Background

Vangst, a staffing and recruiting agency in the cannabis industry, raised seed funding to develop an app that connects temporary workers with cannabis employers. In cannabis, temporary work makes up 30% of the labor market but margins are low when staffing these roles through a manual recruiting process. This meant the business model was impossible to scale.

Vangst needed a way to scale their temporary staffing business using technology that wouldn’t be removed from app stores due to restrictive federal laws.

Introducing Vangst GIGS

Vangst GIGS is the first and only fully-compliant on-demand staffing platform in the cannabis industry. Vangst GIGS connects vetted, temporary labor and cannabis businesses through a progressive web application.

Role: UX/UI Product Designer

Contribution

User Workshop
Generative Interviews
Quantitative Survey
Brand Analogy Exercise
Journey Map
User Personas
User Flows
Low to High Fidelity Wireframing
Prototyping
User Testing
Prioritization Exercises
Observation
Contextual Inquiry
Research Synthesis
How-Might-We’s

Tools

Sketch
InVision
Gallery by Material
Material Design Guidelines
FullStory

Discovery & Generative Research

“Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them.” – Adlai E Jr Stevenson

User Workshop

The purpose of generative research is to understand user needs from a high level. The research is exploratory and uncovers motivations and unmet needs. To understand the user better and inform features, I facilitated a 2-hour workshop with trimmers who performed temporary work in the cannabis industry.

The workshop included 3 phases:

  1. Moderated discussion to understand thoughts and feeling around trimming work
  2. Group exercise to map the empathetic journey
  3. Exercise to understand brand perception and positioning

Moderator Skills

Effective Listening
Flexibility
Discernment
Rapport
Neutrality
Curiosity
Unobtrusive Authority
Time-keeping

1. Moderated Discussion

In the style of a traditional focus group, I moderated a discussion to test the idea of a gig app for temporary cannabis work and to understand the general experience of finding and performing temporary trimming jobs.

Key Insight: Temporary workers in the cannabis industry feel treated with disrespect by employers despite their altruistic passion for the product and the industry.

Action: Vangst does not use “derogatory” terms when talking about its temporary talent. They are W2 employees of Vangst, rather than contractors, who perform temporary work for end clients. They are acknowledged, appreciated, treated with respect, and referred to as “Vangsters”.

2. Empathy Journey Map

After spending time discussing the general activities of trimming work and individual motivations, as a group, we outlined the steps that trimmers go through when finding a temporary job, performing the work, and completing a gig. Participants were asked to pinpoint their feelings during each step with a colored sticky dot on a scale of negative to positive. After connecting the dots, we continued a discussion to understand high and low emotions.

Key Insight: Participants expressed a lack of communication from employers and they often feel set up to fail. The first day on a job often generates feelings of anxiety.

Action: Vangst GIGS collects all of the information up front from a client that a temporary worker needs to come to a job informed and prepared. Vangst temporary employees are empowered and viewed as professionals.

3. Brand Analogy Exercise

Users in the workshop had worked temporary gigs through Vangst’s manual staffing model as well as through other staffing agencies. They were asked to compare their experiences and perceptions of the Vangst brand to competitors by identifying Vangst as an animal and as a car. Participant’s choices were put onto a whiteboard and openly discussed to understand perceived value, positioning, and brand voice. This insight was used to inform the product style guide as well as marketing messaging.

Key Insight: Vangst is the trusted market leader, commanding respect, and perceived as more organized and professional than competitors.

Action: The look and feel of Vangst GIGS uses people-centric imagery, dark treatments with bold orange-red gradients, and an approachable font style.

3. Brand Analogy Exercise

Users in the workshop had worked temporary gigs through Vangst’s manual staffing model as well as through other staffing agencies. They were asked to compare their experiences and perceptions of the Vangst brand to competitors by identifying Vangst as an animal and as a car. Participant’s choices were put onto a whiteboard and openly discussed to understand perceived value, positioning, and brand voice. This insight was used to inform the product style guide as well as marketing messaging.

Key Insight: Vangst is the trusted market leader, commanding respect, and perceived as more organized and professional than competitors.

Action: The look and feel of Vangst GIGS uses people-centric imagery, dark treatments with bold orange-red gradients, and an approachable font style.

User Workshop

The purpose of generative research is to understand user needs from a high level. The research is exploratory and uncovers motivations and unmet needs. To understand the user better and inform features, I facilitated a 2-hour workshop with trimmers who performed temporary work in the cannabis industry.

The workshop included 3 phases:

  1. Moderated discussion to understand thoughts and feeling around trimming work
  2. Group exercise to map the empathetic journey
  3. Exercise to understand brand perception and positioning

Moderator Skills

Effective Listening
Flexibility
Discernment
Rapport
Neutrality
Curiosity
Unobtrusive Authority
Time-keeping

1. Moderated Discussion

In the style of a traditional focus group, I moderated a discussion to test the idea of a gig app for temporary cannabis work and to understand the general experience of finding and performing temporary trimming jobs.

Key Insight: Temporary workers in the cannabis industry feel treated with disrespect by employers despite their altruistic passion for the product and the industry.

Action: Vangst does not use “derogatory” terms when talking about its temporary talent. They are W2 employees of Vangst, rather than contractors, who perform temporary work for end clients. They are acknowledged, appreciated, treated with respect, and referred to as “Vangsters”.

2. Empathy Journey Map

After spending time discussing the general activities of trimming work and individual motivations, as a group, we outlined the steps that trimmers go through when finding a temporary job, performing the work, and completing a gig. Participants were asked to pinpoint their feelings during each step with a colored sticky dot on a scale of negative to positive. After connecting the dots, we continued a discussion to understand high and low emotions.

Key Insight: Participants expressed a lack of communication from employers and they often feel set up to fail. The first day on a job often generates feelings of anxiety.

Action: Vangst GIGS collects all of the information up front from a client that a temporary worker needs to come to a job informed and prepared. Vangst temporary employees are empowered and viewed as professionals.

3. Brand Analogy Exercise

Users in the workshop had worked temporary gigs through Vangst’s manual staffing model as well as through other staffing agencies. They were asked to compare their experiences and perceptions of the Vangst brand to competitors by identifying Vangst as an animal and as a car. Participant’s choices were put onto a whiteboard and openly discussed to understand perceived value, positioning, and brand voice. This insight was used to inform the product style guide as well as marketing messaging.

Key Insight: Vangst is the trusted market leader, commanding respect, and perceived as more organized and professional than competitors.

Action: The look and feel of Vangst GIGS uses people-centric imagery, dark treatments with bold orange-red gradients, and an approachable font style.

User Interviews

To further supplement insights from the workshop, I conducted individual user interviews, exploring the same topics. Additionally, after fully understanding the experience of temporary workers in the industry, I conducted exploratory phone interviews with employers.

Key Insight: Cannabis companies that employ temporary workers often see a lack of professionalism and expressed concern around the impact on the work environment.

Action: As part of the candidate onboarding process when signing up on the Vangst GIGS app, potential temporary workers go through an in-person orientation and are evaluated through a matrix questionnaire. After a gig is completed for an end client, the temporary employee is rated through the GIGS platform and their average rating is displayed to future end employers.

Personas

I synthesized qualitative data from the workshop, user interviews, and survey into themes and developed two user personas. These personas paved the path form an empathetic design process.

User Flows

Insight-Informed Product Design

After understanding the high-level needs of both users, I began sketching and wireframing. Pulling from insights generated from my research, I incorporated features that would help to improve the experience of both temporary workers and cannabis employers.

For example, a client’s job description also includes first-day expectations which outline specific details that new employees need to know. This information includes where to park and where the entrance is since locations are often unmarked warehouses, where to put personal items, who to ask for, and where the work will be performed.

The job details also include the items Vangsters will need to bring with them. On their very first job, some temporary employees experienced embarrassment when they were sent home because they were not wearing compliant attire or did not bring tools that they were expected to have.

Prototyping

Wireframes were tested with both clients and temporary workers using InVision. Additionally, I asked for feedback on sketches that were not yet wireframed, which informed iterations before digitizing the designs.

Wireframe sketches tested with clients and final design after prototyping and iterating. 

MVP Launch

Beta Testing

A small sample of current clients were selected to beta test the application. Onsite observation during beta testing was conducted to gather feedback and shine light on usability issues.

Starting Small

Although Vangst places temporary workers in gigs throughout all legal states, the Vangst GIGS app was only released in Colorado as a test market. Because beta testing was only a couple of weeks long, the development team, as well as UX, spent several months identifying and fixing bugs, prioritizing new features, and making feature improvements.

MVP Launch

Beta Testing

A small sample of current clients were selected to beta test the application. Onsite observation during beta testing was conducted to gather feedback and shine light on usability issues.

Starting Small

Although Vangst places temporary workers in gigs throughout all legal states, the Vangst GIGS app was only released in Colorado as a test market. Because beta testing was only a couple of weeks long, the development team, as well as UX, spent several months identifying and fixing bugs, prioritizing new features, and making feature improvements.

Iterative Research

Learning More

After the launch of the Vangst GIGS app, we found that the solution – an app – did not solve the employers’ most painful problem, which was getting good people in temporary positions. Although the app connected temp workers with cannabis companies, companies still preferred to call a recruiter. And, whether or not they hired through the app, they still ended up with people who weren’t reliable.

Rethinking the Solution

A classic tech mistake for start-ups is to develop before understanding the problem. I was brought on as the sole designer after a team of 4 developers had already been creating a product. Without PM and roadmap, and with a very short runway, there wasn’t enough time to pull the reins and question if we were solving the right problem. In hindsight, we weren’t.

After landing a series A, we took a step back and took a deeper dive into understanding the problem we should be focusing on. This research readout was presented to c-suite after several weeks of generative research.