Connecting Day-Laborers to Employers
Role: User Experience Researcher
Labor2Day is a Short-Messaging-System (SMS), enabling a real-time online marketplace to connect employers and Day-Laborers (those people who stand outside Home Depot for employment) in search of immediate jobs.
Labor2Day is a project created by some of my student colleagues here at Cal’s I-School (Parv Sondhi, Pratik Nadagouda, and Neera Grover). Through a course at the I-School, I was brought onboard after its creation to research ways to enhance their overarching goal:
Alleviate the ‘harsh’ conditions Day-Laborers go through everyday standing outside Home Depot waiting for employment (e.g., standing in the hot sun, not knowing if there will be a day’s work, etc.).
We used a host of UX Research methods to triangulate our findings, gaining a rich picture of the problem space. Two of my colleagues had the role of conducting unobtrusive observations, while the other researcher was responsible for creating a journey map from our findings.
At the outset, my general research role was to:
Understand the needs and concerns of Day-Laborers as they look for employment.
Uncover the apprehensions and issues employers face while looking to hire Day-Laborers.
One of many specific problems Labor2Day wanted me to address:
Labor2Day had unsuccessful attempts to interview Day-Laborers since they’re a vulnerable population (possibly undocumented, etc.). As a result, a large voice of Labor2Day’s user population had been left out in the construction of their SMS product--Labor2Day needed to have an accurate picture of their user base, and I was the one to do it. I looked into my network and found someone who was willing to be an interpreter between the Day-Laborers and I during interviews.
Why I am interested in this problem-space:
Shortly after dropping out of high school, I became a Day-Laborer out of desperation for food and shelter. Though I am a U.S. citizen, I understand, to a certain extent, what it’s like to be a Day-Laborer. Helping those who have gone through similar experiences to me is something I find great purpose in.
I chose to use semi-structured interviews to inform a competitive analysis.
I conducted in-person and remote semi-structured interviews with the different user groups to understand the pain points as expressed by the users themselves. This process helped gather rich, contextual information regarding the user groups, providing a foundation for a competitive analysis.
I decided to conduct a competitor review to comprehend the limitations of other products in the same space, so Labor2Day may have more of a niche to compete with them; I wanted to understand the key factors of the products in the problem space. As such, I divided the review into two different categories:
Conducted on existing applications to understand the capacity of those applications to meet its intended purpose. As part of the cognitive walkthrough I measured competitors’ ease of use, based on certain tasks and research goals.
As part of this process, I mapped the current features that are available with the existing applications. This helped gather data regarding the limitations with current applications based on their capability to scale the problem space.
One-on-one interviews with Day-Laborers turned into a focus group unexpectedly. This was a problem as the interpreter and I explicitly prepared our questions for one-on-one interviews. I immediately started changing many of our questions to be more general for a focus group, but scaled back my time and effort to continue building rapport with the Day-Laborers. Though the conversations went well, we could have gained more insight into the problem space had we been more prepared. For instance, purposely waiting to conduct the interviews until we gained insight from the unobtrusive observation findings would’ve been ideal, especially when aiming to sample a vulnerable population. (Please see the What I Learned section below for more information.)
Day Laborers had created their own community, which helped stay connected to other work opportunities and friendships.
Labor2Day’s mission to eliminate Day-Laborers’ “harsh” conditions was thought to be largely operationalized as standing outside in the hot or cold weather and waiting for work. Yet, my interviews revealed Day-Laborers enjoyed standing out front of Home-Depot as they were able to engage with their community, building friendships and a strong network for future work opportunities. This informed Labor2Day of what the harsh conditions actually were from their users’ perspective, pivoting away from previous assumptions.
The Trust Factor
Findings from my interviews revealed how employers are more concerned about the Laborers’ skillset and work ethic than legalities.
Since I found trust (through interviews) to be a crucial aspect of successful interactions between employers and day laborers, I took a deeper dive into how competitors brought in the element of trust within their platform. I operationalized trust among the following factors: insurance (the amount issued, if any, to the employer); background/identity check; the ratings and reviews assigned to day laborers; customer support for employers and day laborers; and fixed prices (since employers and day laborers were discouraged to interact if haggling occurred). A radar diagram of these elements can be found below of how competitors compared to each other:
Our final deliverable to Labor2Day was a research report of what we did, why we did it, and our recommendations. In aim of improving our given user population’s experience, my research informed a critical recommendation: for Labor2Day’s niche to implement a reputation system that allows laborers, who currently have no trustworthy means of documenting their credibility, having a free opportunity to build credibility for successful employment.
What I Learned:
Before conducting interviews, try to realistically exhaust the possible situations you would be put into. Take the environment into account when conducting on-site interviews for what could unexpectedly influence what is happening. Have back up materials addressing those potential serendipitous moments, and be adaptable to the situation at hand. In short, expect the unexpected.
For the most part, UX Research is not a linear process—It’s very iterative, with many methods happening simultaneously, which highlights how UX Research is as much of an art form as it is a science.
To me, UX Research is about empowering user populations.
Leveraging my personal experiences within a UX problem space is something I’m deeply passionate about.