Specialty shoe shopping for weightlifters by weightlifters
Six For Six started as a passion project from my love for olympic-style weightlifting. I found myself falling deeper in love with both the sport that I am a part of and the design process as I learned about the wants and needs of athletes through research.
Timeline: October 2021–June 2022 (25 weeks)
My Role: UX Designer, UX Researcher
Tools Used: Figma, UserTesting, Google Forms, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator
Team: Independent study during my enrollment in the School of Visual Concepts' UX Design Certificate Program
Shoes for sport – but you can't try them on
Unlike running shoes that can be tried on in a brick and mortar store, the purchase of new weightlifting shoes is done exclusively online. With that, there’s a lot of guess and check with how a shoe might fit a customer across a variety of brands and models. This puts athletes in a tough spot as they need to make a sport-specific purchase with little resources to verify if their purchase was the correct one for them or not.
Six For Six provides customers with the necessary information they might need to feel confident to not only make a purchase, but to take that confidence onto the weightlifting platform for years to come.
Since 2020, material shortages and manufacturing delays have impacted countries like China, Malaysia, and Vietnam – countries that contain key manufacturing hubs for nearly all major footwear brands in the United States*. As a result the availability of new weightlifting shoes in the United States is at an all time low, which makes purchase accuracy even more important to customers when stock is available – especially when purchasing weightlifting shoes is done exclusively online.
A website that acts as a product specialist as if you were in the store yourself
While weightlifters may not be able to try on a weightlifting shoe or interact with a product specialist in a store, Six For Six addresses the concerns weightlifters of all levels might have about the unique features and characteristics of their footwear.
Not only are educational resources about certain shoe characteristics offered at Six For Six, expert advice written by verified weightlifting shoe experts, videos, help further establish confidence before checkout.
Goal: To identify the strengths, weaknesses, business opportunities, and threats of other retailers who exist within the weightlifting space. To gather potential design patterns these businesses are using in their website design to address user problems users visiting Six For Six might have.
Findings: Companies use a combination of search and filtering in their navigation to allow users to find products.
Road Runner Sports has a shoe "Fit Finder" that asks for user data to inform users what shoe might be best for them. This seemed like a unique feature compared what I found on the bigger, general fitness stores I assessed.
5 interviews with weightlifters: 2 beginners, 3 advanced-level lifters
Goal: Understand the pain points athletes have when shopping for weightlifting shoes, determine what considerations weightlifters make when shopping for their footwear, and to learn about the user journey of a weightlifting shoe purchase
Findings: Users want expert advice. There's an abundance of unverified online comments and reviews surrounding weightlifting shoes. When weightlifting shoes cannot be tried on in-store, there are little resources from manufacturers about how a shoe should fit and function.
Users want to see how shoes compare to each other. Because there are too many brand options to choose from, it can be hard to distinguish the differences between shoes that effectively do the same thing. Clearly communicating this may help create confidence before checkout.
I was so unsure of what I was getting myself into. When I first had to buy a weightlifting shoe, I didn't like that I couldn't try them on. I hate doing returns. I HATE IT. If I can't try them on, I need to know that I'm buying the right thing.
–Michelle, Weightlifting since 2018
Developing the Structure of the website
After some secondary research, I created a content inventory of what might exist on Six For Six. From there, I conducted an open card sort to discover what taxonomy made most sense to non-weightlifters and weightlifters alike.
Findings: I discovered that all 5 participants prioritized "Brands" as the most important way they would browse for a shoe. Non-weightlifters were unsure how to group things like heel height, straps, material, and toe width (all special characteristics of a weightlifting shoe).
This prompted me to think about how I might educate people new to the sport when they come across these characteristics. A tooltip? A higher-level page for people new to weightlifting? Something else?
While this exercise helped establish a basic structure for a site map, I left this exercise yearning for more. This might have been a good opportunity to have blank cards for card sort participants to add other shoe purchasing phrases into their exercise to uncover things I might have missed in my initial content inventory.
Shoe recommendation AI: Because athletes are not sure how a weightlifting shoe might fit, I thought Six For Six might be able to compile shoe shape data across different brands and styles and leverage that information to recommend a weightlifting shoe based on shoes a person might already own.
While this idea might be extremely helpful in the future, I learned that this solution not only would be costly but also would take a lot of time considering that I only had 15 more weeks to structure the IA, design the site, and usability test. I needed to find a solution that fit within the scope of the SVC UX Certificate Program and within my available time and budget.
Live chat: I also considered a chat with an expert since 5/5 of the weightlifters I interviewed expressed interest in having professional advice, similar to what they might experience at a brick and mortar store, be part of their desired weightlifting shoe experience.
Expert advice: Weightlifting shoes have many features that differ from your standard gym shoes. A good way to establish user confidence before checkout would be able to provide educational opportunities to athletes throughout the site.
This might exist as a blog post or article, video by an expert, or a comprehensive size guide. Not only did this solution feel the most feasible to execute on given the allocated time I had available during the program, but it seemed to address a lot of the user concerns I learned during interviews and through secondary research.
Homepage goals: Inspire confidence for both novice and experienced weightlifters during their weightlifting shoe purchase journey and to give the user tools to make informed decisions.
1: Hero card is the only image to bleed, establishing primary focus
2: Education carousel allows users to answer common questions above the fold.
3: Secondary cards can accommodate a product, category, brand, or featured education topic
4: Tertiary cards used to house non-critical, helpful information (about, featured review, etc).
Category page goals: Offer users a simple, high-level way to view all/filtered shoes (name of shoe, brand, price, available colors).
Product page goals: Clearly display the product and allow users to understand the characteristics of the shoe. Present users an opportunity to select a shoe to compare vs others.
Method: 3 unmoderated user tests through UserTesting, 2 in-person moderated user tests with weightlifters
Environment: Desktop prototype using lo-fi wireframes
Goals: Assess the over effectiveness of Six For Six. Identify obstacles and opportunities for improvement.
Results: 5/5 research participants completed the five tasks with relative ease.
All 3 of my unmoderated UserTesting participants used the bread crumbs to navigate to the homepage instead of clicking on the logo. My two in-person testers clicked on the logo to navigate back.
2/3 of my unmoderated UserTesting participants and both of my in-person participants clicked on the search icon from the homepage to complete one of the given tasks – a feature that had not yet been implemented in the prototype. When they discovered this interaction was not a working part of the prototype, all participants clicked on the hamburger menu and expanded the shoes using the dropdown button in the menu.
Findings: Even though my user tests went fairly well, my experience with the UserTesting platform left a sour taste in my mouth. After reviewing the 3 unmoderated sessions, it seemed the testers were more interested in quickly completing the tests because they were being compensated through UserTesting instead of approaching the tests as if they were weightlifters who needed to buy weightlifting shoes.
While this experience could have shaped how I view the UserTesting platform, I think this was a learning opportunity to be extremely thorough when crafting my screener survey and ensuring my testers come from the country where my users would likely use my website.
Don't forget about secondary research: During this project I became very focused on doing primary research. Navigating the schedules of volunteers within a tight timeframe is extremely challenging. There's a wealth of research and information out there that I could leverage to streamline my design process.
It's ok to be wrong: My favorite part during this entire experience was being wrong. Having things like my research assumptions being proven wrong or having a design quirk called out was not only humbling but helpful in reinforcing who it was that I designing for – the people I was serving. This identified areas of improvement for immediate changes and future iterations.
Ask more quality questions: I feel there was opportunity to get deeper into the wants and needs of my users by pushing myself a little further in both my interviews and user tests. For example, I would like to have asked more open-ended questions during my interviews to get a sense of what features my users wanted (instead of asking them what they thought of certain features). I also would have liked to structure my user tests based around tasks I believe they want to accomplish.
I would like to do a deeper dive into in-person user testing that had more open-ended questions to get a better sense if features and design actually met the needs of weightlifters. And if they didn't, revisit the design of the website to create solutions that better addressed the needs of my users.