive and collaborative platform is offered to facilitate communications between entrepreneurs along with a library of entrepreneurship resources accessible to beginners and experienced entrepreneurs alike.

Foojan is completed as part of my master thesis in interaction design in the course of one year of research.       

Role:


Researcher

Product Designer


 

Timeline: 


12 months, 2020-2021

 
 

Design toolkit: 
 

XD

Illustrator

Photoshop

Miro

Zoom

Foojan's Community Features
 

Questions
 

What was I looking for?

I started to explore the following questions:

       

What are the main difficulties for women entrepreneurs before or after launching their businesses?


             

How can women entrepreneurs be empowered to tackle these underlying problems and continue their businesses with fewer obstacles?


             

Secondary Research
 

Women Entrepreneurship in Canada: 

To begin, I went through a number of resources to gain a better understanding of the status of women entrepreneurship in Canada. I took advantage of articles and reports prepared by individuals and reliable organizations such as Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), BMO Financial Group, Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), OECD, and McKinsey Global Institute.

   

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A review on women entrepreneurs’ challenges in Canada based on WESK report prepared by PWC.

Mind mapping women entrepreneurs challenges after secondary research.

Secondary Research
 

Online conversation analysis

Next, I gained insights from entrepreneurs’ stories, needs, and concerns. 

By analyzing online conversations, I figured out that challenges for men and women are mostly similar. They usually tend to ask the same questions. In addition, based on the industry that they are active in, their backgrounds, and their experiences, both may face different challenges and look for different solutions. As a result, it was difficult to identify unique challenges for women entrepreneurs based on analyzing forums’ conversations.

Forums conversation analysis was a method to gain a better understanding about entrepreneurship in Canada. Different challenges and needs were categorized based on conversation forums.

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Deep Interviews

Identifying the major challenges

for women entrepreneurs

I used deep interviews to capture the challenges, contexts, insights, and needs of women entrepreneurs. A generative toolkit consisting of challenge and skill cards and sticky notes allowed me to encourage participants to dig into the deeper layers of their thoughts and emotions. It helped build a sense of empathy and shaped dialogues between participants and myself. Due to the unpredicted situation caused by COVID-19, I benefited from online platforms such as Miro and Zoom to conduct some of the collaboration sessions. 

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Physical generative toolkit

Virtual generative toolkit

I transferred the physical toolkit to digital toolkit based on the new situation caused by COVID-19.

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Due to the COVID-19, I benefited from online platforms such as Miro and Zoom to conduct some of the collaborative sessions with the target group. 

Weighting

Analyzing the result of interviews

Labeling problems based on how participants found them challenging

Throughout the card sorting activity and interviews, participants were asked to label problems based on how challenging they found them. This helped me figure out the main challenges and what matters to women entrepreneurs. Some problems were frequently brought up but their effects on the business were not significant, and women found them less challenging.

Analyzing the result of interviews

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Visualizing the important results of interview.

Dividing challenges into three sections based on the level of intensity: less challenging, somehow challenging, and very challenging.  

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Discussed challenges from interviews were mapped based on the level of difficulty

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Each challenge was weighted based on the level of intensity and how many times they were reported.   

Cart sorting activity as a generative tool was employed during deep interview sessions.

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Each challenge was weighted based on the level of intensity and how many times they were reported. 

Synthesis

Some important
insights I got from Interviews

After analyzing the result of the interviews, I discovered many challenges and narrowed them down to two general areas: - mentorship and community and easy access to available resources.

Mentorship and access to community;

Having access to a mentor will have an evident impact on reducing decision errors, creating a strategic vision, and confidence.

It's not just the training, but it's also somebody who opens the door, makes suggestions, and the referral. They can make introductions to people who can introduce you to potential investors. 

One of the interviewed entrepreneurs
 

 

Easy access to available resources;

Some women are unaware of available resources that might help them kick off a business. Finding some of these resources is not easy if one does not spend a great deal of time searching for them.   

I think a challenge that I've seen for people who are new to a community is that they simply just don't know where to go for some of the resources. And so it can feel both really lonely and stressful because it feels like you have to figure it out all on your own. 


An interviewed mentor and CEO

 
 

Target Audience

I wondered who would be the end-users

To develop solutions for the identified needs, personas were created to encapsulate the needs, behaviours, goals, and traits of the target group. This helped to shape a holistic understanding of users and engender a sense of empathy that informed the scope of the design problem and the framework for design. 

 

Personas were synthesized from data collected from deep interviews and workshop sessions. Two different personas were described to reflect a picture of individuals dealing with two main challenges; accessing mentorship and community and finding available resources effortlessly.  

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Personas were synthesized from data collected from deep interviews and co-creation sessions.

User Journey Maps

Exploring the problem space,

mapping experiences

Deep interviews followed by personas provided an excellent context for user journeys. Two journey maps were made based on the personas’ points of view. They demonstrate a clear picture of user pain points and design opportunities. I also leveraged the maps in designing the ideation sessions and what I should discuss with participants during the sessions. 

 

The journey maps indicated a possible connection between mentorship and community. People who access a community have a better chance of benefitting from mentorship. Working with mentors will widen entrepreneurs’ networks and connect them to the community.

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User journey map aimed to explore the problem space, mapping experiences, and visualize the process that women entrepreneurs go through to answer the two major identified needs.

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The journey maps revealed the pain points and needs of target group, design opportunities, and what needs to be discussed during ideation sessions.

The journey maps showed that there is a connection between mentorship and community.

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Ideation Session

Generating idea with the help of the target audience

In the next step, target groups and creative designers were invited into the creative process. The objective of ideation sessions was to talk about problems and generate possible solutions.

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Brainstorming session with my design peers at Emily Carr.

Miro was used as a platform for collaboration during ideation sessions.

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Ideation sessions’ outcomes. These user fellows were helpful to clarify some of the functions in the final design.

Insights & Outcomes

Developing different ideas based on the ideation sessions' outcomes

As Verganti says: the best designers not only listen to people but also follow their own reasoning and instincts.

I used the ideas shared by the participants as sources of design inspiration and innovation.

 

By reviewing and evaluating five final design solutions and reflecting on the outcomes of ideation sessions, I worked on merging, simplifying, and changing some of their features.

Final Design Outcome

Bringing these ideas together in Foojan, an online platform

By reviewing and evaluating five final design solutions and reflecting on the outcomes of ideation sessions, they were merged, erased, and some of their features changed. By considering the value propositions of each idea - pros and cons - a practical solution was generated.

The result was Foojan, a platform to empower women entrepreneurs by providing them with a library of resources while they can be a part of an entrepreneurship community. Women entrepreneurs will have this opportunity to ask their questions from other community members while they can share their experiences. 

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Reflection on and evaluation of the solutions.

User Testing and Feedback

Evaluating the final idea by

entrepreneurs and mentors

To evaluate the initial design outcome, a low fidelity prototype was shared with participants –two entrepreneurs and a mentor, and a designer– during collaborative evaluation sessions. These sessions focussed on major features of the platform, how it can be more useful and goal-oriented, and how it can be an active entrepreneurship community from mentor and mentees’ stand view. The low-fidelity prototype gave freedom to participants to iterate the idea and share their thoughts actively. 

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Evaluating the final idea by entrepreneurs and mentors.

System Map

Next, I developed a system map to visually show the different actors and artefacts for the platform, along with the relationships between them.

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Site Map

The sitemap shows the relationship between pages and provides a clear picture of a site's content, organization, and navigation. 

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Mood Board & Color Palette

Logo Design

I worked on the platform’s visual identity, trying to keep it friendly but also professional. Foojan is a Kurdish name that describes a loud voice that everyone can hear. This name is fitting for a platform that listens to women entrepreneurs and provides a space for them to be heard.

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Moodboard & Logo design. Foojan is a Kurdish name that describes a loud voice that everyone can hear. This name is fitting for a platform that listens to women entrepreneurs and provides a space for them to be heard.

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Sketches

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Wireframes

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The main page of the Library

An interactive map of different and important topics in business using filters to find the most relevant results that users are looking for. The map will change based on the selected filters. When one clicks on a circle on the map, they can see subcategories.

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The main page of the Library

Library's search result page

After collecting a specific category, users can see all the available resources. Users can apply filters such as newest and top to search through resources easily. They can add resources to their personal libraries by marking resources.

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The community page - a space to build connections and share knowledge

Here, entrepreneurs share their experiences, knowledge, and their questions with other community members. So one can learn a lot from others' experience and their suggestions. Community members can reach each other to build connections based on their expertise or region.

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The Community page and how members can connect to each other.

Following and followers pages, Member's profile to view, and the message page

Community members can reach each other to build connections based on their expertise or region.

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Enabling mentorship​

If someone is interested in mentoring women entrepreneurs – regardless of their gender – they can indicate that by adding a mentorship tag in their Profile Settings page.

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Friendly tools for effective sharing

With a simple and user-friendly design to write about an experience, add video, photo, embedded link, and new sections. The tools on Foojan help users to write in a clear and engaging manner.

Each post shared on Foojan needs to be tagged. Tags make information searchable and find answers that are important to you.

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Share experience on the Community

Personal library (left) & My account page (right)

Users can create a personal library by bookmarking their favorite resources. They also can create new connections with other women entrepreneurs, so users can reach them when they need their thoughts and insights.

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My account

Personal library

What I learned from

this design process:

This project broadened my vision into participatory design where my audiences actively played a role in different phases of my design research — from the fuzzy front end of the design process to generative and evaluative phases. This approach and its challenges taught me that design requires a flexible and strategic approach. One cannot pick a solid plan for the entirety of their process if they want to discover the hidden aspects of the subject of study.

 

In a nutshell, all the participatory activities in my thesis research aimed to create empathy and a deep understanding of stakeholders. While empathy cannot be achieved without engagement, one can also argue engagement cannot be achieved without empathy. Paying attention to interviewees' feelings and the context is key to creating a sense of empathy and communicating well with them, which leads to better engagement in the research.

       

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